Come October, most people start thinking about pumpkin pies, apple picking through beautiful country orchards, and of course, fall foliage! Along with cooler temperatures and shorter days, autumn turns forests into pure aesthetic beauty with picturesque hues of orange, yellow, and red, making this the perfect time of year to plan out road trips along scenic byways and backcountry lanes.
The New England region offers up some of the best leaf-peeping routes in the country, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the United States is a blank canvas. Highlighted below are a few of the best areas to experience the amazing displays of nature this autumn season.
Iconic routes in this northeast region of the United States include the Kancamagus Highway, the Acadia Loop Road through Acadia National Park, and the Mohawk Trail, New England’s first official “scenic tourist route”. All of these routes are popular destinations, so if you are looking to get away from the crowds, try these alternatives.
️Evans Notch (Route 113); New Hampshire-Maine border️
A hidden gem through the White Mountains, this narrow two-lane road travels from Stow to Gilead, often creating a true tunnel of foliage as you drive through forests of birch, maple, and beech. Along the way, there are multiple trailheads to enjoy the solitude of the forest and a few hikes leading to scenic swimming holes.️
Jacob’s Ladder Trail (Route 20); Massachusetts️
This 33-mile rural road runs along the foothills of the Berkshires following the same rivers and streams that guided native Americans of the Mohican and Woronoake tribes as they traveled between the Connecticut and Hudson River valleys. Add in a day of hiking and a night of camping at Chester-Blandford State Forest.
Mountain Cloves Scenic Byway; New York️
Roughly three hours outside of New York City, this 40-mile road means through the Catskills offering up panoramic views of rugged mountains, lush valleys, and rushing streams. The byway story connects threads of history bringing together past and present artistic communities, mixed in with vast recreational offerings.
️Delaware River Scenic Byway; New Jersey️
Cruise along the Delaware River through charming riverside towns and historical sights dating back to the Revolutionary War. Experience museums, galleries, and fine artisan restaurants while taking in stunning views from walking bridges that straddle the river. The Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park is perfect for kayaking, biking, or just relaxing on a fine autumn day.
The most epic scenic drive east of the Mississippi is a journey along the 429-mile Blue Ridge Parkway. Running through Virginia and North Carolina, this route connects Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountain National Parks. Skyline Drive, which technically is not part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, offers some of the best fall foliage viewings in the nation. Listed below are two alternatives in the southern region of the United States.️
Newfound Gap; Tennessee and North Carolina️
This 33-mile road that bisects Great Smoky Mountain National Park runs from Gatlinburg, TN to Cherokee, NC. This curvy road is one of the prettiest in all of the United States as it travels through fragrant woodlands while climbing 3,000+ feet in elevation. Most of the roadside pull-offs have trails that lead to quiet, scenic overlooks where you can enjoy a picnic lunch.️
Talimena National Scenic Byway; Oklahoma and Arkansas️
Winding 54-miles along the crest of Rich Mountain and Winding Stair Mountain in the Ouachita National Forest, this scenic drive explores historic towns and offers majestic views of golden valleys. With miles of trails, several lakes, and a few rivers, this destination is a must for travelers, hikers, campers, bikers, and alike sightseers.
Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive; Wisconsin️
This 115-mile route traverses six Wisconsin countries as it rambles through the 50,000 acres of Kettle Moraine State Forest. During the drive, you’ll witness incredible forest views, as well as encountering the numerous geological effects from the Wisconsin Glaciation period. The various local roads and county highways that connect Elkhart Lake to Whitewater Lake are marked with green acorn signs to guide travelers along the way. And of course, you can’t cruise through Wisconsin without enjoying some cheese.️
M-22 Color Tour; Michigan️
This 116-mile state-designated scenic highway traces the coastline of Lake Michigan weaving inland lakes, passing through harbor towns, and explores the history of the Great Lakes region. Explore the golden sand dunes of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore, taste fantastic wines sourced by local vineyards, and snack on fresh produce from roadside food stands.️
Trinity River Scenic Byway; California️
These 140-miles may offer some of the most diverse scenery, botanical variety, and wildlife viewing in all of northern California. Connecting Redding to the coastal town of Eureka, the drive cuts through Shasta-Trinity National Forest and is dotted with small towns and country cafes. Whiskeytown Lake offers 36-miles of pristine shoreline and water-oriented activities such as swimming, boating, and fishing.
San Juan Skyway; Colorado️
Often considered an essential journey for road-trippers, these 236-miles are full of multi-hued aspens blanketing the slopes of the San Juan Mountains. Passing through mountain towns like Durango and Telluride, there are numerous opportunities for outdoor adventurers. Though most of the excitement will be found as your drive along the 25-mile stretch known as the Million Dollar Highway.
There you have it! A list of some of the best scenic drives in the United States to fill up your fall foliage season. Yes, these drives are perfect for leaf-viewing in the autumn months but these are also great drives to experience all year round (weather permitting). So, rally up your friends, grab your camera, and let the explorations begin!
Looking for cities to explore during the fall season, check out list of 8 Cities to visit this fall for the perfect Autumn getaway.
For more tips, read our guide on How to Prepare for a Holiday RV Road Trip.
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