The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

October 11, 2012

Local and state options abound for 'leaf-peepers'


The News Courier

From staff reports

Across North Alabama, green leaves on oak, maple and hickory trees are slowly giving way to shades of yellow, red and orange.

The Tennessee Valley may not be as popular for “leaf peeping” as destinations in Tennessee, North Carolina or Vermont, but a local expert believes we could have a great year in terms of foliage. The peak color season will occur over the next two weeks.

“It’s different every year, but what I’ve seen so far looks pretty good,” said Doug Chapman, a county extension agent. “North Alabama has better color, generally speaking, than central or South Alabama because of the cooler nights earlier in the season.”

Perfect fall color is generally reliant on several factors, including nighttime temperatures. Chapman said photosynthetic byproducts like carbohydrates burn up when evening temperatures are warm. Ideal fall color development occurs when the days are warm and nights are cool.

“That’s why you don’t go to Florida to see the foliage,” he said.

Alabama also has its share of warm nights in the late summer and early fall, which is one reason why color here is not as vibrant as it would be in North Carolina and states further north. Those states have longer daylight hours and cooler nights.

Chapman said rain isn’t as much a factor in color development as cloud cover. The more cover, he said, the more the color is affected.

“The more sunlight you have, the better the leaves are at making photosynthates,” he said.

Color trail

Local residents who want more fall color than what they would find at home can also follow a circle of colors on Alabama’s Fall Color Trail. Beginning at Oak Mountain State Park on Alabama 119 in Birmingham, “leaf peepers” can follow Interstate-65 north to I-459 north and then to I-59 north. The Ashville exit at U.S. 231 will take travelers by unusual rock formations at Horse Pens 40, and then to covered bridges in Oneonta.

By taking U.S. 231 to U.S. 278 west to Cullman, travelers can visit the Ava Maria Grotto before continuing on to Double Springs, Bankhead National Forest and Natural Bridge of Alabama.

In Hamilton, travelers can take U.S. 43 north to Dismals Canyon, Phil Campbell and Rock Bridge Canyon in Hodges. At Tuscumbia, take U.S. 72 west to the Natchez Trace Parkway or cross the Tennessee River into Florence before continuing toward Joe Wheeler State Park.

Follow U.S. 72 into Huntsville, then take U.S. 431 south to Monte Sano State Park before returning to U.S. 72 east toward Scottsboro and nearby Russell Cave. Other locations on the Fall Color Circle include Guntersville State Park; Noccalula Falls in Gadsden; Mentone, located off Alabama 117 south; and Cheaha State Park, located off U.S. 78 near Oxford.

For more on the Fall Color Trail, visit http://www.alabama.travel/activities/tours-and-trails/circle-of-colors.