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What better way to experience the best of fall’s beauty than with a road trip? These scenic drives will bring you through some of the best of autumn’s gorgeous colors.
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Skyline Drive is the only public road in Shenandoah National Park, and it will bring you to 75 overlooks where you can gaze out at a dramatic display of colors. Peak viewing time is typically from mid- to late-October, but it depends on your elevation. Leaves begin changing first on the highest peaks and finish in the lower elevation. And, depending on where you are, those hues can vary significantly due to the various elevations and other factors. It stretches for a hundred miles over a wide range of elevation heights and takes at least three hours, though you may want to get out and do a little exploring too. There are 500 miles of trails with dense forests, ancient caves, towering mountains, mist-enshrouded waterfalls and lots more to see.
New Hampshire’s White Mountains cover about a quarter of the state and are considered the most rugged in New England, while Mount Washington with its 6,288-foot-tall peak is the highest in the Northeast. One of the best drives to take here is referred to as The Kanc. This 37-mile drive is famous for its covered bridges as well as mountain adventures like the Bretton Woods Canopy zip line tour. Getting a bird’s-eye view of the foliage from the tram at Franconia State Park is really a must, and on the hiking trail at the Flume Gorge you can enjoy a gorgeous stroll through covered bridges.
Bursts of color can be seen throughout Massachusetts, but the Berkshires are renowned for featuring some of the most breathtaking displays in the state. Peak leaf peeping is usually in early October, a time you see the meandering roads lined with golds, reds and even deep scarlet hues while passing tranquil lakes, quaint farms and lush meadows, along with a backdrop of mountain peaks. The 35-mile stretch on Jacob’s Ladder Scenic Byway is a must fall experience here, and includes the chance to take in the jaw-dropping three-state views of the landscape from Bash-Bish Falls State Park.
The Upper Peninsula is the place to go in Michigan, offering some of the most impressive autumn scenery in the nation, including lots of magnificent cascades. This vast region spans 384 miles from east to west, and has 4,300 inland lakes and 1,700 miles of shoreline on three Great Lakes. Much is forest, which means lots of reds, oranges, golds, and greens, with stunning hues blanketing the hills, forming colorful tunnels across winding two-lane roads. Some of the best views can be found in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, along with nearly 100 waterfalls, including Bond Falls, one of the most jaw-dropping of all.
In Ohio, the Hocking Hills Scenic Byway offers views of some of the state’s most impressive sights in and around Hocking State Forest. The 26.4-mile byway follows State Route 374 deep into the historic hills, passing the six non-contiguous sites of Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio’s natural crown jewels. Discover mysterious caves and ancient remnants along with spectacular autumn foliage. In this season, the region is dotted with a remarkable rainbow of brilliant fall colors. You may want to get out for a different vantage point, by zip line, in a hot air balloon, or canoe.
The Adirondacks are the largest natural wilderness region in the eastern U.S. The region provides a wonderfully tranquil place for escaping the hustle and bustle of the city, as well as boasting an awe-inspiring array of autumn foliage. The 170-mile Olympic Trail links Lake Ontario to Lake Champlain, and on this drive, you’ll see some of the best of the best, with oak, maple, birch and beech trees exploding with brilliant orange, fiery red and golden yellow hues among the forested landscape.
If you want both coastal and autumn scenery, head to Maine’s picturesque shores. You may want to start on Route 1 in Portland, taking in the lighthouses and magnificent mansions before venturing into Acadia National Park, renowned for its incredibly vibrant autumn hues, particularly along the 40-mile span of the Acadia Byway. If you’re up for it, take the 5.5-mile Sargent Mountain Loop hike for more impressive vistas or hike to the summit of Cadillac Mountain to view the sea of colors from above.
The Million Dollar Highway follows a 25-mile stretch of US 550 between Silverton and Ouray in southwestern Colorado. It’s one of the most impressive drives all year long (though winter can be rather harrowing), but autumn is arguably the best. The endless twists and turns that follow along the edge of sheer cliffs, is renowned for its Switzerland-like views that include the soaring, jagged peaks of the San Juan Mountains. Combined with those vivid colors, this drive is truly extraordinary.
Highway 20 cuts across the rugged North Cascades in Washington State, and delivers unrivaled scenic beauty that’s heightened when autumn’s colors arrive. It will bring you to the Wild West town of Winthrop, and one of the top places to stay for experiencing more jaw-dropping fall scenery and outdoor adventure, Sun Mountain Lodge. The 3,000-acre resort sits atop a hill, serving as an ideal spot for admiring the brilliant hues. The Mountain View guest rooms offer uninterrupted views of the Cascades and all their glory, as well as balconies and gas fireplaces.
The 80-mile Columbia Gorge slices through the Cascades to form a natural border between southern Washington and northern Oregon. Come fall, when the firs, cottonwoods, big-leaf maples, Oregon ash, and twisted pines show off their glorious colors, it will truly take your breath away. Along the way you can stop at one of the many wineries for a tasting, hike the miles and miles of trails, many of which lead to waterfalls, or get out on the river in a raft or kayak.