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A guide to the spectacular Northeastern autumn

With autumn around the corner, many tourists take time off to head for the country and take in the fresh air, sample some country cooking, and witness the burst of colors that Northeastern woodlands exhibit during the months of September and October. If you are planning such a trip to New England or New York, the following last minute information may be helpful.

MAINE: Maine is perhaps best known to tourists for its rocky seashore, but during autumn many ''leaf peepers,'' as they are called here, trek into Maine's beautiful woods for a look at its colorful foliage. For Maine foliage viewing information, write or call the Maine Publicity Bureau Inc., 97 Winthrop Street, Hallowell, Maine 04347, tel. (207) 289-2423, to get a free brochure called ''Maine Guide to Auto Touring.'' A fall foliage section outlines 11 tours throughout the state. Besides leading you along the best roads for leaf viewing, this section locates points of interest. The bureau will also help plan your trip.

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Maine Line Tours offers one-day, in-season bus trips along scenic foliage routes in Maine. The Portland-based company has two toll-free numbers. From Maine call 1-800-492-0628; from other New England states and New York State, call 1-800-341-0322. From elsewhere, write Maine Line Tours, 184 Main Street, South Portland, Maine 04106.

VERMONT: The season begins in early or mid-September, and extends into October. From Sept. 7 through Oct. 22, a 24-hour hot line provides daily information on foliage changes in Vermont: tel. (802) 828-3249.

To get information about tours, start with the Vermont Travel Division, 134 State Street, Montpelier, Vt. 05602; tel. (802) 828-3236. It provides a free brochure detailing 13 driving tours throughout the state beginning and ending in a major town that has dining and lodging accommodations. Vermont information and welcome centers in local communities also have free maps.

If you want to amble about on Vermont's back roads, more detailed maps can be purchased through the Vermont Agency of Transportion, 133 State Street, Montpelier, Vt. 05602; tel. (802) 828-2568. County maps showing minor roads, as well as locating abandoned schoolhouses, sawmills, and graveyards, are available. Many communities provide maps of local tours, obtainable by contacting individual chambers of commerce.

Local chambers of commerce and information booths can help locate accommodations. Ski areas often have lodging and condominium facilities during foliage season. The Travel Division recommends reservations because of the large volume of fall visitors.

NEW HAMPSHIRE: The reddening of swamp maples in mid-September marks the beginning of the New Hampshire foliage season. The White Mountains and other higher ground to the north reach their zenith of color between Oct. 1 and Oct 10 . In the Merrimack River Valley and the south, peak time comes between Oct. 7 and Oct. 15. From mid-September through mid-October, tape-recorded foliage reports covering all of New Hampshire are available by calling (603) 224-2525. Outside of New Hampshire call toll free (800) 258-3608.

Although the only map specifically for foliage touring is of the Monadnock region, the New Hampshire Office of Vacation Travel, Box 856, Concord, N.H. 03301, tel. (603) 271-2666, furnishes maps of other scenic routes. Maps of the Kancamagus Highway cutting through the White Mountains from Lincoln to Conway and lakes-region driving tours are examples.

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Lodging accommodations fill up quickly, so reservations are recommended.

CONNECTICUT: Connecticut's foliage season doesn't get going until about the second week of October. Contact the Department of Economic Development, Tourism Division, 210 Washington Street, Hartford, Conn. 06106, tel. (203) 566-5638, for a well-organized package containing a Connecticut Vacation Guide, an Official State Map, and various calendars of events. The guide contains a section covering seven scenic drives all over the state. Routes that are best for foliage viewing are marked. Several special tours list feature balloon, glider, or plane rides to see the autumn colors from the air.

NEW YORK: The color changes in New York's foliage begin in the higher elevations of the Adirondacks and sweep southward in mid-September. By mid-October, the sweep reaches the central and western parts of the state. For information on fall tours, call the New York State Tourist Office: 1-800-225- 5697. It furnishes a free map, locates the most colorful spots in the state, and lists addresses and local phone numbers for chambers of commerce. Call the one in the area you are visiting for local foliage information. The Tourist Office also provides weekly fall foliage reports to radio and television stations and to newspapers. The service lasts from mid-September to early November.

The free ''I Love New York State Travel Guide'' is available from: Tourism, Box 992, Latham, N.Y. 12110, or call the number listed above. It contains information about points of interest throughout the state, including chairlifts, mountain roads and hiking trails, cruises on lakes, and waterfalls. For additional information, contact the State of New York Department of Commerce, One Commercial Plaza, Albany, N.Y. 12245; tel. (518) 474-1431. It should be noted that many hotels offer off-season rates in the fall.

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