In the fall, ports of call in New England/Canada itineraries are, with the changing of the leaves, at their most beautiful. For those who take their "leaf peeping" visuals seriously, we offer suggestions on some of the best ports of call to get out and experience autumn's annual ritual at its most beautiful.
New London, Connecticut
Ultimate Leaf Peeping: New London, a relatively new cruise port (Royal Caribbean and Princess visit in 2008), sits at the junction of the Thames River and Long Island Sound. Skirt the Connecticut River on a 1926 coal-fired steam locomotive -- the Essex Steam Train. As the train travels by small villages like Deep River and Chester, the conductor and crew share history and folklore, and point out the natural beauty of the meadows, farms and forests. Expect panoramic vistas and gorgeous views of the Connecticut River.
Other Alternatives: Explore the nearby seaside town of Mystic. It's more than just pizza -- the 19th century seafaring village features shops, restaurants, an aquarium and stunning foliage. You can visit Mystic via shore excursion, taxi or rental car; in order to rent a car, you'll need to arrange to have one meet you at the port (try Enterprise) or take a cab to Groton, the next town over, where most companies have offices at the small local airport.
More Info: New London
Newport, Rhode Island
Ultimate Leaf Peeping: Take a stroll along Newport's storied Cliff Walk. This 3.5-mile National Recreation Trail straddles the famed 19th-century cottages of rich-and-richer summer folk (many are open for touring) that flocked to this town, and the shore line. It offers a combination of views ranging from natural to fabulous historic mansions. The walk itself begins at the western end of Easton's Beach (at Memorial Boulevard) and heads south; major exits are found at Narragansett Avenue, Webster Street, Sheppard Avenue, Ruggles Avenue, Marine Ave, Ledge Road and Bellevue Avenue, at the east end of Bailey's Beach. A helpful tool is the The Cliff Walk & Bellevue Avenue Touring Map (available locally); it divides the Cliff Walk into sections, including the Classic Cliff Walk, the University Walk, the Mansion Walk and the Hiker's Walk (and shows locales of restrooms and other necessities along the way).
Other Alternatives: Take an old-timey cruise via the 72-foot Schooner Madeleine; the vessel offers 1.5-hour voyages -- during which information and history are provided by captain and crew -- at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
More Info: Go Newport
Ultimate Leaf Peeping: Paddle a kayak around Casco Bay, one of Maine's most beautiful waterways. Maine Island Kayak Company offers half-day adventures from Peaks Island (a 15-minute ferry ride from the cruise pier) that, depending on wind and weather, visit neighboring islands and historic Ft. Gorges and pass by a number of scenic lighthouses. Paddlers of all skill levels are welcome, but advance reservations are highly recommended.
Another Option: Take advantage of Portland's extensive network of trails; choices include the 3.5-mile Back Cove Trail, which offers skyline and coastal views, and the four-mile Peak's Island Loop. You can cycle (bikes are available for rent from nearby shops), stroll or rollerblade.
More Info: For ferry schedules, visit Casco Baylines and Visit Portland
Bar Harbor, Maine
Ultimate Leaf Peeping: The obvious first choice is a visit to Acadia National Park, one of Maine's super-star attractions. Highlights of the 47,633-acre park include mountains, woodlands, ocean shoreline, ponds and lakes. Activities range from the athletically-inclined cycling, hiking and mountain-climbing to the more relaxing option of a ride in a 15-passenger horse-drawn carriage.
Another Option: Take a nature sightseeing tour via Bar Harbor Whale Watching Company's Acadian. The company also offers whale watching but you may want to call ahead -- there's no way of knowing when in October the whales will depart Maine for warmer shores.
More Info: Bar Harbor Guide.
