Civil War Battlefields
The Civil War started in 1861 at Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. Battles raged all over the South during the next 4 years. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant took Vicksburg, Mississippi, after a long siege, and Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman burned Atlanta, but the most famous fighting took place within 100 miles of Washington, D.C.. This area has more national battlefield parks than any other part of the country.
It won't be in chronological order, but when you are in Virginia, you can tour them by starting at the battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and the Wilderness in and near Fredericksburg, Virginia. Proceed north to the two Battles of Manassas (or Bull Run) southwest of Washington, then north across the Potomac River to the Battle of Antietam at Sharpsburg, Maryland. From there, go northwest through Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, to the Battle of Gettysburg, the turning point of the war, in south-central Pennsylvania. Gettysburg is perhaps the most moving and well preserved of the battlegrounds. You'll also pass several battlefields driving through the Shenandoah Valley.
Fall in New England is one of the great natural spectacles on earth, with rolling hills blanketed in brilliant reds and stunning oranges. The colors start to peak in mid-September in the Green and White mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire, and then bleed down into the Berkshires of Massachusetts. The colors move progressively south down the East Coast, through New York's Hudson River Valley, into October, when bumper-to-bumper traffic jams Virginia's Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park. The precise dates for prime viewing vary from year to year, depending on temperatures and rainfall, but the local newspapers and TV stations closely track the coloration.
Fall is also quite spectacular in the Rockies, especially in Colorado, in West Virginia's mountains, and in the Wisconsin Dells.
Tauck World Discovery (tel. 800/788-7885; www.tauck.com), Maupintour (tel. 800/255-4266 or 913/843-1211; www.maupintour.com), and several other escorted tour operators have foliage tours; call your travel agent.
Flowers & Gardens
Flower lovers have many opportunities to stop and smell the roses, especially in Portland, Oregon, which calls itself the City of Roses. Many other cities have gardens of note, including Atlanta, Boston, Denver, New Orleans, New York, Seattle, and Tucson. Longwood Gardens in the Brandywine Valley is noted for its greenhouses as well as its grounds. The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, has a walled English garden on its 25 acres. Magnolia Plantation near Charleston, South Carolina, is famed for its azaleas, camellias, and 60-acre cypress swamp. If you like gardens from the Elizabethan era, head for Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia.
It's also a spectacular sight to see the commercial flower farms of Washington State's Skagit Valley. In the spring, tulips and daffodils carpet the farmlands surrounding the town of La Conner with great swaths of red, yellow, and white. In March and April, the town hosts an annual Tulip Festival (www.tulipfestival.org); the countryside erupts with color in a display that matches the legendary flower fields of the Netherlands.
You may also be interested in seeing wildflowers in bloom out West. Springtime brings glorious color to the Texas Hill Country, just north of San Antonio. The deserts of New Mexico, Arizona, and Southern California are also magical in the spring. Two of California's prettiest viewing areas are Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, near San Diego, and the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve, in the high desert near L.A. There are also beautiful spring blooms in the Washington Cascades, especially in Olympic National Park and throughout the Rocky Mountains.
A few travel companies have escorted tours of gardens, others include them on their general sightseeing excursions, and still others organize trips for local botanical gardens or gardening and horticultural groups. Check with those in your hometown for upcoming trips, or try Maupintour (tel. 800/255-4266 or 913/843-1211; www.maupintour.com).