10 spectacular routes for best fall foliage in USA
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Are you also looking for spectacular, stunning, and simply the best fall foliage trips? You have come to the right place! Fall is my favorite season and my preferred fall activity is, without a doubt, driving through the countryside in search of best fall foliage in the USA. There are many fall foliage drives in the country and some of them are just incredible when the leaves are full of red, gold, yellow, and burgundy colors. We might still be sweltering in the heat in Houston but temperatures are quickly dropping around the rest of the country and fall is just around the corner. And with that in my mind, here are 10 spectacular routes for best fall foliage in USA.
Skyline Drive, Virginia
Driving the Skyline Drive in Virginia is the best way to see the fall foliage in Shenandoah National Park. During fall Shenandoah is colorful with vibrant leaves of many different trees. The 105-mile long Skyline Drive traverses the ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia and has epic views over the mountains bursting with colors. The road has over 70 overlooks which are perfect for photo opportunities and taking in the landscape. Apart from foliage viewing, the area is bustling with fall festivals.
We recommend starting your trip at the northernmost Front Royal entrance to the Skyline Drive. To get the most out of this fall foliage road trip, time your visit around the peak season. The national park website is updated with fall color reports each Friday during the leaf-watching season. The park rangers at Shenandoah are also helpful and will guide you towards the prime spots for fall colors at the time of your visit.
Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park covered in mist during fall
Blue Ridge Parkway
While the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park ends at Rockfish Gap, the Blue Ridge Mountain ranges continue further south into the Carolinas and Georgia. Fall color on the Blue Ridge mountain in North Carolina can be viewed by driving the Blue Ridge Parkway, popularly known as the best fall road trip in the country.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is 469 miles long and best suited for a multi-day road trip. There are many quaint mountain communities located along the Blue Ridge Parkway and these have a good selection of B&B’s, restaurants, and fall festivals to make a perfect stopover. The Blue Ridge Parkway has many overlooks that have panoramic views over the sloping mountains and colorful trees.
Fall Views along Blue Ridge Parkway
California Route 395
By Dhara from It’s Not About the Miles
Running through some of the most scenic parts of the Eastern Sierra, California State Route 395 between South Lake Tahoe and the town of Bishop is a spectacular road trip in fall. The distance is just 175 miles, so you could technically drive it in a day or less. But we spent ten days gradually making our way down from South Lake Tahoe, exploring little roads leading off SR395 into wildly colorful canyons and mountain passes and chasing peak fall color as it was being reported on our route.
Color in the Eastern Sierra comes mainly from aspen, willow, and cottonwoods, and can range from sunny yellow to deep burgundy, with all shades in between. Against the backdrop of the majestic Sierra Nevada mountains, the swathes of color look gorgeous. The landscape is intrinsically beautiful, with meandering rivers, jewel lakes, and dramatic canyons forming a pretty backdrop for fall colors.
If you are planning a one-day drive, stick more or less to the main SR395. You will see brilliant fall colors at Conway Summit, the highest point on the drive, where you can just pull out to the side of the road and drink in the colorful vistas. Convict Lake, just south of Mammoth Lakes, is a mere two-mile drive from the main route, and offers stunning fall photo ops, especially at sunrise. Willows and aspen lining the banks of the lake make a pretty picture. The eighteen-mile June Lake Loop is a detour off SR395 that you can take going in either direction. The road has beautiful views of four lakes surrounded by craggy mountain peaks and loads of fall color if you happen to visit at the peak. The peak occurs from mid-September to mid-October at various elevations. You can call the offices of Inyo County or Mono County in California or check their websites for fall color updates. Happy leaf-peeping!
Fall colors in the Eastern Sierra, California (Photo – It’s Not About the Miles)
Independence Pass Loop through Aspen and Glenwood Springs
By Lori from fitz5onthego
For one of the best fall drives from Denver try a loop through Independence Pass. Take a few days, a weekend, or even a week to take in the spectacular views. From Denver, go West on I-70. There are several great mountain towns to visit along the way including Idaho Springs, Georgetown, and Frisco. Breckenridge is a short detour away and so is beautiful Loveland Pass. The first main stop of this tour is Leadville. Leadville is a small, historic town located at 10,000 feet and happens to be the location of Turquoise Lake. Turquoise Lake is beautiful but we suggest taking a short stop here if you have just enough time to reach Aspen before dark. Otherwise, keep driving, you’ll find plenty of scenic views.