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Ultimate Leaf Peeping: This is a destination where it pays to rent a car (all the major agencies, such as Avis, Hertz, Thrifty/Dollar and Enterprise have counters at the cruise terminal, and provide drop-off service; Budget actually has its rental office at the pier). There are two particularly great drives for day-trippers. The first? Head north/northwest of Halifax to Nova Scotia's scenic Annapolis Valley, one of the province's richest agricultural areas. Dubbed the Evangeline Trail, a driving tour of this region includes views of farms, which in fall are harvesting everything from apples to pumpkins -- not to mention grapes for wine. One must-stop for wine enthusiasts is the Grand Pre Winery; the winery offers tastings and there's a wonderful on-site gourmet restaurant (open for lunch from 11:30 a.m. - 2 p.m. daily). Other interesting stops on the Annapolis Valley loop include the town of Wolfville (Henniger Farms, just outside, has a fabulous farm and souvenir shop) and the village of Hall's Harbor, right on the world-famous Bay of Fundy known for its extreme high and low tides. Hall's Harbor Lobster Pound is famous for ... what else! ... fresh lobsters.
For a second drive option, head south on the coastal road (also known as "the lighthouse route") to Peggy's Cove. This quaint village has great seafaring atmosphere and a restaurant, the Souwester, that's famous for its seafood chowder and gingerbread. Then head on toward Mahone Bay, a village known for its collection of artisan studios, shops and cafes, and Lunenburg, a 250-year old town that's a UNESCO world heritage site.
Another Option: Visit the Halifax Public Gardens, a formal Victorian public garden whose 17 acres are enclosed by an ornamental wrought iron fence. The gardens were designed in 1875.
More Info: Nova Scotia, Halifax
Saint John, New Brunswick
Ultimate Leaf Peeping: The major attraction in Saint John, located on the banks of the Bay of Fundy, is that famous body of water, known for its extreme high and low tides. Thrill seekers can experience the bay via a jet boat ride, which rides the surf -- and only goes out when the tides are in between high and low, a time otherwise known as "the slack." The timid need not apply. One caveat: because tides and water conditions vary, the company generally operates this attraction during a three-hour window that changes -- so call ahead a day or so before docking at Saint John. More timid explorers can take advantage of the company's more sedate boat ride: an hour-long interpretive tour that focuses on the history and nature of the area.
Another Option: Take a self-guided walking tour; Tourism Saint John offers four options -- the Loyalist Trail, Prince Williams Walk, Victorian Stroll and West Side Walk and Drive. Maps are available at the visitors' center.
More Info: Saint John Tourism
Prince Edward Island
Ultimate Leaf Peeping: Explore the Confederation Trail. This conversion of the Prince Edward Island railway to a cycling/walking trail extends from tip to tip and ventures into the towns of Souris, Georgetown and Montague, plus the link to the Confederation Bridge in Borden-Carleton.
Other Alternatives: Take a guided (or self-guided) cycling, kayaking or canoeing trip via Outside Expeditions, which takes advantage of a variety of areas of Prince Edward Island.
More Info: PEI Play
St. John's, Newfoundland
Ultimate Leaf Peeping: Hike the trail at St. John's famous Salmonier Nature Park. The entire length of the trail (just under two miles) is a wheelchair- and stroller-friendly boardwalk, which passes outdoor animal habitats for Canada lynx and geese, moose, caribou, arctic fox, owls, otters, bald eagles and more.
Other Alternatives: Journey to the top of Signal Hill, the site of harbor defenses for St. John's from the 18th century to the Second World War, which offers views of the city, the harbor, the ocean and the coastline.
More Info: St. John's
Ultimate Leaf Peeping: Rent a car (car rental agencies abound near the cruise pier in the old city) and explore the area's Gourmet Route; the island of Ile d'Orleans -- which lies in the middle of the St. Lawrence River -- is particularly charming and features farm stands and local purveyors of cheese, chocolate and wine.
Other Alternatives: Take a guided cycling tour; Cyclo Services, which is adjacent to the cruise pier, organizes trips that explore terrain ranging from the Saint-Charles River to Montmorency Falls.
More Info: Bonjour Quebec
Ultimate Leaf Peeping: Go river rafting on the Lachine Rapids. The company offers a 2 1/4-hour ride -- via free shuttle from downtown -- and advises you to bring a change of clothes (they provide rain gear, however). Advance reservations, particularly after Labor Day, are critical as the outfitter operates treks in fall -- but only on demand.
Other Alternatives: Explore Mount Royal, which features activities ranging from bicycle paths (and rentals) to hiking trails and pedal boats. Or rent roller blades and bicycles at the Old Port.
More Info: Montreal Tourism
-- Top image appears courtesy of Tourisme Montreal, Stephan Poulin.