11 Road Trips That Showcase Stunning Fall Foliage You Need to Take This Autumn
“Leaf-peepers,” rejoice: here are 11 beautiful drives where you’re guaranteed to see some amazing fall colors.
New York Adirondack Adventure
The Adirondack Park, the largest wilderness east of the Mississippi, sprawls far and wide across upstate New York—a rugged, pristine realm where forests and mountains reign supreme. Encompassing both public and private land, the Adirondack Park is shaped a bit like a giant oval, and it boasts an astounding 6 million acres—a tapestry of woodlands, meadows, high-shouldered peaks, and thousands of streams and lakes. The 16,000-acre Wilmington Flume Preserve on Rte. 86 is part of Adirondack Park. Tiny villages are nestled across the countryside, and campgrounds and trails abound. It is no wonder, then, that visitors who come here tend to stay a while in order to savor the stunning scenery, protected since 1892 by a state law decreeing that the park shall remain ”forever wild.”
Length: About 270 miles, plus side trips.
When to go: Fine scenery year-round, with drastic and dramatic seasonal changes. In October, Lake Placid hosts a Flaming Leaves festival, which includes good food and sporting events.
Hidden in the time-worn mountains of far western Maryland is a pristine province where rivers run deep, forests grow thick, and tiny mountain towns beckon with cozy inns and tales of frontier lore. Don’t miss the Casselman Bridge of Grantsville, a mountain village populated mostly by Amish and Mennonites since the 1800s.
Length: About 193 miles, plus side trips.
When to go: Best between May and October.
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Massachusetts Mohawk Trail
Forested mountains, rich river-bottom farmlands, and riotous explosions of autumn color—the splendors of this Massachusetts drive have inspired the raves of travelers for generations. Above, a floral cascade blankets the stream-side trail at Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls.
Length: About 60 miles, plus side trips.
When to go: Popular year-round, but best in fall for the foliage.
South Carolina Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway
Threading along the slopes of the southern Appalachians, this drive crosses an ancient Indian path as it winds past orchards and a historic battlefield to a land of forests, lakes, and a legendary white-water river. More than 50 waterfalls—among them some of the tallest in the East—splash down from the heights of the Upcountry, as South Carolinians call these western mountains. At Raven Cliff Falls, visitors look up to see a series of cascades that plunge more than 400 feet through a narrow gorge. In autumn, when the foliage of oaks, hickories, and maples achieves its peak, Raven Cliff affords one of the state’s most splendid scenes: a misty tableau of yellows, reds, and oranges enlivened by the dancing silver water of the falls.
Length: About 130 miles, plus side trips.
When to go: Fine scenery year-round; icy conditions may close roads in winter.
West Virginia Midland Trail
In the rugged mountains of lower West Virginia, where wild rivers race between towering cliffs, the twists and turns along this drive offer irresistible temptations to slow down and savor the views. At Hawk’s Nest State Park, a park gondola carries passengers down into the depths of the gorge. Wildflowers stud the slopes in spring; come fall, the region is a golden blaze of fluttering foliage. Here are some gorgeous pictures of foliage all across America.
Length: About 120 miles, plus side trips.
When to go: Popular year-round.
Vermont Green Mountain Byway
This classic tour through the heart of Vermont passes green pastures full of contented cattle, tidy villages with quaint general stores, and mountains that seem as old as time. The town of Plymouth Notch encapsulates 30th president Calvin Coolidge’s life. Word to the wise: book reservations early for fall foliage tours and accommodations. Here are the small towns every American should visit.
Length: About 220 miles, plus side trips.
When to go: Popular year-round; fall foliage is especially beautiful. In fact, Vermont’s foliage has its own website.
New Hampshire White Mountain Wonderland
“These woods are lovely, dark and deep,” wrote Robert Frost, moved by the icy beauty of the White Mountains. But while these sugarcone peaks live up to their name only in winter, they are worth a visit at any time of year. They’re best from mid-September to mid-October, when fall foliage is at its most spectacular. Make sure to stop at the 6,500-acre Franconia Notch State Park, where a pond is built around a spectacular mountain pass.
Length: About 125 miles, plus side trips.
When to go: Popular year-round, but best from mid-September to mid-October.
Michigan Gold Coast
This gorgeous drive along the northeast shore of Lake Michigan winds through fishing towns, sand dunes, and a highly recommended pick-your-own apple orchard in Northport. The foliage here is especially impressive compared to the unchanging green of the pine trees in the area. Here are 12 cool uses for apples (besides eating them) that you never knew about.
Length: About 100 miles, plus side trips.
When to go: Thrillist.com recommends visiting the Wolverine State in September. In late September, you’ll encounter more foliage and less traffic.
If all of these East Coast routes are a little too far for you, don’t forget that the northwest has some great foliage as well! The Olympic Peninsula route starts in Seattle, Washington and is a great way to see some northwestern wildlife like elk and otters. Not to be missed: a hike at Lake Crescent takes you to a stunning view of a 90-foot waterfall.
Length: About 350 miles, plus side trips.
When to go: Thrillist.com jokes that Seattle has only two seasons—winter and August—and that the latter is the best time to visit Washington by far. However, you’ll need to stick around a little later than that to see the best of the foliage.
Route 1 and the Coast of Maine
With this route, you get the beauty of the autumn trees and of the Maine seashore. This journey through the northernmost parts of Route 1 starts in Portland and passes stunning mansions and lighthouses. Make sure to stop in Acadia National Park for the gorgeous scenery and, if you’re up for it, the five-and-a-half-mile Sargent Mountain Loop hike. Plus, it’s got some amazing food, too: Travel & Leisure recommends stopping in Cape Elizabeth for delicious lobster rolls. Here are America’s best hikes, and the time of year you should take them.
Length: About 450 miles, plus side trips.
When to go: July to August are the busiest seasons, but TripAdvisor claims that September is actually the best time to go.
The Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, Taos, NM
There’s foliage out west, too! This route’s a little shorter, but no less sweet; its golden aspen trees and red cottonwoods are sure to inspire. The looping route starts and ends at Taos, where you should be sure to attend the Taos Fall Arts Festival. New Mexico is also home to one of the U.S.’s best natural hot springs.
Length: About 84 miles, plus side trips.
When to go: Foliage in New Mexico is at its best in October and November, when you can see trees in all different gorgeous colors all the way up the mountains.