Twin Lakes (after Leadville and at the start of Independence Pass) should be your next destination. At Twin Lakes, the road starts to rise higher and gets curvier; driving this road is an adventure and can be scary for nervous drivers. There are also vehicle length restrictions so that everyone can make the curves while staying in their own lanes. The fall scenery here is amazing. Yellows, oranges, and reds are everywhere. Make sure you schedule time to stop at the top. It’s beautiful and the air is crisp (as well as thin). Independence Pass is closed in the winter and it’s always a good idea to check conditions before you go in case of early closures.
Along the way down to Aspen, you can stop at the ghost town of Independence and the grottos. I recommend staying in Aspen or Snowmass Village for at least a day or two. It’s a cute city and in the fall, it can be very affordable. If you have the time consider devoting a full day to exploring Maroon Bells. These mountains are thought to be the most photographed peaks in North America and they are stunning. The hiking is easy and blankets you in spectacular fall colors. If you want to see more color, add Ashcroft Ghost Town to your drive.
When your time in Aspen is up, head North to beautiful Glenwood Springs and spend a day here. There is a lot to do in Glenwood Springs including soaking at the springs, biking the Glenwood Canyon trail, or staying at the historic Hotel Colorado. The mountaintop has a lot of fun activities as well. If you have the time, hike the Hanging Lake Trail – it’s beautiful. When you’ve gotten your fix of fantastic fall scenery (or you’re out of storage space on the camera) head back down I-70 to Denver. If you want a beautiful drive with some of the best fall scenery in the country – this is your drive.
Beautiful Maroon Bells in fall is one of Colorado’s most iconic photos (Photo – fitz5onthego)
Maine Coastal Trip
By Talek of Travels with Talek
The coast of Maine is breathtakingly beautiful in all seasons. In spring, the wildflowers burst into a rainbow of colors and visitors are treated to extraordinary landscapes. Summer brings crowds to the warm beaches and lush greenery of the area, and street fairs and food festivals are common. Winter offers skiing and other winter sports and picturesque Christmas villages covered in snow. But autumn! Autumn on the Maine coast is truly special, a wonderland of fall foliage in blazing colors; rich reds, mellow yellows, and warm orange are everywhere as far as you can see.
The drive along Vermont Route 1 from Kennebunkport to Acadia National Park is considered to be one of the most picturesque fall drives in the country. This four and a half hour drive should ideally be completed in several days, taking time to enjoy the scenic stops along the way. Only with a leisurely drive can you really appreciate all the area has to offer. The drive is surrounded by golden yellow maples trees.
The quaint New England villages on the trip offer great seafood, cozy bed and breakfasts and a wide variety of attractions. The best time to see the turning foliage or to go leaf peeping is late September to mid-October but you will enjoy the stunning beauty of the area any season. If you are visiting in Fall, advance bookings are highly recommended as the area is popular with international tourists who come for the fall colors.
Beautiful fall colors along Vermont Route 1 (Photo – Travels with Talek)
Boston to Acadia National Park
By Kate of Our Escape Clause
If you’re looking for a quintessential New England fall road trip, you can’t beat driving from Boston to Acadia National Park. Not only is the road gorgeous with resplendent fall scenery, the start and end points of the trip are incredible destinations in their own right.
In Boston, lose yourself in American Revolutionary War history by walking the Freedom Trail, admire the architecture of Beacon Hill, and indulge in delicious brunches and shopping in trendy Back Bay. Along the way, consider indulging in some New England charm with stops in places like the historical and fascinating Salem (the witch trial history is everywhere, along with some classic American history and plenty of excellent restaurants) and Kennebunkport (a laid back, relaxed coastal town in southern Maine). If you have time, stop in trendy Portland. With a raging food scene and enough breweries to keep even the pickiest of craft beer lovers entertained, it’s a must-see on the road from Boston to Acadia National Park.
Once you make your way to Acadia National Park, it’s time to say goodbye to town and city life for awhile. In Acadia, it’s all about nature. The fall colors in the park are incredible, especially if you visit during the peak. Some of the best things to do in Acadia are admiring the sunrise or sunset from the top of Cadillac Mountain, strolling around the beautiful Jordan Pond, or standing in awe of the power of the ocean at the epic Thunder Hole. You can also hike the Ocean Path Trail to see spectacular coastal sights. In the warmest months, you can even get a little beach time in at Sand Beach!
