Drive time

Ready for the season of lights? It’s about to begin: Stupendous displays of fall foliage followed by yuletide illuminations that’ll take you through the end of the year.

If you have a vehicle and can get away for a day or a weekend – or longer (lodging rates tend to dip after Labor Day) – it’s a great time to vacation in the Southeast.

Western North Carolina, the South Carolina Upcountry and the Piedmont can offer fantastic leaf-peeping drives. People have high and often too-early hopes, and there’s no way that coloration can be accurately predicted. Of the key factors, only the shortening of daylight is a constant. While elevation and latitude don’t change, both are mitigated by prevailing temperatures and recent rainfall as well as tree-type concentrations.

Every fall, the Sunday Observer publishes leaf reports on the Travel pages. You’ll find an easy-to-use leaf-peeper chart based on last year’s information here.

As a backstop, you may want to call those agencies before you go to see how fall 2014 is shaping up. If the person at the other end of the line starts to hedge – as they often do – just ask, “Well, how are the leaves outside your window right now?”

Tip: Areas with varied elevation have longer coloration periods: Peaks will turn early; valleys can turn weeks later.

Winter ski and tubing slopes are tied to temperature; if it’s cold enough, resort operators can always manufacture snow.

More certain – scheduled in advance – are festivals and other fall events as well as illuminations and other winter activities. And there are many.

We’re offering a look at destinations you’re likely to visit as well as cool places that may be off your radar, from Beaufort, S.C., to Boone; Greensboro to Georgetown, S.C.; places you’re likely to find falling leaves followed by snow ... plus spots along the coast where you can escape from both.

Just want to tool around on Carolinas highways? We have articles tied to specific scenic drives.

Also in the mix: Getaway ideas for making the most of Halloween.

Along for the ride with seasonal previews and overviews are Observer Travel contributors Gary McCullough, Zenda Douglas and Amber Veverka, as well as Boone-area author and hiker Randy Johnson.

Grab your keys; let’s roll.