Scenic Drives for Each U.S. Region
Fall is perhaps the best season to pack up the car and head out on a weekend drive so you can enjoy the season’s colors and flavors. Here are four road trip adventures, one for each U.S. quadrant, and be sure to peruse the listing at the story’s end for resources on finding peak-season foliage throughout the nation.
Northeast: Cape Cod, Massachusetts
New England is a foliage seeker’s paradise, and a drive down any local roadway from late September through early November is a sight to behold. But if you focus on specific parts of the Northeast, you’ll be rewarded with some of the broadest range of leaf colors.
The Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism’s fall page lists nine seasonal drives, each chosen for its historic significance and natural beauty. The 37-mile-long Cape Codder route from Bourne to Brewster is an easy drive filled with working cranberry bogs, the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum—dedicated to the 35th president’s life in the Cape—and a stop at Scargo Hill Observation Tower (located on the Cape’s “inner elbow”) for sweeping panoramas of the area’s foliage scenery with views as far as Provincetown (the Cape’s “fist”).
Before your next weekend getaway, get a peek at what awaits you up the road with the interactive InstaFoliage map, which includes live-cam foliage footage.
Midwest: Southwest Michigan
The state of Michigan has put together a comprehensive list of driving tours perfect for the road trip aficionado. Choose from various themes, including food, wine, heritage, fall, and others.
The one-tank trip around Michigan’s southwest region takes you from Battle Creek to South Haven by way of Beachtowns, Coldwater, Holland, Kalamazoo, and Saugatuck-Douglas.
Make time for various unique experiences along the route: Seasonal swills at the state’s oldest microbrewery at Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo; a car-friendly flick at Capri Drive-In Theater; and Dutch heritage a la Americana at the DeKlomp Wooden Shoe & Delft Factory in Holland (Michigan, that is), with its very own authentic windmill, brought here from the Netherlands and reassembled bit by bit. End the voyage at the artsy area of Saugutauk-Douglas, which was awarded with the 2016 Best Small Town Weekend Escape by USA Today.
The people behind the Michigan Tourism Offices make organizing a road trip through their state a breeze with the ever-useful interactive trip-planning map. Leaf peepers will appreciate the site’s Fall Colors Tours page, dedicated to roadways that best highlight the season’s vibrant foliage offerings.
South: Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia
Known for striking vistas as far as the eye can see, the Blue Ridge Parkway is an obvious choice in any list of great weekend drives. Stretching out over 469 miles between the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah national parks, the Parkway zigzags along the Appalachian Highlands. And with a maximum speed capped at a a leisurely 45 miles per hour, touring along the road is encouraged.
Along the way, make a point to stop at Humpback Rocks at milepost 5.8 in the Shenandoah Valley for gravity-defying rock formations, plus a small museum highlighting Appalachian life within the visitor center.
Take a break from the manmade roadway to feel the force of Mother Nature at Linville Falls, located at mile marker 316. This is a popular stop along the Parkway, but you can skip the crowds by visiting the falls during the week. Fun fact: The Linville Gorge was the nation’s first designated wilderness area.
For those who wish to break up their drive with a trail walk, there are some 370 hiking trails along the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of which is the revered Appalachian Trail.
Driving the parkway is always free of charge, but check for Blue Ridge Parkway road closures (mostly due to inclement weather) before packing up the car.
West: Tioga Road, Yosemite National Park, California
It’s easy to see why Tioga Road is so attractive, too. Not only is it in the Sierra Nevadas, but it’s California’s highest roadway. And at a brief 39-miles, it cuts across the heart of Yosemite for one of the most picturesque drives imaginable. (It's sure to yield the most double-clicks on your Instagram account. #travelenvy, anyone?)
The popular Mariposa Grove is closed until summer 2017 due to restoration efforts, but you can head to the lesser-known yet just as amazing Tuoloumne Grove off Tioga Road. As with most other trees, these giant sequoias put on quite the colorful show in autumn.
On Tioga Road you’ll have access to Olmsted Point and Tenaya Lake, plus a close-up view of Clouds Rest, and beyond that, Half Dome. Hikers rejoice, as this is the roadway connected to the most hiking trails.
You’ll have to time this voyage carefully because Tioga Road closes when the snow starts in November. See the Yosemite National Park road conditions page before heading off for this adventure.
Fall Foliage Forecast Resources
- Farmers’ Almanac – Peak fall foliage dates
- Foliage Network – Foliage conditions in the Midwest, Northeast, and South
- New England Today – New England peak foliage map
- SmokyMountains.com – Fall foliage prediction map
- Stormfax – Guide to fall foliage for every state
- The Weather Channel – U.S. fall foliage map
More from SmarterTravel:
- 10 Insanely Affordable Destinations for Fall 2016
- 11 Most Impressive Waterfalls in the U.S.
- Grand Canyon National Park: Our September National Park of the Month