Of the four seasons that grace the great midwestern United States, the shortest one is autumn. It arrives without the fanfare of spring storms, pop-up heat waves or the nostalgia of winter with its festive holidays. Fall’s window is small. It unfolds slowly and then shouts its arrival in brilliant technicolor under clear, blue skies.
There is great color in our backyards, state parks and in places that lure us to see what’s going on in the treetops in their necks of the woods. Each packs a palette worth the drive to West Virginia, Wyoming and Ohio.
As fall blooms in West Virginia, the hillsides are awash with gold, red and purple. It is the perfect time to hop on a train to experience the vivid colors of the Mountain State. Railroads roll into remote regions to provide views and colors that are well off the chart, such as a ride on the New River Train or a stop at Cass Scenic Railroad State Park. The New River Train Excursion explores some of the best fall foliage in southern West Virginia. Starting at the former Chesapeake & Ohio mainline in Huntington, the route takes visitors near West Virginia landmarks from the State Capitol building to Kanawha Falls and beyond to include the New River Gorge Bridge and the cascades at Sandstone. Cass Scenic Railroad features a four-and-a-half-hour train ride to the overlook at Bald Knob, which is the third highest point in the state.
Plus: Enjoy rail history and handcrafts with a bite to eat in Hinton, before the New River Train makes its return to Huntington. Take selfies really worth posting at Bald Knob; the views are spectacular.
Best time to visit: Any time of the year. For fall color? Mid- to late-October.
The 180- by 300-foot Devils Tower in Wyoming, most famous for its leading role in the Steven Spielberg film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” is open 24/7. The monument welcomes visitors and climbers to explore its trails and the Tower. The Devil’s Tower Natural History Association Bookstore is open daily, with the exception of Christmas and New Year’s Day. The butte has no fall color, but the trails leading to it provide washes of glistening gold. The site is sacred to the Northern Plains Indian Tribes and is often the location of ceremonial rituals. Visitors are reminded not to interfere with the landmark. Each June, the butte is closed as Native American ceremonies often are held during and around the summer solstice. Additionally, some routes are unavailable in the spring in order to protect nesting prairie for peregrine falcons.
Called Bear Lodge by Native Americans, the tower was the country’s first national monument, named so by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906.
Plus: According to the National Park Service, Devils Tower sees between 5,000 and 6,000 rock climbers per year. P.S. The Spielberg film celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.
Best time to visit: The National Park Service reminds visitors the site is sacred to the Northern Plains Indian Tribes and is often the site of ceremonial rituals. Visitors are reminded not to interfere with the landmark. The site is closed to climbers each June, as Native American ceremonies often are held during and around the summer solstice. Additionally, some routes are closed each spring to protect nesting prairie or peregrine falcons.
For a getaway weekend in October, consider a drive for a long weekend to Mansfield, Ohio.
The gorgeous Kingwood Center Gardens in north central Ohio glow with the lights of thousands of jack-o’-lanterns during the annual Great Pumpkin Glow. The Kingwood Center is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Held for seven years at the former private estate, the Great Pumpkin Glow features more than pumpkins. There’s live music, local vendors and a walking path along Scarecrow Row. On the weekend of Oct. 15 and 16, visitors can stroll through the garden’s 47 acres and share photo ops with glowing pumpkins. After dark, the grinning jack o’lanterns share space with glow-in -the-dark balloons, scarecrows and an array of fall chrysanthemums.
Plus: The family can hitch a ride on a hay wagon, play games and visit the Children’s Campsfire to toast s’mores.
Best time to visit: During the event weekend for sure and throughout October, as the oak trees in this part of Ohio dazzle with their own show. The Kingwood Center Gardens are open daily; special tours and events take place weekly.