The three Maritime provinces have plenty to offer foliage fans. Trees topped with crimson, bronze, incandescent orange; factor in the blues of water and sky and you’ll see a Crayola box of colours if you’re prepared to log a few kilometres in the car.
1. The Cabot Trail wins the location lottery as far as most leaf peepers are concerned. Worth the white-knuckle drive any time, this roller-coaster-like road – rimmed by mountains on one side and the ocean on the other – is at its peak in fall. That's because the varying elevations and mix of tree types create a broader-than-average palette of shades. To make a dramatic entry, approach the 298-kilometre trail from Baddeck by way of the Englishtown ferry. The five-minute crossing sets a wall of colour in front of you. Then tackle the trail counterclockwise for the added advantage of putting you on the waterside for most of the route, so you can make safe use of those scenic roadside lookouts in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. If you're here Oct. 7 to 15, bookend your road trip by taking in the Celtic Colours International Festival ( celtic-colours.com). Staged in 33 communities island-wide, the music fest features big Celtic names and emerging talents. Also in the line up: community suppers and old-school ceilidhs.
2. Lunenburg County is billed as the “Balsam Fir Christmas Tree Capital of the World.” So this section of Nova Scotia's South Shore may not seem a likely candidate for flamboyant foliage. But, amid all the evergreens, such deciduous species as red oak, sugar maple and yellow birch create an eye-popping display. For a quick hit of colour, follow Highway 103 from Halifax, turning at Exit 10 to skirt Mahone Bay. In the eponymous town, you'll see stands of hardwood punctuated by a trio of divine churches. (In keeping with the autumnal theme, you'll also see scores of scarecrows gracing local lawns.) From there, drive on to Lunenburg, 15 minutes away. After perusing the UNESCO-designated streets, browsing the boutiques and popping into the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, grab a bite at the Salt Shaker Deli (902-640-3434; saltshakerdeli.com). Provided it's not too cold, sit on the deck to drink in the view. Beyond the waterfront warehouses and towering tangle of masts, a golf course backed by blazing trees is visible on the far side of the harbour.
3. The Saint John River was named by Champlain, who sailed to its mouth in 1604, then promptly departed. That's a shame because the upriver scenery is sublime. To view one particularly pastoral stretch, take Route 102 west from Fredericton. Century farms – mostly working ones, not weekend retreats – dot the valley and their broad fields slope up from the river, providing a vivid contrast to the vibrant trees behind. To get a taste of agricultural life, pause for DIY apple picking at Everett Family Orchard (506-459-7406; everettapples.com). Located 14 km from Fredericton, it has been a family operation since 1792. For a different spin on the centuries-old farming scene, carry on 12 km to Kings Landing Historical Settlement (506-363-4999; kingslanding.nb.ca), a living-history village fashioned from reclaimed buildings. Costumed staffers busy themselves at harvest time bringing in crops and “putting by” supplies, many of which end up on the menu at the Kings Head Inn. Efforts culminate in a Thanksgiving weekend festival that features a turkey shoot followed (logically) by a turkey dinner.
4. Kings County, on Prince Edward Island's eastern edge, is laced with back roads and driving any of them in autumn is a revelation for motorists whose only island driving experience involves August excursions along the kitschy Cavendish strip. Unpaved Heritage Roads put the province's signature red clay beneath you and a canopy of tinted leaves above. But even the standard two-lane highways are camera-ready. Going cross-country from Charlottetown you can reach the sea in 35 minutes via Route 3. From there, follow the Points East Coastal Drive (866-611-3980; pointseastcoastaldrive.com) in either direction or simply loop back inland on roads that drape over gentle, rolling hills. The former delivers brilliant trees, plus photogenic lighthouses and fishing boats; while the latter promises classic fall vignettes (picture a weathered barn with blond hay bales). Since the extensive road network is well marked, you can lose yourself without actually getting lost. The downside is that many area eateries close by mid-September, so it's prudent to stock up on picnic supplies in Charlottetown before heading out.
When should you go?
Determining precisely when leaves will change is tricky. In the Maritimes, meteorologist Cindy Day notes that the process begins in the highest and most northern areas the third week of September, and lasts in lower, southern sectors until mid-October. The caveat, she adds, is that “the wet [summer]we experienced this year seems to be pushing the schedule ahead a week or so.”
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