Great American Road Trips for Fall Foliage

Temperatures drop, jackets zip up, and the country takes on a comforting hue of fall colors—autumn is here. Leaf peeping is an age-old tradition, and one that only gets better with time. Here are four American road trips that will surely get your camera clicking.
Blue Ridge Parkway in the Fall
Blue Ridge Parkway in the Fall  (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

Pull that fleece jacket out of the back of the closet, order up a pumpkin-spice latte, and breathe in the crisp morning air. Ah, fall is here. If you need more confirmation, just look to the trees beginning their yearly transformation into blazing glory. And what better way to enjoy the show than to hop in the car, roll down the windows, and let the beautiful sights coast by. Here are the top scenic drives for seeing those stunning fall colors.

Route 7/Ethan Allen Highway (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont)
Prime Time: mid-September through early October
“Vermont gets all the fall foliage glory, but Southern New England has its fair share of blazing hillsides and quaint roadside towns,” says Pieter van Noordennen, Away.com editor and Connecticut native. U.S. Route 7 runs 308 miles from Norwalk, Connecticut, to Highgate, Vermont, passing through the Berkshire Mountains in Western Massachusetts and Connecticut, and continuing to the Green Mountains in Vermont. Fifty percent of the trees in this area are red and sugar maples, creating the scarlet red and warm orange glow that is legendary in these parts. These spots are no doubt a mecca for serious leaf-peepers. Make a weekend of it with a bed and breakfast in Middlebury or a camping spot at Kent Falls State Park. And if you need a break from snapping leaf pictures, head to Waterbury, Vermont, for a yummy tour of the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory.

Blue Ridge Parkway (Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee)
Prime Time: mid- to late-October
The Blue Ridge Parkway starts in Shenandoah National Park and winds 469 miles through Western North Carolina to the Great Smoky Mountains in Eastern Tennessee. The ups and downs along this parkway range from 650 feet to over 6,000 feet, with leaf color peaking at the higher elevations first. You will find a brilliant canvas created by the deep red dogwoods, the bright yellow hickories, and the vivid orange sassafras. Make pit-stops along the way in the “Blue Ridge Capital” of Roanoke, Virginia, hippy-chic Asheville, North Carolina, and the spectacle that is Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Natchez Trace Parkway (Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi)
Prime Time: mid- to late-October
The Deep South breathes a collective sigh of relief as blistering summer heat gives way to pleasant fall temperatures, and lovely foliage to go along with it. The Natchez Trace Parkway begins in Natchez, Mississippi, and stretches a little over 440 miles to Nashville, Tennessee. In late October you will see the maples, oaks, and other hardwood trees showing off their vibrant red, yellows, oranges, and purples.  And leaves aren’t the only attraction. Hiking and biking trails dot the way, as do historic sites and charming craft centers, inviting you to park the car and stretch your legs. Camping is a budget-friendly option for a multi-day trip, or you can detour off the trace for a comfortable hotel room.

Yosemite National Park (California)
Prime Time: mid- to late-October
Yosemite is a beautiful park year-round, but visit in October and you‘ll see the maples, oaks, and dogwoods boasting their color among the evergreens. Yellow is the favorite fall color of these deciduous trees, with some red and orange splashed in. Near the Yosemite Chapel, check out the non-native sugar maple that turns a bright red; there are several short walks and stops along the way where you can get great leaf photos. To make the drive more than just a day trip, roll into little towns like Mariposa and get a restful night’s sleep at the adorable bed and breakfasts.

If you need a dose of closer-to-home fall foliage, our partner site GORP.com’s interactive fall color map shows peak seasons around the country.

And for more scenic drives info, check out our ultimate scenic drives guide.

Published: 25 Sep 2012 | Last Updated: 27 Sep 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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