Sometimes we find fall in unexpected places. When we do, we like to tell you about our discoveries. These spots make the region proud when it comes to blazing color. You’ll also experience so much more than the brilliant foliage. One of Kentucky’s highest points shelters buildings from a long-gone settlement, along with an unparalleled view. An upscale South Carolina city harbors an amazing urban park in its midst. And Oklahoma offers up a lively festival to match the crisp air. Give these fall destinations a try; you’ll find them worthy of further exploration this harvest season.
1. Cumberland Gap, KY
by Les Thomas
When I travel, I like to be comfortable. I would have made a lousy pioneer. But as I stand in their footsteps in the embrace of the Cumberland Gap on this autumn morning, I realize I have something in common with them. They didn’t like crowds either. That’s why I slipped away to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, where Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia meet. I wanted to leave the bustle of the city for a getaway that isn’t overrun with tourists.
Room To Roam
“This park is a gem off the beaten path. We get a lot of people who are trying to escape the crowds of the Smokies,” ranger Scott Teodorski says. “It’s a nice piece of wild mountains.”
It was a snap to get here. I only had to drive two hours on the interstate south of Lexington, Kentucky, and then take an easy 20-minute walk to stand in the saddle of America’s first mountain retreat. Up to 300,000 pioneers―ancestors to millions of us in the South―passed this way. I watch a lacy curtain of clouds melt away and think of what this view once meant to them. It was the promise of a new frontier. “It’s hard to imagine Kentucky being the Wild West,” says Scott, “but in those days it was.”
Mighty efforts have gone into restoring the wilderness during the past 10 years. The largest project rerouted U.S. 25E through a nearly mile-long tunnel so the Cumberland Gap could return to the rustic path it once was. More than half of the national park’s 24,000 acres is wilderness.
Discover a Lost Village
One morning, I head over to the national park to see a secret place that many travelers often miss. The gap is the centerpiece of the park, but part of its soul rests atop one of Kentucky’s highest mountains, where Scott and other rangers take visitors on guided tours. We drive to Hensley Settlement on a winding gravel road that makes the Blue Ridge Parkway seem like a superhighway. A sourwood tree, bright as a Roman candle, gleams in the light that bathes a rustic schoolhouse and the weathered cabins of the settlers who once lived here. “The thing that makes it unique is that it’s isolated even to this day,” Scott says. “The solitude is wonderful.”
Autumn whispers a benediction over these mountains. Sunlight dances on tawny meadows. On a day like this one, it’s paradise.
Going to the Gap
Cumberland Gap National Historical Park: U.S. 25E, P.O. Box 1848, Middlesboro, KY 40965; www.nps.gov/cuga or (606) 248-2817. Visitors center hours: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Tours to Hensley Settlement continue daily through October 31. Reservations are required. Admission: $10 adults, $5 ages 12 and under. Bring bottled water, snacks, warm clothing, and comfortable shoes. The tour lasts about four hours.
2. Greenville, South Carolina
by Wanda McKinney
I hear the sounds of tumbling water, the click of a swing swaying in a light breeze. Bright foliage filters the October sunshine, and I feel as if I have been plopped into a country setting. However, I’m smack dab in the middle of cosmopolitan Greenville, South Carolina. Here, I discover big leafy scenes of the season.
Urban Park Deluxe
The centerpiece of Greenville’s lovely downtown is stunning Falls Park. Down Main Street, I find a perfect setting of greenspace, gardens, the Reedy River, and a gorgeous waterfall. The Liberty Bridge spans it all, with its curved, 355-foot-long pedestrian walkway. I can’t think of a finer view than from that bridge, which overlooks nature trails, landscaped flowerbeds, and people enjoying the season. Fall remains the first attraction here in October, but there is certainly more to see.
This month includes Fall for Greenville, a hugely popular food festival that features more than 40 of the city’s best restaurants. Music, ice-carving demonstrations, and a chili cook-off add to the festive atmosphere.
A few miles away, Furman University, just outside Greenville, boasts one of the most beautiful campuses imaginable. Walking trails and radiant foliage provide a perfect backdrop for the Bell Tower, reflected in a 30-acre lake. Home to events throughout the year, this scene is a postcard-perfect salute to autumn. Note: While visiting Furman, don’t miss The Cliffs Cottage, the Southern Living Showcase Home. Dedicated to Green living, this house features eco-friendly building materials. For more information see page 86, or visit www.furmancliffscottage.com.
