You can argue with me if you want, but fall is the best time of year. The crisp autumn leaves, the exciting chill in the air that signals winter is coming (another of my favorite seasons…Don’t hate me), the fun ‘back-to-school’ feeling that has never really left but is now that much sweeter that I don’t actually HAVE to go back to school.
And of course, I love fall colors so much (but doesn’t everybody?)! Here are some of the best autumn drives in the USA for fall foliage according to other travel bloggers. I admit I haven’t done many of them (yet!!) but they’ve certainly given me some destinations to add to my fall bucket list.
NAPA VALLEY IN CALIFORNIA
Contributed by Dhara from Roadtripping California
Fall comes late to Napa Valley in California, but when it does, go visit, because the valley looks beautiful in yellows, oranges, and reds. Napa Valley is one of the easiest weekend trips from San Francisco: it takes just 90 minutes to get there, so there’s no excuse to not go!
Once in the valley, you can drive around to check out the colors. Start in the town of Napa, in the south of the valley, and make your way via the beautiful Silverado Trail to Calistoga in the north. On your way back, drive Highway 29, the main road that runs through the valley. Along both routes, you will see vineyards and trees bursting with color in mid to late November, when colors generally peak in the region.
Colors generally last about three weeks depending on winds. You’ll see the vines change color, of course, but planted trees such as silver maples, liquidambars, and gingkos also add vibrant color to the fall landscape in the valley. Visit state parks such as Bothe-Napa Valley State Park to see native color from maples and wild grapes.
Visit vineyards set on hilltops for panoramic views. Get out of your car and stroll the streets in towns such as Napa, Saint Helena, Yountville, and Calistoga, to enjoy the fall colors up close. You can also enjoy public art installations while you walk. We love walking Yountville’s main street because it looks so stunning. Plus, you can stop for a seasonal sweet treat and pumpkin spice latte at Bouchon Bakery!
JUNE LAKE LOOP IN CALIFORNIA
Contributed by Jenny from Limitless Hiker
June Lake Loop in California is a beautiful drive to see fall foliage in the Eastern Sierras. The colors peak at different times each year, but generally, you can expect to see beautiful shades of yellows and oranges mid-October. Along the loop, there are four lakes; June Lake, Gull Lake, Silver Lake, and Grant Lake.
In October the nights are cool and the mornings are chilly, but it’s perfect weather for hiking, fishing, kayaking, stand up paddleboarding, or even boating on the lakes. There are hiking trails throughout the loop! Fern Lake Trail, Rush Creek Trail, and Parker Lake Trail are beautiful hikes in June Lake.
Just South of June Lake, you can soak in hot springs by Mammoth Lakes. If you want to camp without a camping reservation and in a dispersed area, this is a great place to do so! You can also camp in June Lake or get a hotel or a cabin in the area. If you choose to camp, just be prepared for chilly nights.
POCONO MOUNTAINS IN PENNSYLVANIA
Contributed by Derek and Mike from Robe Trotting
One of the best American destinations to view brilliant autumn leaves is the Pocono Mountains in northeastern Pennsylvania. The entire area is full of hiking trails, preserved game lands, mountain lakes and forested peaks. As you may imagine, there are many scenic drives in the region where you can soak in the views and take some awe-inspiring photographs.
PA Route 6 is one of the most famous scenic drives for viewing the fall foliage in the Pocono region. This winding road stretches across the entire state from Lake Erie in the northwest to the Delaware River in the northeast.
The best portion of PA Route 6 is a 50 mile length that takes visitors from Scranton to the town of Milford on the Delaware River. This scenic drive is perfect in mid-October to early November when the birch, oak, and maples turn bright yellow, orange, and red.
Highlights along PA Route 6 include driving along the northeast shoreline of Lake Wallenpaupack, a massive lake that’s popular for boating and hiking. The lake makes a beautiful backdrop for the foliage reflecting all the gorgeous colors. The drive also includes a number of state game lands and Shohola Marsh Reservoir before you arrive in Milford. It’s a charming small town on the river where you can enjoy a meal after your drive or even spend the night.
SKYLINE DRIVE IN VIRGINIA
Contributed by Megan from Virginia Travel Tips
While there is only one route you can take, there are plenty of places along the trail where you can stop and complete short hikes to enjoy foliage up close and personal. When in Virginia in fall, I will often plan to spend a morning driving a section of the Skyline Drive to admire the onset of the season. However, that morning plan often turns into a whole day event as I lose myself and the day marveling at the leaves and the pure beauty of my favorite season!
BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY IN VIRGINIA
Contributed by Nicole from Bucket List ListsThe Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia is one of the best scenic fall drives and top USA bucket list trips! The Blue Ridge Parkway is about 469 miles stretching between Virginia and North Carolina and connects both the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Shenandoah National Park. It is one of the best drives in the USA.The best time to see the dazzling colors across the ranges depends. The higher in elevation you go, the sooner these colors are visible, due to the crisper air temperatures. But a good rule of thumb is to plan for mid-September to mid-October and keep a flexible schedule.Some of the popular stops along the Blue Ridge Parkway are:
- Biltmore – this iconic hotel is located at milepost 388.8 and is in Asheville, North Carolina. You should plan to stay overnight so you can tour the grounds, garden and even the winery!
- Natural Bridge – located at milepost 61.6 in Virginia, this bridge composed of solid rocks has a 137 step descent (but a shuttle will bring you back up for about $21.00 for adults and $12 for kids).
The types of trees most commonly found on the Blue Ridge Parkway are Fraser Fir and Red Spruce. The Fraser Fir smell like Christmas!
HUDSON VALLEY IN NEW YORK
Contributed by James from Travel Collecting
A scenic drive through the Mid-Hudson Valley is the perfect place to see fall foliage, especially orange, red and yellow maples. The drive starts in the legendary Sleepy Hollow. Heading north on Route 9, you’ll pass through Blue Mountain Park, with plenty of fall foliage. Turn left just after crossing Annsville Creek on to 202. You can rent kayaks and canoes at Hudson River Expeditions.
Next up is Anthony’s Nose viewing point and trailhead. Bear Mountain is opposite and there is more amazing fall color. Take a side trip across the Hudson River to Bear Mountain or go right along 9D. Follow the river to Garrison, where there are lovely views of West Point military academy (and surrounding fall foliage) across the river.
Next up is Cold Spring, anther fun town to explore, and the nearby Breakneck Ridge Trail. This is one of the best hikes in the Hudson Valley, especially in the fall. It’s an almost vertical trail scrambling up rocks with jaw-dropping views of Storm King Mountain across the river.
Back in the car, drive along river with Hudson Highlands State Park on right. Cross the Hudson River over the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge and take 9W north to 32 where you will find yourself driving through bucolic rural scenes to New Paltz. Turn left at Main Street and just after bridge out of town, take a right and head up into the hills through Mohonk Preserve. There are more trails here, plus a lookout over the woods, ablaze with fall color, and the valley beyond.
Turn right in High Falls on 213 and follow that to the Kingston waterfront, where you can have dinner by the water. This is the end of your road trip. You can return the way you came or take the New York Throughway to save time.
The foliage is typically at its peak the two weekends in the middle of October. The drive is 80 miles long and takes two hours without stops.
LOESS HILLS SCENIC BYWAY IN IOWA
Contributed by Lindsay from Siouxland Families
The Loess Hills Scenic Byway puts on a spectacular fall color show as it runs from southwest to northwest Iowa, roughly parallel to America’s longest river; the Missouri. With peak color throughout the month of October, the Loess Hills feature a variety of prairie, riverbank, and woodland habitats atop and along a unique geological form— “loess” is essentially prehistoric windblown silt, and Iowa’s Loess Hills are the most extensive deposits of loess outside of the Loess Plateau along China’s Yellow River!
Two of the best places to enjoy the Loess Hills in fall are the Hitchcock Nature Center in the south and Stone Park in the north. Hitchcock Nature Center near Omaha, Nebraska spans over 1200 acres and includes impressive educational displays & a gift shop in the Loess Hills Lodge, along with scenic overlooks, 10 miles of hiking trails, and plenty of other amenities too, like an archery range and campsites. Stone Park features almost 1600 acres of land in Sioux City, Iowa and includes miles of hiking and equestrian trails, as well as campsites and cabins, the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center, with indoor and outdoor exhibits including rescued reptiles and birds of prey, and an incomparable nature playscape just a short hike from the center! Plan on at least 3 hours for drive time between Hitchcock Nature Center and Stone Park.
NEEDLES HIGHWAY IN SOUTH DAKOTA
Contributed by Megan from Red Around the World
RIVER ROAD IN PENNSYLVANIA & NEW JERSEY
Contributed by James from Wanderus Living
One of the most scenic and overlooked drives in the United States is River Road located on the border of PA and NJ. The route is famous among Harley riders, and people looking for a beautiful weekend drive. There are so many amazing lookouts, hikes, restaurants, cute towns and scenic fall foliage the entire ride!
The debate between which side of River Road is prettier can go either way, as they both have their perks. The Pennsylvania side generally starts in Yardley PA and goes up past Dingmans ferry into New York. The PA side is generally more popular, and has river views for 95% of the ride.
