11 Epic Fall Foliage Road Trips to Drive This Year
While the nation packs in fall foliage across the latitudes, we’ve narrowed the below list down to the winding-est roads, the most laid-back towns, and the most colorful views. Pack your sweaters, fill up the tank, and grab a Pumpkin Spice Latte for one of these 11 foliage-frenzied road trips.
With the vast majority of Door County’s 3 million visitors arriving in summer, a fall-foliage road trip down this 80-mile (129-kilometer) peninsula will be a communion with the open, leaf-lined road. Start in Sturgeon Bay—by far the peninsula’s largest town at 9,000 people—and head northward. Five state parks pop up among the villages, a chance to trade those bucolic views for ones riddled with sand dunes, sea cliffs, rocky ridges, and ocean-like vistas over Lake Michigan.
Want to break up the drive? Wander down Sister Bay’s bustling main drag, go apple-picking at a family orchard, venture to Washington Island, and slurp up the ice cream at Wilson’s in Ephraim. Thanks to the peninsula’s compact size, it’s all possible.
Route 1 to Acadia National Park
Start your leaf-peeping in Portland, traveling up the rocky coast past lighthouses and mansions—fall foliage pops even more when there are some architectural gems attempting to steal the show. Then, make your way to Acadia National Park and the Hulls Cove Visitor Center, hopping on Park Loop Road. It’s a 27-mile (43-kilometer) scenic drag that covers the east side of Mount Desert Island, or MDI to locals. You’ll see Sand Beach, Otter Point, Cadillac Mountain, Jordan Pond, and—if you time it right—the park’s lush views in oranges and golds.
Insider tip: The park’s shuttle, the Island Explorer, also covers this route, if you want to limit your gas budget. Just be sure to sit on the left for the best views.
The Million Dollar Highway
The Rockies north of Denver may get all the glory, but southwestern Colorado’s Million Dollar Highway—a 25-mile (40-kilometer) stretch through the San Juan Mountains between Ouray and Silverton—more than earns its name. Expect to stop for photos on the side of the road, catch your breath at the Switzerland-esque views, and marvel over the hairpin turns which delicately usher you along the edges of sheer cliffs.
Insider tip: Don’t skip Ouray, sitting deep in the narrow Uncompahgre Gorge, to catch peekaboo waterfall views as you wander Main St. When this area turns gold, it’s—somehow—even more magical.
Columbia River Gorge Scenic Byway
Running for 70+ miles (112+ kilometers) east of Portland, the Historic Columbia River Gorge Scenic Byway is America’s first scenic highway, running along the walls of the mighty Columbia. Some 90 waterfalls pour over the gorge’s basalt cliffs, but five prominent cascades warrant their own stops, including the 620-foot (189-meter) Multnomah Falls. Hike to every single one you can, noting the fabulous foliage of the maples and ash contrasting with the firs and pines. The Twin Tunnels Trail—a 5-mile (8-kilometer) section of the Historic Columbia Highway State Trail only open to cyclists and pedestrians—comes chock-full of easy-access scenic overlooks, too.
Blue Ridge Parkway
Virginia to North Carolina
“America’s favorite drive,” the 469-mile (754-kilometer) Blue Ridge Parkway runs from Roanoke, Virginia, to Asheville, North Carolina, through some of the wildest fall foliage in the country. Start up north, and you’ll get the vistas of Shenandoah National Park and the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests; start south, and you’ll get Asheville’s brew scene up to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There’s no wrong way to slice it, but the winding scene around the Linn Cove Viaduct—at milemarker 304.4—is a particular autumn delight.
Drive just about anywhere throughout Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in early October, and you’ll be leaf-peeping in all directions. But to narrow it down, make the roughly 2-hour drive from Palm Brooks State Park to Tahquamenon Falls State Park. At the former, you’ll see a 40-foot-deep (12-meter-deep) natural spring, aka “Big Spring,” surrounded in crimson and orange; at the latter, you’ll get the obvious waterfall views, plus access to 50,000 undeveloped acres (20,235 hectares) of emerald pine and golden tamarack. Another hour east, and you’ll wind up in Sault Ste. Marie, the third-oldest city in the country.
Hocking Hills Scenic Byway
Drive Ohio’s Hocking Hills Scenic Byway come autumn, and you’ll never look at the Buckeye State the same way again. The nearly 27-mile (43-kilometer) scenic drag travels along rolling hills, above caves, near sparkling waterfalls, and deep through the forests in and around Hocking Hills State Park. The fall foliage is sublime—and you’re only an hour from the effortlessly cool capital, Columbus, and its delicious High Street.
Just a few hours north of NYC lies the largest contiguous wilderness in the US—Adirondack Park. At some 18,000 square miles (46,620 square kilometers), it’s three times the size of Yellowstone National Park, and its fall foliage is just as superlative. Hop on the 170-mile (274-kilometer) Olympic Trail, driving between Lake Ontario and Lake Champlain, to commune with the oaks, maples, and birches climbing the High Peaks region of these ancient mountains.
Green Mountain Byway
Though the entire Northeast lights up in fall color, Vermont holds a special place in the leaf-peeping zeitgeist. (Perhaps it’s the cider donuts and warm pumpkin rolls that level up any drive?) For a nearly effortless moment of autumn revelry, hit the Green Mountain Byway, an 11-mile (18-kilometer) ribbon between sleepy hamlets, three state parks, rolling meadows, and picturesque farms. It runs from Waterbury to Stowe, sitting in the shadow of the state’s highest mountain, lit up in blazing Vermont technicolor.
Sylamore Scenic Byway
If Arkansas isn’t already on your outdoor radar, it’s about to be. Just 90 minutes north of Little Rock—an autumnal oasis in itself—lies the Ozark National Forest and the Sylamore Scenic Byway. Running for 26.5 miles (42.5 kilometers), you’ll start in the ghost town of Calico Rock, trading some eerie leaf-peeping views for those along limestone cliffs, up pine-clad mountain vistas, and deep into the white-oak hickory forest. Your terminus is Blanchard Springs Caverns; while there’s no fall foliage down there, you should definitely stop to explore this living, growing, 300 million-year-old cave. The main “room” is three football fields long.
The Mohawk Trail
Centuries ago, Indigenous groups took the 69-mile (111-kilometer) Mohawk Trail from modern-day Athol, Massachusetts—90 minutes from Boston—to the Atlantic coast. Safe to say they probably leaf-peeped a bit here, too. You’ll take this journey on pavement, though, winding down routes 2 and 2A, soaking in the foliage along the Deerfield and Connecticut Rivers and up the slopes of the Berkshires and Taconic Mountains. This is the first scenic road in New England and the most famous of the routes through the Berkshires, and autumn is probably why.