Twenty-four ways to be a savvy, shunpiking leaf watcher

"If you join the shunpiker's ranks all you need is an adventurous spirit and a relaxed attitude about time." William Heine, I'm A Shunpiker, 1962

By the travel editors of shunpiking magazine*

  1. DO get lost. Or carry a good map (we like the government's topo maps) and get a little lost. With roughly 4,300 miles of unpaved roads just in Nova Scotia, there's ample opportunity to shunpike to adventure

  2. DO observe proper foliage etiquette. Locals use the back roads to get from here to there as promptly as possible. If you're oohing and ahhing at five miles per hour, pull over when someone's behind you. And DO ask a landowner's permission before tramping into the fields. DO be cautious of hunters. They're a dwindling species, but still active. The hunting season usually begins Octobe

  3. DO get out of your car, and walk, and smell, and listen. Foliage is the most sensual of Nova Scotia seasons, from the sweet aromas of our apple orchards in the Annapolis Valley, to the blueberry and cranberry fields of Dean and Clam Harbour -- ripe red cranberries are a pleasant discovery among the off-whites of Beach Grass and sand -- to the swirling of leaves and wind, from that first whiff of wood smoke on a frosty fall day to the crunch of dry foliage underfoot. Seeing foliage is only half the fun. Many of us remember our parents bundling us into the car when we were young and driving for hours with out-of-town relatives.

  4. DO visit the highlands of Cape Breton. But DON'T slow the car down to a crawl on the Cabot Trail. Pull into a viewing area, get out of your car, and go for a walk down the historic and scenic paths.

  5. Many outdoor and naturalist groups such as the Halifax Field Naturalists and the Halifax Outdoors Club organize unique one-day field trips. In mid-October, we recommend joining up with botanist Alex Wilson, an articulate and knowledgeable guide from the NS Museum of Natural History, when he leads his annual Fall Colours Walk at the Mount Uniacke Estate Museum Park, Hants County.

  6. Fall foliage on an island? Try exploring McNabs and Lawlors at the entrance to Halifax Harbour with the Friends of McNabs island Society on their annual fall foliage tour. (See our Hikes, Rambles & Outings Guide on the home page, by scrolling to the bottom).

  7. DO as professional foliage photographers do when composing photos. A single crimson maple in the foreground with a white church behind and a little blue sky showing will translate better than a 40-mile-distant panoramic view. A polarizing filter is recommended. Colouring filters over your lenses that allegedly enhance vivid colours actually alter the natural colour of the trees. DO bring lots of film. (See "Fall through a lens" by Stephen Patterson, this edition).

  8. DO look for changing views. Search out roads with hills and curves, roads that meander through changing vistas of woods and farms and small villages. If there is a better combination than water and stone (stone walls, stone bridges, the Balmoral Grist Mill) and autumn leaves, we don't know it.

  9. DON'T be a hit-and-run leaf watcher. DON'T rush. Slow down, and take your time and explore the various sights. A picnic by a waterfall beats dashing all about, hoping to see just one more place before dark.

  10. DON'T panic that "peak" is passing you by. Peak colour is a continuum, not a moment fixed in time. Within a few miles you'll see different stages, depending on types of trees and elevation. From High Head, the highest point at Ski Wentworth, the Confederation Bridge to pei is visible on a clear day. "Seeking peak is missing the point," says Kit Anderson, a Vermont cultural geographer. "It's like condensing the entire season and the entire experience into this one moment, like a sound byte, and people miss it."

  11. DO respect the "Moose" pictograph signs in the Highlands. The Cape Breton Highlands (and Newfoundland) is moose country, descendent from about fifty moose imported from Alberta in the 1950s. Cars and passengers do not always survive collisions with 1,000-pound moose.
  12. DO wake early. The colours will be most vivid with the morning dew and morning light. Watching the dawn mist rise off our forest-ringed lakes, bogs, ponds and rivers may be the best treat of all.

  13. DO linger to enjoy the late-afternoon light. The deep shadows late in the day set off all colours against areas of darkness.

  14. DO have lodging reservations during the late September to mid-October prime leaf-watching period. DON'T expect to stay but one night. Many places expect a two-night minimum during foliage.