Rocky coastline along the Acadia National Park (Photo – Our Escape Clause)
Vermont Route 7
By Tara Schatz of Back Road Ramblers
Ready to explore quintessential New England this autumn? Southern Vermont makes a fabulous weekend getaway — it’s just a few hours from Boston, Montreal, and New York City, and aside for the gorgeous mountain scenery, you’ll also find plenty of shopping, dining, and cultural opportunities. The leaves begin to change colors in the mountains in early October. By the second week of October, the valleys follow suit, and the back roads, farms, and villages are alight with the bright hues of autumn.
The Route 7 corridor between the Taconic and Green Mountains is one of the prettiest roads in the state. Start your explorations in Bennington, the first chartered town in Vermont. Bennington is also home to the state’s tallest building, the largest collection of Grandma Moses paintings, and the gravesite of the poet, Robert Frost. There’s enough here to keep you busy for many days, but be sure to explore the Old First Church, Bennington Battle Monument, and the Bennington Museum.
Continuing north on Route 7A, you will pass through many charming New England villages, including Arlington, where Norman Rockwell settled in the 1940s, and Manchester, where you’ll discover boutique outlet shopping, lots of restaurants, and good hiking at the Equinox Mountain Preserve. Manchester is also the home of Hildene, the beautiful former estate of Robert Todd Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln. The property includes 412 acres of manicured lawns, forested trails, and a working farm.
Views along farms in Vermont during a fall road trip along Route 7
Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains
The Blue Ridge Parkway might not extend all the way into Georgia, but this part of the mountain ranges is no less stunning. Northern Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains are close to Atlanta and make for a perfect road trip from the city. Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains have the same breathtaking scenery, quaint mountain towns, luxurious pine cabins, waterfalls and beautiful hiking trails.
Some of the must stops along the road trip include towns of Blue Ridge, Blairsville, and Helen. Blue Ridge is perfect for exploring the mountain scenery and taking epic driving tours. Blairsville is a rustic mountain community with a few jewels including its historic Courthouse. Helen is a charming town modeled after small towns in the German countryside of Bavaria. We especially love visiting Helen with its unique architecture and Oktoberfest celebrations. There are also many vineyards and microbreweries located in this area where you can sample local wines and craft beer.
Start of fall colors on the Blue Ridge mountains in northern Georgia
Lake Michigan Circle Tour
Lake Michigan circle tour is a route that goes around Lake Michigan. The entire route is located in the US and makes up for a great fall trip. While the entire route is stunning at any time of the year, we recommend concentrating on Door County in Wisconsin and Michigan’s upper peninsula for the best fall foliage viewing opportunities.
Door County comprises of the Door Peninsula of Wisconsin that juts out onto the Lake Michigan. The Door Peninsula has many beautiful lighthouses and state parks that make a road trip here a delight. Door County has fall colors from late September through mid-October; if you plan your visit accordingly you can experience Midwest’s best fall colors.
Michigan’s upper peninsula is one of the least visited parts of the state. The area experiences fall colors at the same time as Door County and we suggest driving through the upper peninsula to enjoy spectacular landscapes of flaming maples, oaks, and other hardwoods.
The Door Peninsula has spectacular fall colors and scenic drives
Talimena Scenic Drive
Talimena Scenic Drive in Arkansas is one of the nation’s best fall foliage drives. The road connects Mena in Arkansas and Talihina in Oklahoma and cradles the top of the Ouachita mountain ranges. This 54-mile drive is incredibly scenic and drives through many attractions including the Queen Wilhelmina State Park, Rich Mountain Fire Tower, etc.
Talimena Scenic Byway is a twisting and turning road that passes through forests of hardwood and evergreen trees. The drive has over 20 scenic pullouts to view the mountain scenery. The dominant fall colors in this area are reds, yellows, and golds. The best time to visit this area for fall foliage is in mid-November when the Ouachita Mountains are vibrant with colors.
Also Read: Visit the Talimena Scenic Drive in fall
Talimena Scenic Drive in Arkansas is one of the best places to view fall in the state
Are you excited for fall yet? The crisp autumn air and the light breeze is a delight after the heat and humidity of summer. Apple orchards and strawberries picking season is upon us and apple ciders and pumpkins will soon find their way inside country stores and roadside stands. The weather is just right for fall foliage trips, where are you planning to go this year?
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Dotted Globe is a travel blog about amazing road trips. We are an Indian expat family living in the United States since 2010 and love the open roads.