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Wringing the color out of autumn

...Lesley Carlin, a TripAdvisor spokeswoman who writes that company's "Dear TripAdvisor" column, said few other trips require that same kind of care and attention.

"Fall color trips work best when they're flexible or spontaneous, because the weather is such a variable," Carlin said. "It would be a shame to fly somewhere and have it be unexpectedly cold or have the color be disappointing."
It makes a car essential, providing the flexibility to follow the color.

In New England, she said, "you can go to Maine if the colors are peaking there or west to the Berkshires if that's where it's best. If you have a car, you can adapt according to the weather."

Other tips for mastering a fall colors trip include combing (and participating in) online forums and message boards to ask how things are looking this year in particular spots and to think local, because all the color isn't just in the Northeast. Most major cities have some version of fall color accessible within a four- or five-hour drive (except, perhaps, for Floridians).

She also suggests erring on the side of early rather than late when planning a fall colors trip.

"Maybe the colors won't have peaked, but the weather might be better," she said. "You can still go hiking, and it will still be beautiful even if the trees are still green."