Helpful hints on seeing the best of autumn's colors....
1. Don't head to New England on a whim, blithely assuming you'll be able to find a place to stay. Everyone visits New England in autumn, so make your lodging reservations well in advance.
2. If all the country inns are full, it's best to book a hotel in a larger city and use that as your base camp. Boston is close to the action and a great departure point for day trips in Massachusetts. Portland gets you close to Maine's foliage-hot spots. Or if your schedule is flexible, try booking a room Sunday through Thursday rather than busy Fridays and Saturdays.
3. For updates on fall foliage conditions, call the National Forest Service's Fall Color Hotline at (800) 354-4595. But don't get freaked if you're too early or too late to see colors. Autumn color is a process not a single moment, and from the end of September to mid-October you can usually be guaranteed great colors somewhere in New England.
4. Be respectful of locals on the road. For you, driving along the road looking at fall foliage is a magical-mystery tour through nature's glory. But to a local, that same road is just a way to get from point A to point B. Show some respect. Pull over and let them pass.
5. Pay attention to critter-crossing signs. Moose- and deer-crossing signs are serious warnings that large animals -- like a 1,000-pound moose -- could dart or amble out onto the road at any minute.
6. For the very best photos, hit the road early. Colors are most vivid in the morning light. And do linger late -- the hour right before sunset is perfect for capturing fall colors against a muted deep sky. Don't just snap the big panoramic views either. Look for single, brilliantly colored trees with interesting elements nearby, like a weathered gray stone wall or a freshly painted white church. These images are often more evocative than big blobs of color or panoramic shots.
7. Pack a sweater or jacket. It might be 70 and sunny during the day, but New England nights are invigorating, to say the least. And if you're heading into the mountains you'll probably need a sweater during the day; it can be 20 or more degrees cooler at higher elevations. You might also want to pack lunch or snacks so you aren't at the mercy of overcrowded restaurants.
8. Don't fixate on the foliage. Mother Nature is wonderfully unpredictable and one windy rainstorm can put a brusque end to any location's foliage season. There are many ways to enjoy autumn in New England, so plan to visit a harvest festival, museum, art galleries, go antiquing, pick apples -- whatever interests you. Looking at the leaves should be just one part of your trip, not its sole focus.--Michelle Delio