Autumn is a special time of year. The air is beginning to cool, and the leaves are starting to change color. And one of the best ways to see them is from the comfort of your car — possibly with a pumpkin-flavored beverage.
If you’re looking for the best time to view the fall foliage, it’s typically late September to mid-October, but timing varies according to region and weather.
Picking the right road trip for you and your family can be challenging, so we did the heavy lifting for you. We rounded up seven road trips that are full of stunning scenery, exciting side stops, and, of course, plenty of autumn color. All you have to do is gas up the car and hit the road.
Best Road Trips for Viewing Fall Foliage
1. Green Mountain Byway, Vermont
Vermont has options in spades when it comes to stunning fall road trips, but the 11-mile Green Mountain Byway (GMB) can’t be missed.
The GMB travels along Vermont Route 100, through the towns of Waterbury and Stowe. It’s sandwiched between the spine of the northern Green Mountains to the west and the peaks of the Worcester Range to the east.
The drive provides stunning views of open meadows, farmland, and the changing colors of the surrounding forests, all with the mountains serving as a picturesque backdrop.
The route provides easy access to historic farms, farmsteads, villages, mill sites, the Waterbury Reservoir, and three state parks. Popular stops include the following:
- Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak
- Hyde Park
- Waterbury Center
- Cold Hollow Cider Mill
2. Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina & Virginia
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a spectacular drive any time of year, but it’s exceptional during the fall. This U.S. National Parkway, often called “America’s favorite drive,” meanders 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina.
The drive connects Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s famous for being a slow-paced drive with views of long-range vistas, pastoral landscapes, and up-close glimpses of the local mountains. The leaves begin to change in early October, with color displays peaking in the second or third week of October.
With so many incredible stops along the way, it’s hard to choose just a few. But some of the most sought after include the following:
- Shenandoah National Park (milepost 0)
- Natural Bridge State Park (milepost 61.6)
- Fancy Gap (milepost 199.5)
- Blowing Rock (milepost 291)
- Linville Falls (milepost 316.4)
- Craggy Gardens (milepost 364.1)
- Chimney Rock State Park (milepost 384.7)
- Sliding Rock (milepost 411.8)
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park (milepost 469)
3. San Juan Skyway, Colorado
Designated by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation as an All-American Road, the San Juan Skyway is a 236-mile loop that travels through the colorado cities of Durango, Mancos, Dolores, Stoner, Rico, Telluride, Ridgway, Ouray, and Silverton.
The highway travels through high mountain passes and historic towns, passing by 5 million acres of the San Juan and Uncompahgre national forests. Travelers are treated to views of wildflowers, waterfalls, mountain ranges, and, in the fall, the impressive color display put on by the aspen trees lining the road.
While on your trip, be sure to check out the following:
- Historical towns of Silverton, Telluride, and Ouray
- Cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park
- Train ride from Durango to Silverton
- One of the many hiking trails along the route
4. Columbia River Highway, Oregon
The Columbia River Highway is one of the most scenic drives out there regardless of when you visit. It’s the first major paved road in the Pacific Northwest and the first designated scenic highway in the United States.
The highway begins east of Portland and meanders 350 miles through the Columbia River Gorge. The historic highway offers breathtaking views of temperate rainforest, densely forested hills, waterfalls, moss-lined canyons, a rushing river, and, during the fall, the changing leaves.
The window for viewing the fall foliage is typically late September to mid-October, during which time the maples turn spectacular yellows and oranges, the aspens bright yellow, and the conifers light yellows, oranges, and browns.
During your time in Oregon, be sure and stop by the following:
5. Kancamagus Highway, New Hampshire
Navigating 34.5 miles of country roads throughout White Mountain National Forest, the Kancamagus Highway is well worth a visit, especially during the fall.
A trip back in time, the highway is void of gas stations, restaurants, and hotels, allowing visitors to fully immerse themselves in the views and the experience. Due to its rich history, unparalleled beauty, and culture, the highway is officially designated as an American Scenic Byway.
Often recognized as one of the best fall foliage displays in the country, the highway is lined by trees with additional views of the White Mountains, Swift River, Sabbaday Falls, Lower Falls, and Rocky Gorge.
Worthy stops include the following:
- Swift River
- Albany Covered Bridge
- Lower Falls Scenic Area
- Champney Falls
- Russell-Colbath Homestead
- Sabbaday Falls Picnic Area
- One of the six campgrounds along the highway
6. Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, New Mexico
Often referred to as “the land of enchantment,” New Mexico is fittingly home to the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway.
The 83-mile loop travels through mountains, valleys, mesas, and national forests and offers plenty of glimpses of the stunning fall foliage. Aspens are the star of the show, so visitors can expect to see beautiful golden leaves that are unlike any other.
Popular stops along the way include the following:
- D.H. Lawrence Ranch
- Cabresto Lake
- Red River
- Eagle Nest
- Wheeler Peak, the highest point in all of New Mexico
7. Upper Peninsula Day Drive, Michigan
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is a fun and adventurous trip that can be done in a few hours or a couple of weeks depending on how much you want to pack in.
The day drive through the Upper Peninsula meanders through small-town back roads and offers the opportunity to view cascading waterfalls, slide down sand dunes, explore the rugged wilderness, and swim in Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world.
There are plenty of worthy places to visit in the Upper Peninsula, but popular destinations include the following:
- Great Lakes Memorial Marina
- Menominee North Pier Light Station
- West Shore Fishing Museum
- Cedar River
- Sand Point Lighthouse
- Peninsula Point Nature Trail
- Manistique Boardwalk
- Seney National Wildlife Refuge