Speaking of picture-perfect, I love the Greenville County Museum of Art, with its Southern collection and Jasper Johns paintings. One last beautiful spot is the Museum & Gallery at Bob Jones University. I am awestruck by the 450 Old Master paintings that reside here. A 500-year-old tapestry from Brussels completes my journey into a city filled with color, personality, and beauty.
Just 37 miles from Greenville, another natural beauty awaits. Caesars Head State Park―a granite outcropping on top of the Blue Ridge Escarpment―gives a gaspingly gorgeous view of the fall foliage below. Hiking trails, both easy and challenging, wind through the park. Pack a picnic, and breathe in the scenery. 8155 Geer Highway, Cleveland, SC 29635; www.southcarolinaparks.com or (864) 836-6115. Trail admission: $2 adults. Hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
Greenville Convention & Visitors Bureau: 631 South Main Street, Suite 301, Greenville, SC 29601; www.greenvillecvb.com or 1-800-717-0023.
3. Broken Bow, OK
by Karen Lingo
Deep into the corner of Oklahoma, I discover autumn rising over the Ouachita Mountains. Here, Beavers Bend State Resort tucks into the land just off U.S. 259 near the town of Broken Bow.
The terrain in Beavers Bend State Park, one of two parks that make up the state resort, reminds me of areas of the distant Appalachians. Turning into it, I suddenly leave rolling hills behind. Pine trees give way to hardwoods. Dense forests frame the road and fringe the banks of pretty mountain streams. As I drive, the elevation climbs. Cool air turns crisp, and trails of smoke drift from cabins built amid the red oaks and maples.
I find that early risers catch the best scenes here. Especially along the streams, where fly fishermen cast for rainbow and brown trout. At daybreak, the anglers appear as apparitions, floating atop the mist that swirls across the water.
Sunrise over Broken Bow Lake, edged by Hochatown State Park, paints the most impressive picture. To see it, I stay at Lakeview Lodge, get up early, and settle into a front row seat on my balcony. As daylight peers over the distant peaks, it reveals small islands in the mist-shrouded lake.
Take a Hike
The temptation runs strong to just sit and marvel at nature’s beauty, but I don’t give in. Big Oak Nature Trail in Beavers Bend State Park covers an easy quarter of a mile. Slightly more challenging, Beaver Lodge Nature Trail winds for a mile through the park’s hickory, sweet gum, oak, and red maples. It parallels a stream and crosses a log bridge, a perfect spot to watch fly fishermen in their quest for rainbows and browns.
Looking at leaves or hiking the hills, I can always catch my favorite colors in this small slice of the Ouachitas.
Two Parks, One Resort
Beavers Bend State Resort includes Beavers Bend State Park and Hochatown State Park, with Lakeview Lodge and Cedar Creek Golf Course. For more information visit www.beaversbend.com.
Lakeview Lodge features 36 rooms and 4 suites and offer views of Broken Bow Lake; rates start at $80. 1-800-435-5514 or (580) 494-6179. Beavers Bend State Park: Two types of cabins are available. Parkview cabins: Rates start at $63. Riverview cabins: Rates start at $90. (580) 494-6300.
Fish the Streams
Cold waters flowing from the base of Mountain Fork River make this a year-round destination for fly fishermen. Find everything you needs, including an experienced guide, at Three Rivers Fly Shop on U.S. 259 North. Owner Jesse King leads guided trips and conducts fly fishing schools; www.threeriversflyshop.com or (580) 494-6115. Another local guide, Ethan Wright, also knows all the hot fishing spots; (580) 236-0600.
For more fall color, take U.S. 259 North approximately 55 miles to the Talimena Scenic Drive (State 1 in Oklahoma, State 88 in Arkansas). This scenic byway rides the crest of the Ouachitas from Talihina, Oklahoma, to Mena, Arkansas. Have lunch at Queen Wilhelmina Inn in Queen Wilhelmina State Park, six miles east of the
Arkansas/Oklahoma state line; www.queenwilhelmina.com or 1-800-264-2477.