The Best Drives for Fall Color
The weather has been a bit odd this year, but for most of us fall has arrived right on time. Cool weather, pumpkin flavored everything and sweaters have made their welcomed appearances and the fall color is now in full swing. For those of you who’ve waited for this time of year, we’ve put together a guide of the best places for a scenic fall foliage drive in each of the major regions in the US. We’ve included links to help you find out what there is to see and do so you can plan your own autumn road trip.
Traditional Fall Color in the North East
It’s hard not to think of Vermont and New Hampshire when one thinks of fall foliage. The historic settings, often dating back to before the founding of our nation, add to the rustic ambiance of the forests of the North East. This is one of the most popular places in the country for viewing fall color, so planning ahead is key.
We found a brilliant Vermont fall foliage tour that was put together by YankeeFoliage.com. The guide outlines a 3-day driving trip with numerous historical, cultural, and natural stops along the way to keep things interesting.
Mid-Atlantic Fall Foliage Trips
The Appalachian Mountains are full of amazing places to see the leaves change. Depending on how much driving and how remote you want to get, your options can change pretty drastically. Fortunately, both of our picks for this region are single locations. You can drive around town or just outside of town to get the full experience without having to drive from one town to another as part of your fall color tour.
The Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee are popular stops that offer winding roads and great views. The towns of Gatlinburg and Asheville are fantastic sites to see the fall foliage while still interacting with other humans. As a bit of an added bonus, the arts and crafts town of Asheville is considered to be the Portland of the East Coast and is home to the famous Biltmore Estate, a luxe Guilded Age oil baron mansion with grounds that enhance the beauty of fall in North Carolina.
If you’re looking for something a bit more remote, Carter Caves State Park in Kentucky offers a deep woods experience and a campground that, while rustic in appearance, offers modern amenities. The park also has a number of special events that will also allow you to bask in the incredible fall colors of the valley in which the park is settled.
Autumn Drives in the South
A popular destination any time of the year, Stone Mountain in Georgia provides both great views of the fall foliage the incredible fall color, as well as family fun. Stone Mountain Park is a small amusement park geared toward families with kids, but there’s plenty for parents to do as well. Again, if you’re more of a naturalist and are looking to experience fall in a more natural setting, there’s always Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway. A curvy, windy stretch of road in South Carolina’s Blue Ridge Escarpment—the southernmost tip of the Blue Ridge Mountains that make up more than half of the Appalachian Mountain Range.
Rocky Mountain Scenic Drives
It’s almost as hard to pick just one stretch of the Rockies for a fall foliage drive as it is to not quote John Denver while doing it. Our first pick would be Glacier National Park in Glacier, Montana. The entire park is nestled in a valley surrounded by steep, tree-lined peaks. Going-to-the-sun road is your best bet for a great fall foliage view. The park offers chauffeured, open-top tour cars that offer sweeping views of fall color of the valley below—more than 3,000 ft. below (The peak of the road is 6,646 ft. above sea level and offers breathtaking views).
Further south in the Rocky Mountains, we recommend Maroon Bells in Colorado. Among the most photographed alpine areas in the continental US, Maroon Bells looks like something out of a Bob Ross painting. Because the area gets very cold very quickly the colors are vivid and varied. The Alpine Loop scenic byway is one of the best options for cruising the fall foliage and mountain splendor of the Colorado wilderness.
Coastal Southwest Scenic Fall Drives
The fall foliage scene on the West Coast is dominated by the northern states. California, while sporting a robust park system full of stunning scenery, lacks many of the trees responsible for the bright colors of fall we’re accustomed to seeing in the Northeast. However, there are some hidden gems that offer the fall colors so common to the East Coast. Our top pick in California is the town of Julian in San Diego County. The colors there are fantastic and there’s plenty to do there regardless of whether you’re planning a family trip, a romantic getaway, or a solo drive through the rolling mountains of Southern California.
Pacific Northwest Fall Color Sightseeing
Mount Hood National Park was our top pick for a scenic fall drive in the Pacific Northwest. The colors there are great and the proximity to Portland, OR means you have a lot of options in the way of things to do and places to see. Be aware, fall foliage season in the Pacific Northwest starts much earlier than the rest of the country.
If you’re up for a longer ride and more varied sight-seeing, we’d recommend this gem we found thanks to Rand-McNally’s travel guides—The Supernatural Pacific Northwest Road Trip. This guide outlined places to stay, eat, and see in addition to taking you through the majority of the natural splendor of the Pacific Northwest.
Midwest Fall Color Drives
The Midwest has a surprising number of fantastic fall color drives. Choosing just one was incredibly difficult. We chose Indiana Arts Road 46, a surprisingly hilly drive that takes you through small towns and past old German farms. It’s a rustic tour of fall colors and local flavor.
The road is a little bit long for a single-day drive (if you plan on stopping, that is). Starting in Bloomington, In, Arts Road 46 winds through a number of small towns known for crafting and architecture before coming to Columbus, IN roughly 40 miles later. We’ve heard there’s a number of churches along the way that offer fried chicken dinners on the weekends that are open to the public. What’s better than a chicken dinner and a road trip?
Didn’t Find a Drive Close to You?
Don’t worry, this is America. Most states in the continental US have some reasonably accessible fall foliage drives within a relatively short distance. These are just the “Top of the list” drives. For info on where to go to see your local fall foliage, refer to the US Forest Service’s Fall Foliage Guide.
Need some help planning your trip?
Here are some helpful tips to make your fall foliage road trip a successful one:
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