14 Fall Road Trips for Seeing the Best Fall Foliage — and a Whole Lot More
Here are 14 possibilities that will have you falling in love this autumn — and each has a link to a route map to get you out on the road.
Georgia's Blue Ridge Mountains
You probably only think of fall foliage in New England, but southern parts of the country also have beautiful colors to view. Try a road trip through Georgia for warmer temperatures than up north.
Start at The Russell Brasstown Scenic Byway in the northern part of the state, which takes you through the Blue Ridge Mountains along the Chattahoochee River. Stop in Helen, a mountain town modeled after a quaint Bavarian village, for the Oktoberfest celebration, and at Brasstown Bald, the highest natural point in Georgia and the ultimate foliage viewing vantage point. Make a pit stop in Clayton, an old mountain town with antique shops, galleries and restaurants. Take a hike in the nearby Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest or visit wineries and vineyards in Georgia Wine Country. The Beachwood Inn, a tiny cottage inn, offers special wine dinners in the fall. Then head east to the Tallulah Gorge State Park, where you can explore a 1,000-foot chasm carved over millions of years by the Tallulah River. In November, visitors can hike and watch the biannual “whitewater releases,” when expert kayakers can brave the class V+ rushing rapids.
Rhode Island's Pint-sized Charms
Take a drive through the country’s smallest state, which is packed with fall activities without too much drive time between each. Start at the new Rail Explorers excursion in Newport, where pedal-powered vehicles trace historic railroad tracks to go on one-hour tours. Then head to Bristol to take in some historic mansions. Next, check out the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular at the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence. You can try the Soaring Eagle Zip Ride at night, which takes you past thousands of ghoulish creations. Then stop along Rhode Island’s Brewery Trail, which includes Foolproof Brewing Company in Pawtucket. Finally, head to Woonsocket to cruise the waterways on the Blackstone Valley Explorer Riverboat, which runs at Cold Spring Park through October.
New York's Finger Lakes
Get outside the city and explore the Finger Lakes region for fall foliage and quiet country scenery.
Start in the city and head through Pennsylvania, stopping at Gouldsboro or Tobyhanna State Park along the way. Make a detour to visit Jim Thorpe, a borough in Pennsylvania that is called the “Switzerland of America” because of its mountain scenery and architecture. While in town, go on a hike in Lehigh Valley or visit the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway and Eckley Miner’s Village. Then take a tour of the Finger Lakes region near Ithaca, where you can stay at the historic Inns of Aurora, visit wineries or hike the trails.
Take a trip along the historic Route 6 in northern Pennsylvania for views of forests and mountains and other peaceful scenery.
Take a detour to visit Straub Brewery in St. Marys, Pennsylvania, which has been serving beer for decades. You can also take a trip through the Elk Country Loop, a 76-mile route that crosses through the Pennsylvania Wilds and past large elk herds. You can also stop at the Worlds End State Park for camping, cabins and hiking on the Loyalsock Trail and beautiful views of forests in vibrant color.
The Blue Ridge Parkway
This winding road covers almost 470 miles to connect the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Along the way you’ll pass split-rail fences, old farmsteads, mountain meadows and scenic overlooks. Stop along the way at the numerous hiking trails, visit a local farm, and make a detour to visit Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson.
Connecticut's Covered Bridges
Take your time exploring the roughly 100-mile loop through the northwest corner of the state.
Pass through the Town of Falls Village in Canaan, where the churches, railroad depot, streets, and houses still look as if they were built in the 1800s. The Appalachian Trail runs right through town, so you can follow the white hash marks to go on a day hike. Then pass under the West Cornwall Covered Bridge, which covers 172 feet over the Housatonic River. Take in Kent Falls State Park or Lake Waramaug State Park for hiking and fall foliage, and then head to Litchfield to visit Lee’s Riding Stables or White Flower Farm.
New England's Historic Trails
Yes, it’s cliche, but New England does have beautiful fall foliage and lots of hikes and historic places to stop.
Start in Boston and walk the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile, red-lined route that leads you to 16 historically significant sites. Then head west through Massachusetts’ Berkshires, where you can take in plenty of fall colors. Make a detour to Northampton or stop in the living museum Old Sturbridge Village, then travel south through Connecticut and New York to Philadelphia, where you can visit the new Museum of the American Revolution, which just opened in April.
The California Coast
You might think a drive up the California coast is best done in the summer, but it’s also beautiful, and still pretty warm in the fall.
Start outside Los Angeles and do an oceanside hike in Point Mugu State Park. Then trace the coast on Highway 101 to Santa Barbara, where you can spend a night and stroll down State Street, which if filled with shops and restaurants and decorated with white lights in the fall. Make a side trip to nearby Solvang, which is modeled after an old Danish town, with wineries and beautiful scenery outside. If you have the time, continue north for more ocean scenery. But remember, roads to Big Sur are currently shut down.
The Olympic Peninsula
Make your way through the rugged coast of Washington, including Olympic National Park, for beautiful views of mountains and lush forests.
Start in Seattle and loop around Puget Sound, stopping for ferry boat detours to Vashon Island or Whidbey Island. On Vashon you can walk the beaches or visit Point Robinson Lighthouse for a quick island feeling. Stop to hike in Olympic National Park, and then carry on to historic Port Townsend, where you can wander among the old waterfront neighborhoods and Victorian houses.
The Gulf of Mexico
Take in warmer temperatures than you’ll get in New England, but avoid the unbearable heat and humidity of Florida’s summers by doing this drive in the fall.
Do just the short 19-mile drive along Florida’s Highway 30A, which runs along the Gulf of Mexico, or extend it further. Stop along the way in one of South Walton’s 16 beach neighborhoods, where the sands are sugar-white thanks to their pure quartz crystal makeup. You can also check out coastal dune lakes that only exist in a handful of places in the world, including New Zealand, Madagascar and Australia. For food, stop at Airstream Row, a street lined with aluminum trailers serving up southern cuisine.
The Oregon Coast
You won’t get much fall foliage, but driving the Oregon coast has its own scenery to offer.
Start in Astoria, then head south. Along the way you can stop for hikes at Lewis And Clark National And State Historical Parks, Ecola Beach or Crescent Point. Stay in Cannon Beach to wander among the large boulders, including Haystack Rock. Be sure to detour for the Tillamook Cheese Factory and Rogue Ales Brewing.
The Great Lakes
Skirt the northern border of the country by driving along the Great Lakes. Start at the southern edge of Lake Huron and watch tall ship schooners or shop in the downtown antiques market in Bay City. Then head north along the lake, stopping to go hiking or boating at Thunder Bay River State Forest. Stop in Mackinaw City and take the ferry to Mackinac Island, where you can bike or take a horse and buggy around the historic 3.8 square mile island that is preserved as a National Historic Landmark.
Classic Route 66
This historic highway has been marked in songs and movies, and is definitely worth exploring, even if you don’t make it the whole way.
You can start in Chicago and follow the turn-by-turn directions to trace the historic route. Stop along the way for memorable sights, including the Polk-a-Dot Drive In, The Oklahoma Route 66 Museum, the 80-foot Blue Whale and the Cadillac Ranch.
The Mississippi River
Trace the Mississippi River by following the Great River Road, which runs 3,000 miles if you want to go the full distance.
Stop along the way to explore Saint Paul, Minnesota, Chicago, and Madison, Wisconsin, and consider detours to Nashville and Jackson, Mississippi. There is a long list of attractions you can visit and plenty of opportunities for hiking, including the Mississippi Palisades State Park and Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge.