Mother Nature puts on many amazing shows throughout the year, but none garner more attention than the annual display of fall colors. It truly is a spectacular site to take in when deciduous trees and shrubs shed their normally green leaf colors for stunning shades of red, yellow, purple, black, orange, pink, magenta, blue and brown.
Leaf peeping as it has become known is extremely popular during the fall months as folks head out to view fall foliage at its finest. Whether you enjoy nature’s spectacular seasonal showcase by car, bike or hike, it is well worth the effort. Of course, you just need to look out a window in most cases to get a peek at a gorgeous fall tree, but there are quite a few fabulous road trips that are earmarked for autumn. The United States is home to an abundance of fall color hot spots, but here are the ten best autumn foliage road trips. So, pack the bags, check the 2018 leaf peaking calendar before planning your destination and make sure you don’t forget the camera!
The Berkshire Mountains run through Western Massachusetts as well as part of Connecticut. However, when people say they are heading to the Berkshires, they mean the quaint towns and villages nestled along the mountains in Western Massachusetts. This beautiful section of the Bay State is well known for its awe-inspiring fall foliage. This outdoor paradise is full of outdoor activities like hiking and biking as well as festivals and special events. Great Barrington, Lenox and Williamstown are popular draws. Lodging is plentiful, but book early.
Green Mountain Byway, Vermont
The Green Mountain Byway winds through the Vermont towns of Waterbury and Stowe. It meanders along the northern Green Mountains and the peaks of the Worchester Range. In the fall the entire state of Vermont is on fire with color and the Green Mountain Byway is a choice spot to view it by foot or bike. The byway delivers spectacular sites from farms, forests, meadows, the Waterbury Reservoir and Vermont’s highest peak, Mount Mansfield. Either Stowe or Waterbury are picturesque spots to stay, offering diverse lodging options and ideal towns to explore against an incredible mountain backdrop.
Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee
The Great Smoky Mountains run along the Tennessee and North Carolina border. This serene spot is famous for its vegetation, which puts on its Sunday best in the fall. Color begins to sprout in the higher elevations in early October and spreads down to the lower elevations. Excellent places to take in this astonishing vision are the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and Cades Cove. Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee is considered the number one place to check out fall foliage in the south.
Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
The Columbia River Gorge is the result of the Columbia River cutting a path through the Cascade Mountains. This particular spot is magnificent any season but really takes on a special glow in the fall. Oregon’s fall-viewing season typically begins in mid-September, peaking in mid-October. If you are looking for a truly tremendous peek, head to the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area to get a slice of jaw-dropping fall splendor. The scenic area is 80 miles long and includes waterfalls, rock formations in addition to remarkable fall foliage.
Glacier National Park, Montana
Glacier National Park in fall is a wonderful time to plan a visit to see autumn trees in all their glory. By mid-September trees on the western side of the park begin changing while the east tends to bloom full fall hues by the end of the month and into the start of October. However, visitors should be mindful that lodging, as well as most concession services in the park, are closed by the end of September even though Glacier National Park itself is still open to hikers, bikers and vehicles. The resident wildlife is also more active during fall according to the National Park Services website. Before planning a trip, make sure to check the site, which is updated frequently because of the unpredictable weather and wildfires.
Great River Road Byway
The mighty Mississippi is the second longest river in North America, spanning more than 2,000 miles from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico. The Great River Road spans almost the entire course of the Mississippi River making it a must-do road trip, especially in the fall. Numerous scenic overpasses, as well as visitor and outreach centers, are set along Great River Road from Minnesota all the way down to Louisiana, letting travelers take in some pretty astonishing autumn color displays. If you love road trips, map this one out for prime Midwestern and Southern fall foliage viewing.
Iron Mountain Road, South Dakota
The 17 mile stretch in the Black Hills of South Dakota offers up a rather different and delightful take on traditional fall foliage. The Mount Rushmore National Memorial and Custer State Park serve as bookends to the Iron Mountain Road and are the largest tourist draws in the area. Along these 314 curves, travelers discover yellow is the primary fall color in the Black Hills. However, this yellow isn’t the typical yellow hue. It is tinged with undertones that seep red, orange and even green. Unlike many Eastern fall foliage hot spots, the Iron Mountain Road is less traveled and much more open and inviting for those seeking a quieter autumn getaway.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Van Morrison sings about October evenings and falling leaves in his hit “Moondance.” Well, the magnificent fall colors in Shenandoah National Park certainly live up to the line that “Virginia is for lovers.” The stunning autumn colors throughout the Blue Ridge Mountains have definitely inspired a romance or two as well as providing poetry and song inspiration over the years. Skyline Dive and the Stony Man Overlook will deliver extraordinary views of fall foliage. The Skyline Drive extends the entire length of the park and includes numerous trails that are ideal for hikes. Colors typically begin sprouting in late September and run through the start of November. Keep watch on the Shenandoah National Park website where staffers post weekly fall foliage updates.
Shasta Cascade, California
While the East Coast gets a lot of the fall foliage press, the West Coast puts on a pretty impressive autumn spectacular too. The Shasta Cascade region of California sits in the northeastern and north central portions of the state. This luscious area is ideal for outdoor lovers, but it is also a fall paradise. Lakes, waterfalls and the only spot on the planet where you can actually see all four types of volcanoes in the same place pull together to make Shasta Cascade a definite do especially in autumn.
The Great Lakes region encompasses parts of eight states as well as a portion of Ontario in Canada. Portions of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin make up the Great Lakes region. While this region is a popular summer vacation draw, the Great Lakes also puts on a fabulous fall color display with each spot offering a unique take on fall. Explore the Tunnel of Trees in Michigan, Indiana’s covered bridges, the Great River Bluffs in Minnesota and more on your Great Lake region fall road trip. There are so many amazing sites you may need to plan multiple stops!
As you can see, there is certainly not a shortage of fabulous fall foliage road trips in the United States. From east to west and north to south, nature is on parade in autumn, showing off its finest. Of course, a lot of factors come into play when determining when and where exactly fall colors will hit their peak. Meteorologists do their best to try to pinpoint prime fall foliage viewing times in the US. So, before you plan your road trip this fall, check the 2018 fall foliage maps to make sure you hit the road when your destination is at its autumn color peak.