The town of New Hope, Easton and the Delaware Water Gap are some of the most popular stopping destinations along the journey. The town of New Hope has so much shopping, food choices and beautiful bridges and overlooks of the river. Depending on what time of fall you decide to go, you could be met by a beautiful frozen lake, and fall colors everywhere.
My personal favorite part of the trip is to start in New Hope and take it up to the Delaware Water Gap. It should only take you around two hours depending on how much you stop. The Delaware Water Gap offers amazing views of the surrounding landscape.
The New Jersey side of the famous river road offers identical views with much less traffic on worse roads. The New Jersey side requires you to hop on and off the road multiple times which can get confusing. The Jersey back roads in the area are absolutely beautiful and you can see the huge cliffs that overhang the PA side.
River Road is one of the most beautiful fall rides you can take in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. It is also a great summertime ride for all you motorcycle lovers!
FRACONIA NOTCH IN NEW HAMPSHIRE
Contributed by Jamie from Travel Addict
New Hampshire is well known for its exquisite fall foliage and one of the best routes is through Franconia Notch. Franconia Notch is a State Park is within the wider White Mountain National Forest. A “notch” refers to a narrow and deep mountain pass, and Fraconia Notch is a brilliant example of one as the main road passes between high mountainsides for several miles as the highway narrows from 3 lanes to 2 lanes and you drive along picturesque lakes and through the gorgeous White Mountains. At any time of year, this road is impressive but during fall it is simply breathtaking.
The route you’ll want to take is up I-93 North starting around Lincoln, New Hampshire, and continuing onwards towards Franconia. The peak of the drive will be between The Flume and a few miles past Cannon Mountain. During foliage season practically the entire drive up I-93 North from Massachusetts to Canada is worth the journey, but this stretch around Franconia Notch is gorgeous.The best stops to really engage with the foliage and enjoy nature at it’s finest are:
- The Flume, a loop hike through a gorge with waterfalls
- The Basin, a short hike to a natural pool
- Old Man Viewing Area, a picnic area along a lake with the history of the Old Man in the Mountain
- Cannon Mountain, with an aerial tramway to carry you to the top for incredible views of the Notch
MILLION DOLLAR HIGHWAY IN COLORADO
Contributed by Oksana & Max from Drink Tea & Travel
The Million Dollar Highway is one of the most spectacular highways to see Colorado’s fall colors. Located between Ouray and Silverton, this stretch is beautiful all year round but becomes even more special when the trees explode with color. In this alpine region, you’ll pass swathes of pine, spruce and fir.
The best time to visit is between mid September to early October when foliage is at its most vibrant. The 25 mile highway was named the Million Dollar Highway for its supposed price tag back in the 1920’s. However, some people say it got its name from the million dollar views.
If you are embarking on the Million Dollar Highway we suggest you drive from Silverton to end your road trip in Ouray. This charming little town was one of our favourite stops on our Colorado road trip.
Ouray is also known for its geothermal activity. The crisp fall air makes the natural pools at Orvis Hot Springs all the more enjoyable. Most of them are outside in a pristine mountain setting, making it a great place to relax in a picturesque setting.
Just 30 minutes north of Ouray is another spectacular place to see the fall foliage. The Dallas Divide is a 8983-foot mountain pass which is a photographer’s dream. It looks like a computer screensaver come to life. We highly recommend you visit.
GUANELLA PASS IN COLORADOI’ve heard that Kenosha Pass is also really pretty, but I absolutely LOVED Guanella Pass! I’ve heard that Kenosha wasn’t as beautiful this year due to the freak Colorado snowstorm in September, so Guanella it was.I pretty much stopped every 5 seconds to take photos. Georgetown, where the drive starts or ends depending on where you’re coming from, is a really cute little town and worth poking around in.You’ll start climbing higher and higher through the top of the pass, and see amazing views of the surrounding mountains, Mount Evans and Mount Bierstadt. Once you get to the summit, there’s a huge parking lot with a ton of walks surrounding it. I ended up hiking to the Square Top Lakes and I highly recommend that hike! It’s only about 4.5 miles round trip, although going up is pretty steep. I met a lot of people who’d turned around before reaching the first lake! However, it’s totally worth it – I liked the first lake better personally, and if you’re feeling exhausted I’d say there’s no need to continue to the second. However, it’s not very far from the first to the second.The Burning Bear Trail is an easy hike through a huge aspen grove! You don’t even have to really do the hike to enjoy it – I snapped the above photo from the trailhead.Other notable stops:
- Clear Lake Reservoir
- Whiteside Gulch
- Interpretive Trailhead
I hope you enjoyed these awesome autumn drives! I’m already scheming…Is it too late to start planning a cross country road trip???
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