There is no better time to take to the open road and discover the spectacular beauty of autumn than as the leaves start their annual metamorphosis from vivid greens to shades of crimson, orange, and gold.
There are numerous picturesque routes across the nation that offer a front-row view of this natural show. Here are some of the best fall drives in the United States that will astound you — from the rolling hills of New England to the rugged terrain of the Rockies.
Columbia River Highway | Oregon
The Columbia River Highway in Oregon takes you through the breathtaking Columbia River Gorge, a place renowned for its striking waterfalls and vibrant fall foliage. Multnomah Falls, with its iconic footbridge, is a highlight of the journey.
As you drive along the historic highway, you’ll encounter numerous waterfalls, including Latourell Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, all surrounded by lush, colorful forests.
Going-to-the-Sun Road | Montana
Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road is a marvel of engineering and a breathtaking fall destination. This 50-mile road takes you deep into the heart of the park, offering stunning vistas of glaciers, Alpine meadows, and pristine lakes.
In the fall, the park’s lush evergreens are complemented by the fiery colors of deciduous trees. Be prepared for some narrow sections and steep drop-offs, but the awe-inspiring views are well worth it.
San Juan Skyway | Colorado
The San Juan Skyway, a 233-mile loop in Southwest Colorado, becomes a breathtaking autumn destination. As fall sweeps through the San Juan Mountains, the landscape transforms into a vibrant display of golden aspen trees against rugged terrain.
The Million Dollar Highway segment offers thrilling views of the Uncompahgre Gorge, but be prepared for steep drop-offs and hairpin turns. Charming mountain towns — like Durango, Silverton, Ouray, and Telluride — dot the route.
Hiking trails, wildlife sightings, and fall festivals add to the allure. With clear skies and crisp air, this scenic drive is a photographer’s paradise, offering a condensed yet captivating experience of Colorado’s fall splendor.
Great River Road | Minnesota to Louisiana
The Great River Road is a colossal 3,000-mile route that follows the Mississippi River from its source in Minnesota to its delta in Louisiana. It traverses parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
While it may seem overwhelming, you can choose a section that suits your interests. During the fall, the northern part of the route, from Minnesota to Missouri, offers stunning river views complemented by colorful foliage.
Experience charming river towns, historic sites, and riverboat cruises along the way. Don’t forget to sample some delicious Southern cuisine as you venture southward.
M-119 Tunnel of Trees | Michigan
This 20-mile stretch winds its way through dense forests, with towering trees forming a natural canopy over the road. As autumn takes hold, the Tunnel of Trees explodes in a blaze of reds, oranges, and yellows.
Starting in Harbor Springs and ending in Cross Village, this route offers breathtaking views of Lake Michigan and its crystal-clear waters, as well as charming cottages. Don’t miss stops like Good Hart, a tiny village known for its quaint shops, and Legs Inn, a historic Polish restaurant with stunning views.
Mohawk Trail | Massachusetts
Experience the essence of New England’s fall charm on the Mohawk Trail in Massachusetts. This historic route takes you through the Berkshire Mountains, offering panoramic views of the Pioneer Valley.
The Mohawk Trail is a foliage paradise, with deciduous trees ablaze in red, orange, and yellow. And, it is lined with quaint villages, historic landmarks, opportunities for apple picking and hiking, and scenic stops for travelers.
Also along the route, don’t miss the Hairpin Turn’s sweeping views and the charming Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls. It’s a compact yet captivating journey through the heart of New England’s fall splendor.
Kancamagus Scenic Byway | New Hampshire
If you’re in search of quintessential New England fall foliage, the Kancamagus Scenic Byway won’t disappoint. This 34.5-mile route through the White Mountains of New Hampshire is a haven for leaf-peepers. The drive takes you through a forested wonderland with views of the Swift River and the White Mountains.
TIP: Plan your visit in early October for the most vibrant foliage, and be sure to stop at Sabbaday Falls and the Albany Covered Bridge for some memorable photo opportunities.
Acadia All-American Road | Maine
For a quintessential New England fall experience, look no further than the Acadia All-American Road in Maine. Acadia National Park, with its rugged coastline, granite peaks, and vibrant foliage, is a crown jewel of the Northeastern United States.
The park’s scenic loop road takes you on a journey through this coastal wonderland, offering glimpses of the Atlantic Ocean and serene lakes set against a backdrop of fiery fall colors.
Start your drive in Bar Harbor to embark on the Park Loop Road, which provides access to some of Acadia’s most iconic attractions — Jordan Pond, Thunder Hole, and Cadillac Mountain. The unique combination of ocean vistas and vibrant foliage makes the Acadia All-American Road a photographer’s dream.
TIP: Be sure to visit in early October for the peak of fall color, and consider exploring the park on foot along its many hiking trails.
Blue Ridge Parkway | Virginia and North Carolina
Stretching for 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Parkway is often dubbed “America’s Favorite Drive,” and it’s not hard to see why. This iconic road offers unparalleled views of the Appalachian Mountains as they transform into a sea of crimson and gold.
Start your journey in Shenandoah National Park and wind your way south, stopping at overlooks like Craggy Gardens and Linville Falls. Along the way, you’ll encounter charming mountain towns, hiking trails, and ample opportunities for spotting wildlife.
Cades Cove Loop Road | Tennessee
Located within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Cades Cove Loop Road is a must-visit in the fall. This 11-mile, one-way road encircles a picturesque valley that comes alive with color during autumn.
Keep your eyes peeled for white-tailed deer, black bears, and wild turkeys as you meander through Cades Cove. The John Oliver Cabin and the Cades Cove Visitor Center provide fascinating insights into the area’s history and natural beauty.
Ozark Highlands Scenic Byway | Arkansas
The Ozark Highlands Scenic Byway is a hidden gem for fall foliage enthusiasts. This 35-mile route winds through the rugged Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, showcasing the vibrant colors of the hardwood forests.
You’ll traverse twists and turns, cross picturesque bridges, and enjoy serene views of the Buffalo National River. The drive also passes through the charming town of Jasper, where you can savor some homemade pie at the famous Ozark Cafe.
The Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway | New Mexico
For a fall drive with a southwestern twist, head to New Mexico’s Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway. This 83-mile loop will lead you through the majestic landscapes of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Expect to see golden aspen groves, crystal-clear lakes, and the charming towns of Taos, Red River, and Eagle Nest.
TIP: The Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, a side trip from this route, offers panoramic views from the highest peak in New Mexico.
There’s More to Explore on the Best Fall Scenic Drives in America
These scenic drives provide a front-row view of the breathtaking fall foliage display as it plays out across the United States. Each of these routes ensures an unforgettable adventure, whether you choose to travel through the Blue Ridge Mountains, discover the Ozark Highlands, or take in the breathtaking scenery of Glacier National Park.
So, gather your people, grab your camera, and head out on the road to take in the kaleidoscope of hues that autumn can only offer. Enjoy the best fall foliage in America!