When you're done feasting on oysters, pumpkins or cranberries, says Kali Cooper, take a peep at the psychedelic colour scheme

'Tis the season to be shucking

The annual Chincoteague Oyster Festival this Saturday heralds the start of the oyster season in Virginia. Head to this pretty little barrier island off Virginia's sparsely populated eastern shore for all the oysters you can eat. Contact Virginia Tourism (001 804 786 2051; www.virginia.org). Chesapeake Bay, is home to one of America's most important oyster grounds. The Chesapeake Oyster Festival (5 November) is held at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum (001 410 745 2916; www.cbmm.org). Here you can not only try a range of molluscs but also learn how they found their way to your plate. Further north, St Mary's County Oyster Festival in Maryland (5-16 October) offers oyster shucking contests, an oyster cook-off and oysters stewed, raw, fried or scalded, along with plenty of fried clams, scallops, soft crab sandwiches, and fabulous Maryland crab cakes. Contact Maryland Office of Tourism (001 800 532 8371; www.mdisfun.org).

How berry dare you!

The second biggest cranberry harvest in the US (after Wisconsin) is at the Edaville Cranberry Bogs near Wareham in south-eastern Massachusetts. This month, visitors can see the spectacular flooding of the cranberry bogs, which causes the fruit to rise to the surface in their shiny red millions. A novel way to witness this is by helicopter, with rides offered by growers as they inspect their crops. Contact Massachusetts Tourism (001 617 973 8500; www.mass-vacation.com). The gathering of another huge harvest of cranberries can be seen at Chatsworth, New Jersey. The Chatsworth Cranberry Festival ( www.cranfest.org) takes place at the peak of the seven-week harvest period, on 15-16 October. This offers visitors the chance to tour the cranberry bogs and eat as many cranberry products as they can manage, among them cranberry cakes and pies, cranberry pepper spread, cranberry ketchup, cookies, bread, juice, salsa, muffins, vinegar and, of course, fresh berries.

Scary monsters and super creeps

Nowhere does Hallowe'en like America. If Hallowe'en queens are your thing, then head to New York for the Hallowe'en Parade, on 31 October, from 7pm along 6th Avenue in the West Village. An hour upstate, the village of Sleepy Hollow hosts a weekend of haunted happenings based on Washington Irving's tale The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. The "Legend Weekend" ( www.sleepyhollowhalloween.com), on 28-30 October, offers candlelit tours of the town's 18th-century Philipsburg Manor, appearances by the headless horseman himself and woodland walks that are not recommended for those of a nervous disposition. Contact Hudson Valley Tourism (001 914 631 8200; www.hudsonvalley.org). In Salem, Massachusetts, the horrors of the 17th-century witch trials can be revisited throughout October during Haunted Happenings ( www.haunted happenings.org). There are guided tours of the town by "trolley" buses, tales of hangings and hauntings told out in the woods and the chance to board a pirate ship to hear the seafaring horror stories that punctuate the town's past. Contact Salem Tourism (001 978 744 3663; www.salem.org).

Turn over an old leaf

The town of Oakland, in the heart of Maryland's Allegheny mountains, celebrates the turning of the leaves with the annual "Autumn Glory" festival (12 to 16 October). Traditional Appalachian music accompanies the natural show, in the shape of the Maryland State Banjo Fiddle and Mandolin Championships, along with street parades, woodland races and Octoberfest celebrations. Part of the Appalachian mountain chain, the rolling Allegheny range on the border with West Virginia once served as a haven for Americans trying to avoid the horrors of the Civil War. Today its remote, rural "Scenic Highways" provide first-class fall road-trip terrain when combined with the neighbouring Blue Ridge Mountains Parkway, across the border in Virginia. Contact Maryland Tourism (as above).

United colours of New England

Nowhere in America is more responsible for bringing the term "leaf-peeping" to the world than New England. The region's six states (Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont) offer a spectacular display of autumn foliage. "Peeping" seems a rather delicate term for the wide-eyed effort required to take in such blinding expanses of colour: the pillar-box red of the sugar maple, the poster-paint yellow of aspens, and the early crimson blush of the southern sourwoods. New England's warm autumn days and sudden cold snaps provide the perfect quick-change conditions needed to create such depths of colour. Prime peeping season for northern New England (Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont) is from the end of September and lasts through the first three weeks of October. State tourism websites are packed with suggestions for panoramic driving routes, listings for inns and even addresses of webcams set up to monitor the progression of colour as it heads south-west. For up-to-the-minute, nationwide, information, contact the National Forest Service's autumn foliage hotline (00 1800 354 4595; www.fs.fed.us/news/fallcolors) or go to the Weather Channel for updates at www.weather.com/fallfoliage. Yankee Magazine ( www.yankee magazine.com/foliage) covers every aspect of leaf-peeping in New England, from suggested destinations, live maps of the colour progression and a place to download a leaf-peeping podcast.

All the leaves are brown - not here

New England might appear to own the franchise on autumn, but in fact the dramatic colour change occurs right along the east coast into the Carolinas (and several states west). When northern New England's leaves are brown and down, the states in the southern part of the region are still ablaze. Those who can't make it to New England can be guaranteed similarly spectacular displays of colours in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. Even in November,, New York and New Jersey can still have some impressive bursts of colour - not least in Central Park. You can chase the season south for a colourful climax at the end of October and the beginning of November in the Tidewater Region, Virginia. Here the leaves, Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic blend into a conflagration of colours that make you feel thousands of miles from the developed world. For more information, check out: New Jersey Tourism (001 609 777 0885; www.state .nj.us/travel). New York State Tourism (001 518 474 4116; www.iloveny.com), Maryland Office of Tourism (001 800-LEAVES-1; www.mdisfun.org), Pennsylvania Tourism (020-8994 0978; www.fallinpa.com), Virginia Tourism (001 800 474 882; www.virginia.org) and West Virginia Tourism (001 304 558 2200; www.callwva.com).

Been under? Go up

Want to see the colours but not inspired by the thought of all that time spent in the car? Follow the current American trend and take leaf-peeping to a higher level. In Pennsylvania, near the Delaware Water Gap, brightly coloured balloons take passengers over a canopy of red and gold trees during the Annual Shawnee Autumn Balloon Festival (14-16 October). Rides, which cost $190 (£110) per person, can be booked through the Shawnee Inn & Golf Resort, Shawnee-on-Delaware (001 570 424 4000; www.shawneeinn .com). Alternatively take a flight over the (any colour but) White Mountains, New Hampshire. Morningside Flight Park in Charlestown (001 603 542 4416; www.flymorningside.com) offers tandem hang-gliding, paragliding, and trike flights with an instructor during leaf-peeping season for $145 (£82). Other car-free activities include more than 100 guided hikes on offer in Connecticut over two "Walking Weekends", 7-10 and 14-16 October. Contact Connecticut Tourism (001 860 270 8080; www.ctvisit.com).

Just look at that view

A comfortable way to view the foliage, without having to consult maps or street signs, is to hop aboard the new trains of the Maine Eastern Railroad ( www.maineeasternrailroad.com) as they make their way between the coastal communities of Brunswick and Rockland. From the large windows of these well-appointed coaches, you have uninterrupted views of the autumn colours, and the chance to hop on and off to explore the rural towns and walking trails en route. A classic autumn rail route is the Adirondack ( www.amtrak.com). This train, which has huge windows and an observation car, takes a leisurely 10 hours on its journey from New York, following the course of the Hudson river through the Catskill and Adirondack mountains, along the banks of Lake Champlain as far as Montreal in Quebec, Canada. The Amtrak agent in the UK, The Travel Bureau (0870-421 5649; www.thetravel bureau.co.uk) offers tickets on the Adirondack from £45 one way. Across the North-east, "Scenic Railroads" - former freight lines - are being transformed into tourist-friendly trains, some complete with steam engines. Conway Scenic Railroad (001 603 356 5251; www.conway scenic.com), a line that brought industrialisation to New Hampshire, is now ferrying tourists around. It has three routes, with trains featuring restored 19th-century carriages. The best journey is aboard the Notch Train, which chugs through Crawford Notch passing sheer bluffs, stomach-dropping ravines and the vast tree-blanketed Mount Washington. Fares start at $38 (£22) per adult.

As American as pumpkin pie

At this time of year, it seems every roadside on the East Coast is flanked with piles of sunny squashes but nowhere presents more pumpkins than Keene, New Hampshire. Keene's festival has broken world records for its collection of "lit gourds" and even on a non-record-breaking year, such as 2004, the townsfolk still gathered together more than 27,000 carved pumpkins. Along with having a go at hacking out jack-o-lanterns, visitors to the festival on 22 October will be treated to street entertainers, pumpkin-eating contests, seed-spitting competitions and an explosion of pumpkin-coloured fireworks. The festival takes place until 22 October. Further information: 001 603 352 1303; www.pumpkin festival.com. In Long Neck, Delaware, The World Championship Punkin Chunkin ( www.punkinchunkin.com) is a three-day shindig starting on 4 November with numerous pumpkin-cooking contests, but climaxes in the main event where contestants use homemade machines of mad-cap invention to blast their gourds as high into the sky as they can. The spectacular (and messy) results are visible for miles around. Contact Delaware Tourism (001 866 284 7483; www.visit delaware.net).

Make mine a vine

From the vineyards of Long Island to upstate New York, the wineries of Connecticut to those around Virginia's Blue Ridge mountains, the grapes are ready for stomping. Throughout October and November, Virginia's vintners are in harvest festival spirit. Perhaps the most picture-perfect of the region's festivals is the Shenandoah Valley Hot Air Balloon & Wine Festival (14-16 October) where 15 rustic vineyards offer tastings and tours, and some 30 hot-air balloons take visitors over the vines. Contact Long Branch Mansion, Millwood (001 540 837 1856; www.historiclongbranch.com).

Just outside New York City, in the Hudson River Valley, you can help out with the harvest during the Grapestomping Festival at Benmarl (8-10 October). The "oldest vineyard in America", Benmarl (001 845 236 4265; www.benmarl.com) invites visitors to climb into the vats and dance the juice out of the grapes - with plenty of stellar vintages to help perfect your wine-tasting skills.