From New England to the Pacific Northwest and even as far south as the American Southwest, the United States is filled with scenic drives that take full advantage of the resplendent fall foliage that colors the hills and mountaintops once a year.
Whether you wish to drive past quaint small towns or venture deep into the wilds, there is a scenic fall foliage drive that will give you the perfect excuse to take a day trip or weekend jaunt, no matter where you are located.
Be sure to research ahead of time to find a map that will get you where you want to go just in time to see the colors at their peak and take advantage of any festivities or events that might be going on in the area.
Read on for some of the best fall travel destination in the United States.
Fall foliage drives NOT to miss!
Skyline Drive in Virginia
The Skyline Drive in Virginia is one of the best drives to take when looking for spectacular fall foliage. This 105 mile long scenic drive sways through the Blue Ridge Mountains and takes you through the entire length of Shenandoah National Park. Most visitors plan to spend around 4 or 5 hours but you might want to pack a picnic lunch and make a day of it.
There is plenty to see along the route, including 75 different scenic overlooks that will give you sweeping views of the mountains and valleys resplendent with colorful leaves.
The leaves start changing around late September and continue through early November depending on the elevation and you will be able to spend time exploring the natural wonders along the drive.
If you want to stop and get even closer to the serenity and beauty, there are numerous trail heads, walking paths and waterfalls to explore while taking advantage of the views. Additionally there are several wineries to enjoy in Virginia on the Monticello Wine Trail.
Mountain Cloves Scenic Byway in New York
With over 40 miles of twisting back-country roads winding through steep mountains and overlooking majestic valleys and vistas, the Mountain Cloves Scenic Byway in the Catskill Mountain region of New York offers the perfect route to take in the magnificent fall foliage. Just a little over 3 hours north of NYC, this area is a perfect destination for a weekend getaway and offers some of the best views that have inspired for centuries.
The scenic byway will take you right past Kaaterskill Falls, made famous by the 19th century artists of the Hudson River School of art, America’s first art movement. You’ll drive so close, in fact, that it isn’t uncommon to get misted by the cascading waters of New York’s tallest waterfall!
As you twist and turn through the mountains, you’ll be surrounded by brilliant autumn colors on all sides from late September to mid October and for a real treat, you can take a sky ride at the nearby Hunter Mountain ski slope during their Oktoberfest festival to get a bird’s eye view of the colors across the multiple mountain peaks that surround the area!
Plymouth County Drive in Massachusetts
Hugging the bays and inlets of the Atlantic Ocean in Massachusetts, you wouldn’t normally expect a coastal area to be a prime fall foliage road trip destination, but the beauty and majesty of this location makes it one of the top spots on the list and the amount of things to do in this area that complement the season are astounding.
Starting near New Bedford, you’ll travel north through parks, reserves and protected forests all dressed in their autumnal best, with ample places to stop along the way to truly embrace the New England appeal of this area.
From tours of bright red cranberry bogs flooded for the harvest season to quaint colonial farms and historic sites, the charm of the area can be found around each twist and turn. The trip will take around an hour if you drive the whole 50 miles straight through, but you will definitely want to stop for the photo ops that can be found in each and every small hamlet and town.
The end of the route will bring you to Plymouth Rock, the famed landing place of the pilgrims so long ago. With Thanksgiving not far away, this is the best fall foliage drive to truly embrace and explore the history of our most treasured autumn traditions!
Green Mountain Byway in Vermont
Although this drive is small in comparison to many of the others, it is by far one of the best ways to admire the brilliant fall foliage. Vermont is one of the biggest destinations for fall foliage tours because of the vast array of colors and variations of trees and the Green Mountain Byway is the best place to get a truly breathtaking view of why this state is so well known for fall getaways.
The byway winds over roughly 11 miles through three state parks and two forest preserves, surrounding you on all sides with resplendent colors. At one end of the Byway is Stowe, a renowned east coast ski resort destination offering autumn gondola rides to the summit to enjoy sweeping views of the mountains and valleys filled with colorful trees.
For a sweet treat, the opposite end of the route takes you to the famous birthplace of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream factory, where you can take tours and stock up on some of your favorite flavors straight from the source!
Columbia River Drive in Oregon
Don’t think for a moment that the northeast is the only place in the US to see stunning fall foliage! The Columbia River Drive in Oregon is considered by many to be one of the best places to see the brilliant colors of autumn in the northwest region.
Not far from Portland, the historic Columbia River Highway offers breathtaking views of the river and gorge as well as the dense forests bright yellow with fall colors. Admire the river and the cascading waterfalls found all over this region, all within easy distance of other major attractions located near the capital of Portland.
This area is so special that it is actually the first scenic highway in the US to gain the title of National Historic Landmark and traveling along its winding twists and turns, you’ll be sure to understand why it gained this distinction!
Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway in New Mexico
Perhaps another surprising entry on the list of best fall foliage drives is this scenic route located in New Mexico. For a truly unique autumn experience, head to this 80 mile route starting and ending in Taos for a once in a lifetime view of fall in the American Southwest.
New England steals the show come autumn and the other northern regions of the country have additional appeal during September and October, but this circular loop in the desert region of the country has its own beautiful autumn splendor to show off!
Completely encircling Mount Wheeler, the highest peak in the state, this loop will be covered in brilliant yellow and gold aspen leaves set against the mesa-dotted backdrop of the desert and mountain ranges in the distance, offering a truly unique autumn experience for those traveling to the area.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina
With a network of over 800 miles of roads crisscrossing the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you have your pick of routes to admire the beauty of the fall foliage that makes this one of the top destinations for leaf peepers from near and far.
Holding the title of one of the most visited national parks in the US, this sprawling area spreads over two states and is home to over 100 different varieties of tree, making it the epitome of autumn splendor from around early October through early November. You could spend days driving through all the different roads and routes, admiring sweeping vistas, canopied roads, creeks, rivers and waterfalls all dressed in colorful autumn leaves.
With colors from pale gold to deep scarlet and even a few splashes of purple, each twist and turn provides new and stunning palettes of color to enjoy and with access to numerous cities in both states, from quaint towns to bustling tourist destinations, you will find dozens and dozens of different things to do while enjoying the splendor of the autumn leaves!
The United States is filled with numerous opportunities and destinations that are perfect for viewing the splendor of the fall foliage native to that area. From desert mountains to the foggy forests of the Pacific Northwest, as well as the quaint countryside appeal of New England in the northeast, no matter where you are, you’ll be able to find a spectacular fall drive to see the autumn leaves changing colors ahead of the coming winter.
Be sure to hit the road this autumn to see the splendor for yourself, because the season is fleeting but such an incredible sight to see! Be sure to check the fall foliage calendars to be sure that no matter where you may roam, you’ll be able to catch the perfect moment of peak fall colors!
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