The 8 Best Road Trips for Leaf-Peeping Fall Foliage

 
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It’s the most wonderful time of the year—for road trips, that is. We’ve compiled the top scenic drives in America to observe the fall foliage as the seasons continue to change in the coming months. Whether it’s the patchwork-hued blueberry patches in eastern Maine or the fluorescent leaves of aspen trees in western Colorado, this list has something for everyone. And it isn’t too late to plan your next getaway—with car rentals and RV rentals available for last-minute travel, there is, quite literally, no excuse not to hit the road and appreciate the wonders of America. From north to south to east to west, read on for your guide to the most scenic drives to appreciate the arrival of autumn. Just remember to hit the road  soon—to paraphrase the immortal words of Bob Dylan: “The leaves they-are-a-changin'.”


1. Independence Pass (Colorado)

Aspen, Colorado

(Image provided by Aspen/Snowmass Tourism)

We’re headed to the Rocky Mountains for our first selection—Independence Pass headed towards Aspen, Colorado. There’s no better place in Colorado to witness autumn’s changing colors than the towns of Aspen and Snowmass—and no better place to observe the breathtaking views than from the vantage point of Independence Pass. Crossing over the Continental Divide at 12,095-feet, Independence Pass is the highest paved pass in Colorado—no easy feat in such a famously vertical state. The road trip in its entirety takes roughly three hours, as travelers will set out from Denver and follow I-70 West towards US 91 before heading south to Leadville and Highway 24, and finally heading to Highway 82 to cross over the Independence Pass into Aspen. Fall is also the best time to go on this popular route, as the pass is often closed in the winter months, depending on snowfall. The peak time for travel is now. (Pun intended.) Another popular option is the Million Dollar Highway, a 70-mile stretch of the San Juan Skyway known for its autumnal beauty. 


2. Lake Tahoe National Scenic Byway (Nevada)

Lake Tahoe, California

(Image of Lake Tahoe provided by Adobe Stock)

Lake Tahoe Scenic Byway is a breathtaking way to observe the changing colors in one of the most beautiful destinations in America. Though there are multiple places to begin this 28-mile scenic trip, we suggest starting in South Lake Tahoe, where you will head north on Highway 28 towards Incline Village before taking Highway 431, also known as the Mount Rose Scenic Drive. Expect dramatic views of the Tahoe Basin, Lake Tahoe, and the fall foliage as it transforms the Sierra Nevada peaks. You may never want your journey to end, in which case—you’re in luck. Road warriors can extend their drive to 72-miles to traverse more of the lake and observe the scenery crossing into California


3. Lone Mountain Loop (Montana)

Big Sky, Montana

(Image provided by Visit Big Sky)

Montana may be famous for its big sky, and there’s no better place to experience the wonders of the west than via a road trip through Big Sky, Montana. The Lone Mountain Loop explores the gorgeous vistas of southwestern Montana in a 213-mile loop that is roughly four hours long. The Lone Mountain Loop begins in Big Sky and traces US 191 through the northwest corner of West Yellowstone, also known as America’s first National Park, before running through US 287 to Beaverhead- DeerLodge National Forest. Make sure to stop off at Quake Lake and Hebgen Lake on your journey as you head north up to Norris, and take Madison River Road to complete the loop back onto I-90. From there, you can return to Big Sky. Adventurous travelers should consider adding onto their trip with a drive along US 89 to experience the Kings Hill Scenic Byway—and if you’re looking to extend even further, consider booking a last-minute RV rental to prolong your leaf-peeping journey. 


4. Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina & Virginia)

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina

(Image provided by Blue Ridge Parkway)

Our next selection is the Blue Ridge Parkway, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, one of the premiere leaf-peeping destinations in the country. Explore some of the oldest mountains in the world while exploring the southern and central Appalachians. The Blue Ridge Parkway is an All-American Road going from Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the entire drive is 469 miles. The country’s longest linear park takes just over 8 hours to complete and, while it can certainly be accomplished in a day, we suggest searching for last-minute hotel deals to book in case you’re feeling restless on the open road. 


5. Kelley Stand Road (Vermont)

Vermont

(Image provided by Vermont Tourism)

Known as the gateway to the Green Mountains, Kelley Stand Road to Grout Pond in the Green Mountain National Forest is best to visit when the mountains aren’t quite so green—maybe orange, yellow, or red, perhaps. We’re talking, of course, about Vermont’s famous fall foliage, which is best observed on this 64-mile drive from Bennington, Vermont. The entire trip is just under three hours, though it will be up to four hours with stops. To note: the dirt and gravel of Kelley Stand Road is quite bumpy and not traversable in the winter, which is why now is the time to visit. And the earlier the better—the leaves change earlier since you’re higher up in the mountains. Happy travels!


6. Santa Fe National Forest Scenic Byway (New Mexico)

Sante Fe, New Mexico

(Image of Sante Fe provided by Adobe Stock)

Our next selection may be short, but it surely packs a punch. The Santa Fe National Forest Scenic Byway, also known as Hyde Park Road, is a 16-mile long drive filled with breathtaking views of the surrounding aspens. The winding drive originates in downtown Santa Fe and leads up to Hyde Park Road and concludes in the Santa Fe Sky Basin. Though the entire drive lasts roughly 45-minutes, you will find it will take you much longer, a result of the tremendous overlooks you must stop at along the way. The Vista Grande Overlook provides views of the Rio Grande Valley—and, on a cloudless day, travelers can spot Santa Fe, Los Alamos, Albuquerque, and White Rock from the overlook. Aspen Vista and Big Tesuque are also must-visits for the beautiful fall foliage. Longer-haul travelers should stay on in New Mexico, and explore the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, which begins in Taos. 


7. North Shore All-American Scenic Drive (Minnesota)

North Shore, Minnesota

(Image of Split Rock lighthouse in Minnesota provided by Adobe Stock)

Considered one of the most beautiful drives in America, the North Shore Scenic Drive is the perfect way to experience Minnesota’s land of 12,000 lakes while appreciating the dramatic hues of the fall foliage. The 150-mile drive is located along the North Shore of Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake on the planet, and reaches the Arrowhead Region of northeastern Minnesota. The trip begins in Duluth and concludes in Grand Portage, at the base of the highest waterfall in the state—trust us, the five hour round trip is certainly worth it for the spectacular views of the midwest fall foliage in full bloom (or partial decay, depending on your perspective.)

8. Bold Coast National Scenic Byway (Maine)

Bold Coast, Maine

(Image provided by Discover Bold Coast)

If you think you’ve seen it all with the leaves of old-growth trees changing colors in fall, wait until you observe the multi-hued blueberry fields of eastern Maine—best observed on the Bold Coast National Scenic Byway. This 125-mile drive covers the Acadia, Bar Harbor, and Down East region of the state and the winding country roads lead visitors through the aforementioned blueberry patches, as well as marshes, bays, fishing towns, and—of course—Maine’s breathtaking eastern coastline. The drive begins in Milbridge and ends either in Lubec or Eastport, though adventurous travelers are quite close to Canada’s Campobello Island. Why not make an international road trip of the whole journey? Canada’s borders are now open to Americans, after all. Just don’t forget to bring your passport. Cheers!

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