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It's the time of the year when dying yet vibrantly colored leaves become the star attraction in a show that may last only a few weeks, yet still covers big chunk of the country. Fall is a spectacular season to visit several National Parks so join the thousands of "leafers" who descend upon our great outdoors to enjoy the foliage season.

One of the first areas in the U.S. to experience the majesty of fall is Maine and Acadia National Park (www.nps.gov/acad) combines the beauty of the Atlantic coastline with the hues of autumn change. Leaves aren't the only natural attractions here as each September through November, thousands of hawks and falcons migrate through the park plus wildlife abounds on the ground (and in the water), in the form of beavers, coyote, deer, foxes and seals.

Maison Suisse Inn (tel. 800/624-7668; www.maisonsuisse.com) is located in the village of Northeast Harbor, on the doorstep to Acadia National Park. During September and October, Sundays through Thursdays, stay for four or more nights and get one night at half price. Room rates start at $145 per night and include breakfast, free local telephone calls and WiFi. Additional adults in a room pay $25 per night or an additional child is $15 per night.

There are only three guest rooms at the tastefully decorated Penury Hill Bed and Breakfast (tel. 866/473.6425; www.penuryhall.com), making it a quiet and intimate place to stay when visiting Acacia National Park. The hotel is on Mount Desert Island in Southwest Harbor and is open until October 31 with rooms priced at $115 per night for two people, with a two night minimum stay June through October, although single night reservations in season may be available with a $10 surcharge.

Virginia's Shenandoah National Park (www.nps.gov/shen) is a mere 75 miles from Washington, D.C. and is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains on the edge of the Appalachians. It is considered one of the most beautiful areas to catch the fiery reds, glistening golds and illuminating ambers of autumn leaves, especially along Skyline Drive, a 105 mile stretch of road that provides breathtaking views to the east and west. Apart from the natural beauty of the oak-hickory forest and the Shenandoah River, wildlife like bears, elk, deer and wild turkeys are also key attractions. Accommodation around the park fills up quickly at this time of the year so you'd best get booking to secure a spot, even if you have to pay a fall premium to do so.

Skyland Resort is a historic hotel situated at the top of Skyline Drive, affording perfect vistas of the Shenandoah Valley below. Rooms here range from rustic cabins to large suites. The hotel remains open until the close of the season on November 25. Prices go up for stays between September 28 and November 3, 2007 with a cabin starting from $75 midweek, a standard lodge unit from $108 per night, a suite from $142 and a family cabin from $239. State and occupancy taxes (totaling 9% are additional). Another historic property, Big Meadows Lodge likewise offers great views, a central location and operates until November 4, 2007. Rooms in the main lodge midweek during foliage season start from $81, a cabin is priced from $100, a deluxe unit from $135 and a suite from $150. Bookings for these or other area properties can be made through the area's centralized reservation service (tel. 866/875-8456; www.nationalparkreservations.com/shenandoah.htm).

Head south along the Blue Ridge Parkway, a 469 mile scenic drive that connects Shenandoah with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and on the way, admire some of the most dramatic colors of the season. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park (www.nps.gov/grsm) straddles the North Carolina and Tennessee border and boasts over 100 species of trees, set among half a million acres with more than 800 miles of hiking trails (including The Appalachian Trail) to help discover them. For the best foliage viewing, the park service recommends Cataloochee, an area on the eastern North Carolina side of the park and another area between Newfound and Indian Gaps.

The Head to the Smokies website (tel. 877/312-3161; www.headtothesmokies.com) features a number of vacation packages featuring accommodation and attraction tickets, centered around the cities of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge (home of CCC//" target="_blank">Dollywood), Tennessee with prices starting at $89 per person for a two night package. Alternatively choose to stay in a mountain cabin, like one at the three-star Mountain Shadows Resort, located just outside Gatlinburg and across the road from the National Park. Cabins here complete with a hot tub, kitchen and gas grill start from $111 per room per night for up to four people in early October, 2007. A cabin that sleeps six is priced from $142 and an enormous five bedroom one that accommodates ten guests is $298 per night midweek.

On the North Carolina side, you'll fine Hemlock Inn (tel. 828/488-2885; www.hemlockinn.com), located adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This bed and breakfast is three miles from in the village of Bryson City and the Deep Creek area of the park. It is also close to several waterfalls, fishing spots and the Cherokee Indian Reservation. If you are quick, you can still take advantage of their September special, offering 50% off the second night in any room or suite or stays from Sunday to Thursday nights. Or stay three nights or more and receive 15% discount on each night. During the peak foliage season, room rates go up only slightly on regular prices with a king or queen room priced from $149 per night with breakfast or $179 with dinner and breakfast. Large family rooms are available from $149 (strangely including breakfast for two, but accommodation for up to four guests) and a family suite is priced from $244 including breakfast for four or $304 including breakfast and dinner for all.

Confused about when to go? Foliage dates are pretty finicky and change year to year. The Weather Channel's website (www.weather.com) has a map that indicates peak foliage times in regions across the country.

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