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Brilliant foliage just around the corner if you know the right places to look

No time for a leaf-peeping trip to New Hampshire or Vermont this year? No problem.

Local fall foliage enthusiasts say there's no need to burn a day and a tank of gas chasing the fiery hues of autumn in the mountains when there are dozens of little-known scenic overlooks scattered throughout Boston's western suburbs.

Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston sits atop a wooded, 640-foot rise with a breathtaking view of the shimmering Wachusett Reservoir to the west.

``All the land immediately surrounding the reservoir is owned by the Commonwealth as part of the watershed, so it's all woods. Here we are 45 minutes from Copley Square, and you'd think you were right in the middle of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. It's beautiful," said John Trexler, the garden's executive director.

The best views are from the Tower Hill summit, about a 10-minute hike from the parking lot. There's also a slightly lower, more accessible overlook with a pavilion and benches to rest on.

``There's a very good mix of sugar maples, hickory, oak, birch -- a full complement of hardwoods," said Trexler, who recommends visitors take a stroll on one of the center's trails this week or next to see the blooming witch hazel.

``It's a native shrub with autumn colors and yellow flowers. We have a very dense undergrowth of witch hazel here," Trexler said. ``There's a lot to see."

Massachusetts tourism officials predict area woods will erupt into vibrant yellows, oranges, and reds this week and next as the foliage season peaks.

Charles Bradley, cochairman of the Northborough Trails Committee and an avid mountain biker, recommends that local leaf peepers up for a short hike try Mount Pisgah, the town's highest point. From the parking area on Smith Road, the gently sloping, rocky Mentzer Trail runs less than a mile to an overlook with views to the north and east.

``You can actually see the Prudential Center in Boston on a clear day," Bradley said.

He also recommends the Cold Harbor Trail, which crosses an earthen dam in a wetlands area just off Main Street.

``It's a very short walk to the dam, and that whole area is swamp maples. This time of year, it's spectacular with brilliant reds and yellows," he said, adding that parents would have no problem pushing a jogging stroller on the trail.

Closer to Boston, Weston boasts three easily reached scenic overlooks, said Conservation Commission chairman George Bates.

``We have some beautiful land in Weston. We've got almost 2,000 acres of conservation land, and it's certainly lovely," Bates said. ``Every time I go walking in the woods anywhere here, I think this is the most beautiful place in town."

Weston trail maps are available at Town Hall, and several overlooks are easily accessible from roadside parking areas, Bates said.

The twin summits of Weston's Doublet Hill, just off Doublet Hill Road, rise just over 360 feet above sea level. The aptly named Sunset Corner is accessible via a short hike from a parking area on Highland Street, and the Cat Rock overlook can be reached from Bradford Road, Bates said.

For those who would rather take in the autumn show by car, the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism suggests a driving route that snakes through the Globe West area.

Take Route 20 west through Wayland and Sudbury past the scenic Wayside Inn and old gristmill made famous in the writings of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Then continue on Route 20 into the Marlborough area and onto Route 85 south, past the scenic Sudbury Reservoir in Southborough to Hopkinton State Park.

The trees lining the banks of the park's Hopkinton Reservoir should be decked out in brilliant colors any day now. Public restrooms at the state park are open throughout foliage-viewing season. There are plenty of picnic tables in the park and no parking fees after Labor Day, officials said.