AS THE SUMMER ENDS and the mercury falls, expectations rise among foliage fans in the Ozark region of Arkansas: Leaf-peeping season is underway. Across the hills and valleys of this scenic territory, autumn creates a kaleidoscopic canvas, where lush green gives way to gold, yellow, red, and orange. It’s nature’s impressionism, presented in 3-D. Peak times for leaf peeping depend partly on the weather and vary by location within the Ozarks, which is a vast area that stretches across north and northwestern Arkansas. But most travelers mark mid-September through the first part of November on their calendars as the optimal time to view the leaves before they begin to lose their color and the landscape draws its shades, gathering itself in until next year’s show.

Here are three great locations for leaf peeping, as well as tips on what to do and where to stay once you’re there.

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Mountain View (for active types)
Fall colors and folk culture -- visitors find both in this historic town two and a half hours north of Little Rock. Established in 1873, Mountain View stands as a civic time capsule, actively preserving traditional folk ways. Start your tour at the Ozark Folk Center State Park, which presents Ozark heritage as living history. Tap your toes to American mountain music, watch blacksmithing demonstrations, and learn to play the dulcimer or pluck the fiddle while surrounded by foliage that takes your breath away.

You’ll need a second wind before setting off on the Syllamo Mountain Bike Trail, which cuts a scenic path through the striking autumn landscape. The sylvan 50- mile trail is designated as an Epic ride by the International Mountain Bicycling Association, an honor only 43 trails in the country have received.

No trees grow in Blanchard Springs Caverns, but stalagmites and stalactites sprout from the floor and ceiling, respectively, of the three-level cave system, one of the most popular year-round attractions in town. Take a tour of the spectacular caverns with an interpretive guide, and then get an introduction to the art of spelunking.

Above ground, Mountain View offers lots of good, homey grub. Fuel up with pizza and more at Tommy’s Famous or Kin Folks Bar-B-Q.

When it’s time to bed down, comfortable options abound. Superb local accommodations include the Wildflower Bed and Breakfast and the Country Oaks Bed & Breakfast, which has hiking trails behind its property.

If You Go

Ozark Folk Center State Park
(870) 269-3851

Syllamo Mountain Bike Trail
(870) 269-3228

Blanchard Springs Caverns
(888) 757-2246

Country Oaks Bed & Breakfast
From $65 per night
17221 Highway 9
(800) 455-2704

Kin Folks Bar-B-Q
Washington Street, directly behind the courthouse
(870) 269-9188

Tommy’s Famous
Carpenter at West Main
(870) 269-3278

Wildflower Bed and Breakfast on the Square
From $65 per night
100 Washington Street
(870) 269-4383

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Hardy/Spring River Area (for water babies)
A river runs through it -- the Spring River, to be precise. Its current ripples through the heart of foliage country, passing by the outskirts of the town of Hardy, 140 miles north of Little Rock. Visitors can rent a kayak, canoe, or raft and then float downstream through a landscape awash in autumn hues. Most river rides take place along the 17-mile stretch between Hardy and Mammoth Spring State Park.

Mammoth Spring Canoe Rental is one of several outfitters in the area that can furnish you with all your river-related needs. The state park itself has a spring-fed lake, which makes a tranquil spot for boating. Hiking trails also wend throughout the park, providing another great way to appreciate the leaves.

Old Hardy Town, a historic district in the heart of Hardy, transports travelers in a different sense. It takes you back in time to when the town was a burgeoning railroad hub. Along Main Street, though, small businesses pay homage to other eras. The Cluttered Cupboard sells antiques and crafts, along with cookware from the 1930s. The Good Old Days Vintage Motorcar Museum showcases more than 60 classic cars that date as far back as 1908, as well as automobile memorabilia from decades past.

When your stomach starts rumbling, try a local institution like the King Catfish Buffet & Grill, where the house specialty is, yep, fried catfish. For accommodations, it’s hard to beat Old Hardy Town’s gracious Olde Stonehouse Bed & Breakfast Inn. The building, constructed in 1924, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

If You Go

Mammoth Spring State Park
(870) 625-3764

Cluttered Cupboard
130 East Main Street
(870) 856-5641

Good Old Days Vintage Motorcar Museum
301 West Main Street
(870) 856-4884

King Catfish Buffet & Grill
3655 Highway 62/412
(870) 856-2604

Mammoth Spring Canoe Rental
966 Highway 63 South
(870) 625-3645 or
(417) 264-7592 after hours

Olde Stonehouse Bed & Breakfast Inn
From $69 per night
108 West Main Street
(870) 856-2983

Harrison (for wildlife lovers)
One of the best-known destinations in fall-foliage country, the city of Harrison, about 75 miles east of Fayetteville, has it all: arts, entertainment, outdoor activities, and … elk.

Hundreds of the animals make their home along the Buffalo National River, a pristine waterway found just outside the city. Foliage season also happens to be their rutting season, so don’t be surprised to hear their plaintive mating calls in the distance as you’re taking in the autumn colors on hiking trails along the river’s edge.

To learn more about the elk you’ll see among the pretty trees, visit the Elk Education Center in Ponca, which is just a short drive from Harrison. It’s rich with information about the animals’ behavior and habitat. But if elk education isn’t what you’re after, don’t worry. The surrounding scenery will hold your interest.

Maplewood Cemetery in Harrison is another great foliage spot. The aptly named grounds are shaded by towering maple trees, which turn especially radiant in the fall.

For those who prefer leaf peeping at a faster speed, take a drive along Scenic Byway 7, one of the most beautiful highways in the country. A long swath of the 290-mile route passes through the Harrison area. The fall foliage you’ll see outside your window will provide a cinema-worthy montage.

Harrison itself is captivating too. Outdoor activities abound and include hiking, biking, and trout fishing. At Bear Creek Springs Trout Farm, you can angle all you want for rainbows. No license is needed, and there’s no limit, but a reservation is required. Also, check out spots like the Gallery, which showcases the paintings and pottery of local artists, and DeVito’s Restaurant, which satisfies discriminating palates. Cap off a dinner of grilled trout there with a sweet portion of date fudge.

Accommodations around Harrison range from the contemporary Comfort Inn to the historic Queen Anne House, a bed-and-breakfast that occupies a restored Victorian home with stained-glass windows and claw-foot tubs. And definitely don’t miss the Queen Anne’s beautifully tended gardens. Like everything else in the Ozarks, the gardens become even more eye-catching in the fall.

If You Go

Buffalo National River

Bear Creek Springs Trout Farm
U.S. Highway 62-65
(870) 741-8832

Comfort Inn
From $80 per night
1210 North Highway 62-65
(870) 741-7676

DeVito’s Restaurant
350 Devitos Loop
(870) 741-8832

The Gallery
121 West Ridge Avenue
(870) 741-6669

Maplewood Cemetery
Maplewood Road
(870) 741-2841

Ponca Elk Education Center
Highway 43, Ponca, Arkansas
(870) 861-2432

Queen Anne House
From $65 per night
610 West Central Avenue
(870) 365-0888