  15. DON'T let your lack of lodging stop your visit. The area Visitor Information Centre (those that are still open) may know hospitable locals who open up that spare room in their homes for intrepid leaf watchers. If possible, DO come midweek.

  16. DO look skyward, especially if you're hiking. Beaches, salt marshes, coves, bays, islands, estuaries, rivers, lakes, fields and the varied forests provide not only spectacular scenery, but habitat for hundreds of species of birds and Nova Scotia is one of the best birding locations in Canada. Especially in autumn, an unparalleled diversity of shore birds, ducks and sea birds, of migrant and stray birds, gather in abundance.
    Seal Island in Shelburne County may be the single best birding site in eastern Canada. Bon Portage Island is a little treasure of an island just off Shag Harbour. Mid- to late September is when hundreds of thousands of sea birds ride the thermals south from the Arctic, gathering large flocks to rest in the fall (and the spring). The Bird Society of Nova Society has an especially intriguing weekend which they hold annually in mid-October at the always hospitable Brier Island lodge in Westport. Shelburne County has a map of eight birding trails and two islands from which you might view over 300 or species; it was published in shunpiking, September, 1997. Several boat operators offer birding tours.

  17. DON'T be a colour snob and ignore everything except bright reds. Trees exhibit an astonishing range of colours. Foliage season means subtle shadings of peach and corals and apricot, the subtle yellows of beech and birch, the soft browns and purples. DON'T let rain keep you indoors. Wet weather brings out the most vivid colours.

  18. DO go beyond where most people go. (On seeing the coastline of the Strait of Belle Isle the French explorer Jacques Cartier exclaimed in 1534 that this indeed was the land God gave Cain. Perhaps God was in a good mood that day. Vermonters have a saying: When good people die, they go to Vermont. When good Vermonters die, they go to the Northeast Kingdom - but relatively few tourists do.)

  19. DO visit the Eastern Shore and the Glooscap Trail for wondrous colour with few crowded roads. But DON'T ever think you have the right-of-way when approaching a logging truck on narrow off-roads, especially on "the highway to nowhere" or logging and fire roads. (The same advice applies to Cape Breton).

  20. DO explore the fall foliage from a unique vantage point: the 7,400 kilometres of Nova Scotia's meandering coastline. Many sea kayaking outfitters offer fall foliage tours that combine paddling and hiking. Coastal Adventures, for example, visits the Cobequid Highlands and the Five Islands, all ablaze in the colours of autumn. This is natural environment unique in North America, washed twice a day by Bay of Fundy tides -- the highest on earth.

  21. DO let locals help you find the prime local foliage spots. Best bet for advice:
    (1) Keep up to date with weekly foliage reports by calling The Leaf Watch: 1-877-353-leaf [5323] or by visiting their web site: Volunteers from around the province started filing reports from on September 18th; and
    (2) forest wardens if you can find them (try the Department of Natural Resources). Some of them do aerial surveys. Their pride in their home vistas spills over if you stop in at their field stations and ask where they would go.

  22. DO include valleys and the seacoast in your travels. Though many people head to the highlands, in fact the lowland areas boast the brightest and earliest colours. Look for the hardwoods surrounding salt marshes.

  23. Heck, if you want exact places to go, DO check our our leaf watch map (a downloadable pdf file) which lists 74 unique vantage points throughout Nova Scotia which "are easily reached and offer the fall shunpiker a full palette of unforgettable experiences".

  24. DO plan on joining us on the third 2004 Shunpiker's Fall Mystery Tour the first Saturday after Thanksgiving. Due to other demands we haven't been able to organize it the past couple of years. You explore at your own pace. The tour -- complete with a detailed information kit, map and BBQ at the end of the day -- features interesting highlights from the region we'll be exploring: leg-stretchers and views, historical flashbacks and geology, flora and fauna. There's no set time to complete the tour. Just show up in your car or on your feet at shunpiking's office, 6211 North Street In Halifax at 9am. It's a Mystery Tour -- you may even discover your own backyard. But you won't know until we depart.

    DO send us your suggestions and comments at (e-mail) shunpike@

    *Adapted from a similar article by the travel editors of
    Yankee Magazine