Fall is perhaps the best season to pack up the car and head out on a scenic drive to enjoy the season’s colors and flavors. Here are the best fall road trips, one for each U.S. quadrant. Be sure to peruse the listing at the story’s end for resources on finding peak-season foliage throughout the nation.
Northeast: Cape Cod, Massachusetts
New England is a foliage seeker’s paradise, and a drive down any local roadway from late September through early November is a sight to behold. Focus on specific parts of the Northeast, and you’ll be rewarded with one of the best fall road trips, with a broad range of leaf colors.
The Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism’s fall page lists nine seasonal drives, each chosen for its historic significance and natural beauty. The Cape Cod route from Bourne to Brewster is an easy drive filled with working cranberry bogs, the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum—dedicated to the 35th president’s life in the Cape—and a stop at Scargo Hill Observation Tower (located on the Cape’s “inner elbow”) for sweeping panoramas of the area’s foliage scenery with views as far as Provincetown, the Cape’s “fist.”
Before your next weekend getaway, get a peek at what awaits you up the road with this live foliage map.
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Midwest: Southwest Michigan
The state of Michigan has put together a comprehensive list of driving tours perfect for the road trip aficionado. Choose from various themes, including food, wine, heritage, fall, and others.
The one-tank trip around Michigan’s southwest region starts at Battle Creek, winds through wine country in Paw Paw, continues past roller coasters in St. Joseph, and offers side trips to South Haven and New Buffalo.
Make time for various unique experiences along Michigan Great Lakes roadways: seasonal swills at the state’s oldest microbrewery at Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo; a car-friendly flick at Capri Drive-In Theater; and Dutch heritage a la Americana at the DeKlomp Wooden Shoe & Delft Factory in Holland (Michigan, that is), with its very own authentic windmill, brought here from the Netherlands and reassembled bit by bit. End the voyage at the artsy area of Saugutauk-Douglas, a town awarded the 2016 Best Small Town Weekend Escape by USA Today.
The people behind the Michigan Tourism Offices make organizing a road trip through their state a breeze with the ever-useful interactive trip-planning map. Leaf peepers will appreciate the site’s Fall Colors Tours page, dedicated to roadways that best highlight the season’s vibrant foliage offerings.
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South: Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia
Known for striking vistas as far as the eye can see, the Blue Ridge Parkway stretches out over 469 miles between the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah national parks, zigzagging along the Appalachian Highlands. With a maximum speed capped at a a leisurely 45 miles per hour, cruising along the road is encouraged.
Along the way, make a point to stop at Humpback Rocks at milepost 5.8 in the Shenandoah Valley for gravity-defying rock formations, plus a small museum highlighting Appalachian life within the visitor center. Take a break from the manmade roadway to feel the force of Mother Nature at Linville Falls, located at mile marker 316. This is a popular stop along the Parkway, but you can skip the crowds by visiting the falls during the week. Fun fact: The Linville Gorge was the nation’s first designated wilderness area. For those who wish to break up their drive with a trail walk, there are some 370 hiking trails along the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of which is the revered Appalachian Trail.
Driving the parkway is always free of charge, but check for Blue Ridge Parkway road closures (mostly due to inclement weather) before packing up the car.
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West: Tioga Road, Yosemite National Park, California
It’s easy to see why Tioga Road is so attractive, too. Not only is it in the Sierra Nevadas, but it’s California’s highest roadway. And at a brief 47 miles, it cuts across the heart of Yosemite for one of the most picturesque drives imaginable. (It’s sure to yield the most double-clicks on your Instagram account. #travelenvy, anyone?)
Head to the lesser-known, yet just as amazing Tuoloumne Grove off Tioga Road for one of the best fall road trips in the West. As with most other trees, these giant sequoias put on quite the colorful show in autumn. On Tioga Road you’ll have access to Olmsted Point and Tenaya Lake, plus a close-up view of Clouds Rest, and beyond that, Half Dome. Hikers rejoice, as this is the roadway connected to the most hiking trails.
You’ll have to time this voyage carefully because Tioga Road closes when the snow starts in October or November. See the Yosemite National Park road conditions page before heading off for this adventure.
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Fall Foliage Forecast Resources
- Farmers’ Almanac – Peak fall foliage dates by state
- Foliage Network – Foliage conditions in the Midwest, Northeast, and Southeast
- New England Foliage – New England peak foliage map
- SmokyMountains.com – Fall foliage prediction map
What to Wear on Your Scenic Drive
Comfy Yet Casual Older Women’s Outfit for a Scenic Drive
Men’s Amazon-Based Comfy Outfit for a Flight 1
Women’s Comfy Outfit to Wear on the Airplane from Nordstrom
Men’s Super Comfy Outfit
Women’s Amazon-Based Comfy Outfit for a Flight 1
Men’s Cute and Casual Summer Outfit
Women’s Outfit for Walking to Tijuana
Men’s Outfit for Walking to Tijuana
Women’s Bohemian Outfit to Wear on a Sunny Vacation
More from SmarterTravel:
- How to Pick a Car Rental for a Road Trip
- 9 Best Fall Dresses for Travelers
- 10 Road Trip Essentials: How to Stay Safe, Sane, and on Track on the Road
Patricia Magaña looks forward to eating her weight in apple cider donuts this fall. Follow her on Instagram @PatiTravels.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.