There’s something about fall that makes people want to get outside and experience nature.
Instead of suffering through another round of apple picking in an orchard that’s been plucked dry, check out these essential American road trips, where you can see the fall foliage in all its glory.
Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia
While beautiful year-round, this is a fall foliage fave (for its epic dogwood, sourwood, sassafras and poplar), and might even get packed during the autumn months. The 470-mile parkway goes from North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountain National Park to Shenandoah National Park and Virginia’s Skyline Drive, passing through dozens of beautiful hardwood forests, Appalachian mountain towns, pristine lakes, pastoral highlands and hot spots like Asheville. It’s also an All-American Road, and America’s longest linear park.
Blues Highway (US Route 61), Tennessee and Mississippi
Blues, and more specifically the Delta Blues, is a part of American history, as well as culture, originating in the so-called Deep South. Starting in Memphis, it’s the perfect trip for soaking up blues – from the clubs on Memphis’ famous Beale Street to Clarksdale, Mississippi, where guitarist Robert Johnson allegedly made a deal with the devil – with a side of legendary barbecue. While US Route 61 spans 1,400 miles from New Orleans, Louisiana, to Wyoming, Minnesota, it can be broken up into Bluesy bites.
The Pacific Coast Highway (Route 1), California
Quintessentially American, the famous PCH, aka Route 1, snakes across California’s coastline – from LA to San Francisco – for over 600 rugged, cliff-flanked miles. Not designated an “All-American Road” for nothing, while fall colors might be sparse, Americana abounds in the form of boardwalks, beaches, quaint seaside towns and old-fashioned amusement parks. Even better, the trip can easily be broken down into smaller trips, like San Francisco to Santa Barbara, or historic Monterey to Big Sur.
Route 66, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California
Of course, no list of US road trips would be complete without Route 66, the “Mother Road” and icon of the American Dream. The route was discontinued, but you can still migrate West by sticking to the various Interstate Highways that have replaced it (like the I-55 from Chicago, or the I-70 from Missouri) or by sticking to those National Scenic Byway portions renamed “Historic Route 66.” Stopping by quirky roadside attractions is a US road trip staple, and this route’s got plenty of those, like the famous Cadillac Ranch or the Blue Whale of Catoosa
Green Mountain Highway (Route 100), Vermont
Vermont is the holy grail of autumn colors in the east as it is almost 80% forest. In fact, local newspapers even track the foliage. This 220-mile route dissects almost the entire state, meandering across sloping mountains, dipping valleys, green pastures, farmlands and forests, all ablaze in shades of yellow, orange, and red. Partake in cider tastings and apple picking in rural villages and old-fashioned general stores, and nosh on local fare like Ben and Jerry’s, Cabot Cheese and Lake Champlain Chocolates. In the winter, it’s known as part of “Skiers Highway,” which connects some of Vermont’s most well-known ski resorts, like Wilmington, Killington, and Stowe.
Million Dollar Highway (US Route 550), Colorado
Colorado’s fall is so incredible it even has its own name: Indian summer. The aspen trees are a fiery red, orange and yellow this time of year, but the main draw of this 20-mile route is that it climbs more than two miles above sea level across the Ouray Mountains, connecting Silverton and Ouray, two legendary and historic gold mining towns. The breathtaking road (both in altitude and sights) is part of the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway, and frequently listed as both one of the most scenic routes in the states, and one of the most dangerous, as it winds across three high-mountain passes with steep cliffs, hairpin curves, and no guardrails.
High Peaks Scenic Highway (Route 73), New York
The Adirondacks have one of the longest fall foliage seasons in the country, and Adirondack Park, which is criss-crossed by various New York State Scenic Byways, including the High Peaks Scenic Highway, even covers six million acres, making it the largest wilderness area east of the Mississippi. In fact, it’s bigger than Yellowstone, Everglades, Glacier, and Grand Canyon National Parks combined, and boasts 3,000 lakes and ponds, 2,000 miles of hiking trails, and 1,500 miles of waterways. The 30-mile High Peaks Scenic Highway is often considered the park’s gateway, and meanders through the High Peaks, which includes 46 mountains that are taller than 4,000 feet, most notably Mount Marcy, which is 5,344 feet.
Overseas Highway (US Route 1), Florida
- Sathish S/Flickr
Those that aren’t quite ready to switch their iced coffee for pumpkin spice lattes should head to Florida, Sunshine State and land of eternal summer. The 113-mile Overseas Highway is one-of-a-kind, flanked by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other, connecting mainland Florida with Key West, and the 100 islands of the Florida Keys with 42 bridges and causeways. As kitschily American as it can get, the route features classic gift shops and old school burger shacks peddling milkshakes to a stunning backdrop of beautiful beaches and sparkling water.
Lake Superior Circle Tour, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and Canada
The greatest Great Lake, Lake Superior is the world’s largest freshwater lake (by surface area), and you can circumnavigate itvia its 1,200-mile shoreline, which features a series of highways (like Highway 61, Highway 28, and the Trans-Canada Highway to name a few) that will have you crisscrossing three states (Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin) as well as Canada. You’ll feel oceanside thanks to near constant water views due to the lake’s size, and will come across waterfalls and wildlife, lighthouses and cliffs, shipwrecks and 200-foot sand dunes.
Olympic Peninsula (Route 101), Washington
Starting in Seattle, you can drive 350 miles across the northern coast of this 3,600 square mile peninsula of still untamed wilderness. You’ll be traversing rain forests and alpine forests, rugged ocean fronts and beautiful waterways and snow-capped mountains and glaciers, literally crossing through different ecosystems and jaw dropping vistas at every turn, while stopping for hikes, like Hurricane Ridge at Olympic National Park, or Lake Crescent’s Marymere Falls.