Terry Smith Images

Want to be dazzled by Mother Nature’s fall foliage display? Just hop in the car.

Ozarks, AR

5 of 15

The Route: 197 miles.

From Bentonville, head east to the funky town of Eureka Springs, full of gingerbread houses and art galleries. U.S. Highway 62 and State Highway 21 then lead past spectacular hardwood forests on the way to the town of Jasper. En route, you’ll find hand-thrown pottery at Osage Clayworks, and have the chance to float in a small boat 10 miles along the Upper Buffalo National River framed by 500-foot-high bluffs and dense flame-tipped oak forests. Once in town, treat yourself to the Ozark Café’s pecan pie. If you continue along Highway 21 to pick up Highway 16, you can visit the 86-acre Botanical Garden of the Ozarks, in Fayetteville, before riding I-540 back to Bentonville.

Where to Stop: Bentonville highlights include the art-filled 21c Museum Hotel; fried chicken and waffles dinner at Tusk & Trotter; and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, which opened in 2011.

--Bree Sposato

America's Best Fall Color Drives

Ozarks, AR

The Route: 197 miles.

From Bentonville, head east to the funky town of Eureka Springs, full of gingerbread houses and art galleries. U.S. Highway 62 and State Highway 21 then lead past spectacular hardwood forests on the way to the town of Jasper. En route, you’ll find hand-thrown pottery at Osage Clayworks, and have the chance to float in a small boat 10 miles along the Upper Buffalo National River framed by 500-foot-high bluffs and dense flame-tipped oak forests. Once in town, treat yourself to the Ozark Café’s pecan pie. If you continue along Highway 21 to pick up Highway 16, you can visit the 86-acre Botanical Garden of the Ozarks, in Fayetteville, before riding I-540 back to Bentonville.

Where to Stop: Bentonville highlights include the art-filled 21c Museum Hotel; fried chicken and waffles dinner at Tusk & Trotter; and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, which opened in 2011.

--Bree Sposato

Terry Smith Images

America's Best Fall Color Drives

Crisp air, panoramic views, brilliantly colored ash and poplar trees: the exhilarating route to North Carolina's Mount Mitchell State Park—the highest peak in the Eastern United States—is a destination in itself. The scenic 78-year-old Blue Ridge Parkway is just one of the country’s great autumn drives.

The fall foliage season, when the changing palette of deciduous trees is in blazing bloom, is now starting. And the way to maximize your intake of color is to map out a driving route. In September, October, and—in some spots—even November, color seekers can visit 31 states and drive more than 3,000 miles of national scenic byways, plus thousands of other scenic roads.

Some nature lovers, like former Shenandoah National Park guide Hazel Mills, can’t wait to buckle up and get up close and personal with the purple dogwoods and deep burgundy leaves of the Virginia creepers. “It’s like a basketful of fall chrysanthemums in every color,” she says. “Red and yellow, purple, and deep burgundy. When the afternoon sun hits the hickory, it looks exactly like gold, absolutely breathtaking.”

Others, like Mike Boutin, owner of Maine-based Northwoods Outfitters, like to take country drives surrounded by mountains bursting with yellow beeches, scarlet maples, and purple witch hazel around Moosehead Lake. He also loves one of the season’s biggest local adventures—back-road moose safaris. “It doesn’t get better than pulling over to see a huge brown male moose crash through a riot of bright red and yellow leaves,” says Boutin.

Certain areas of the country—the Northeast corridor, the Southeast, along the Appalachian Mountains, and much of the Midwest—produce the most striking and vibrant colors because of mild autumn days and cool (but not freezing) evenings. If daytime temperatures are too warm for an extended period of time, colors are less intense.

If you’re planning a fall foliage trip, choose your route based not only on the timing of nature’s fiery color display, but also around available activities. Horseback ride through the orange hickory trees in Shenandoah National Park. Or stand beneath a quivering golden aspen at Mammoth Lakes in the Eastern Sierra while peering through a dusty window in Bodie, the best-preserved ghost town in California.

But no matter where you are, the way to cover the most ground—and take in the biggest eyeful of color—is behind the wheel. Here are some of our favorite fall color drives.

—Margie Goldsmith

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