Best Fall Road Trips

While most folks plan their US road trips in the summer, autumn may be America’s best-kept secret. Not only does the foliage turn to spectacular shades of yellow, orange, and red, but the temperatures are comfortable, the crowds have subdued, the bugs have gone, and high-season rates have fizzled down. If that’s not a road-tripper’s paradise, we don’t know what is!

From The Adirondacks in New York to the Eastern Sierras in California, we’ve compiled a few of our highest-recommended fall road trips. All routes are accessible from our locations across the US.

Escape Tip

Check out this interactive Fall Foliage Prediction Map from smokeymountains.com to plan out the best timing for your trip.

Coastal Maine and Moosehead Lake

Maine

Distance: 750+ miles (1200+ km)

Time: 19+ hours (2+ weeks)

Take a road trip in the Pine Tree State along the coastline, and cut inland to the spectacular Moosehead Lake if you have time. Here, you’ll find quaint towns, seaside mansions, striking foliage, and craggy peninsulas galore.

Highlights

Coastal

  • Acadia National Park – Cadillac Mountain and Precipice Trail are awesome fall hikes
  • From Portland, take a 15-minute ferry ride out to Peaks Island, where you can rent bikes or golf carts to cruise around the island
  • In Freeport, after stopping by the L.L.Bean Flagship store to see the giant boot, you can rent kayaks from Beans and paddle around the areas calm waters and iconic Maine islands, guided by a local expert.
  • The Morse Mountain hike in Phippsburg (near Bath) is a great 3.8-mile out-and-back that features amazing coastal views from the summit and leads to a beautiful beach at the end. Bring a picnic!
  • For a more off-the-beaten-path island experience, take the ferry from Rockland to North Haven or Vinalhaven. You’ll see hundreds of tiny islands and schooners along the way, and you can grab a bite to eat (and ice cream, of course) in either of the adorable town centers on the islands. These are working lobstering communities, so the experience is very authentic and you can even buy a lobby right off the boat.
  • If you want to go “all the way down east,” go to Eastport, where the sun first rises in the USA every day. On the way, the “Bold Coast Loop” is a beautiful 10-mile coastal hike with amazing views and almost no crowds, even at the height of summer. You’ll also see beautiful wild blueberry farms along the road in this area, and no shortage of farmsteads selling everything from blueberry pie to blueberry soap.

Inland

  • Moosehead Lake – Iconic fall colors and wildlife that you won’t want to miss
  • Hike Sugarloaf mountain for some amazing views of the neighboring Bigelow mountain range, and for some off-season ski town vibes
  • Rangeley (voted Maine’s “Best Place to Live” by Down East Magazine), features beautiful lakes and an adorable town center.
  • On your way south, stop by Sebago Lake for a quick swim, paddle or pontoon boat rental. Grab lunch at The Good Life Market in Raymond — best sandwiches ever.

The Adirondacks

New York

Distance: 70+ miles (112+ km)

Time: 2+ hours (perfect for a weekend trip)

Adirondack Park is the largest wilderness area east of the Mississippi, with 6 million acres of woodlands, meadows, peaks, streams, and lakes. If you’re looking for every color leaf, this is where you want to be. To get the best views, you’ll need some sturdy hiking boots, and maybe even a canoe.

Highlights

  • Make your way from our NJ hub up the Hudson River until you reach the Adirondacks.
  • Start off in Keene Valley – a cute little mountain town tucked into the hills. Definitely make a stop at The Mountaineer for any last-minute gear purchases, but more for the local intel: the people here know these trails, mountains and rivers like the back of their hands. 
  • For a solid day hike, our favorite is Indian Head and Fish Hawk cliffs. More info here. It’s technically a two-summit route but easily considered a great day adventure. The views at the top look over Ausable lakes – you won’t be disappointed. Definitely pack a picnic and post up at the summit for lunch here.
  • Swing through Lake Placid for some history – it’s known for the 1980 Winter Olympics (and we recommend watching the movie Miracle before you go).
  • Whiteface Mountain – definitely better to visit in the summer vs. the winter. They don’t call it “Ice Face” for no reason. Hop on a gondola ride here to take in the view! 
  • Bonus 1: if you have time, swing through the old port town Elizabethtown and take a ferry across Lake Champlain from Essex, NY to Charlotte, VT. Swing down to Vergennes Laundry for French-quality croissants and madeleines. It’s completely worth the side trip! 
  • Bonus 2: The Catskills are a solid 4-hour drive away, but they’re the perfect addition to an upstate NY road trip in the fall.

Blue Ridge Parkway

Virginia and North Carolina

Distance: 300+ miles (480+ km)

Time: 1 week

Widely viewed as one of America’s best road trips, The Blue Ridge Parkway gets even better in the fall. It connects Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and more people drive along its roads than visit the Grand Canyon each year.

Highlights

  • Luray Caverns – rock out to the one-of-a-kind stalacpipe organ
  • Humpback Rock
  • Crabtree Falls hike
  • Natural Bridge Park – 20 stories of solid rock carved out by nature that has boggled the minds of everyone who’s seen it, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson
  • Clingman’s Dome
  • Shenandoah National Park – Skyline Drive
  • Grandfather Mountain, Mt. Mitchell, and Moses Cone
  • Food: Blowing Rock and Boone have two restaurants called Woodlands and Canyons. Woodlands has great BBQ and Canyons has beautiful views.
  • Lineville Gorge
  • Rough Ridge is also very iconic
  • Finally, there’s a funny place called Little Switzerland near the Parkway that you’ll have to see for yourself.

Gunnison & Crested Butte

Colorado

Distance: 170+ miles (273+ km)

Time: 1 week

The country’s largest aspen grove delivers endless vistas of gold tones in the autumn months, which make for a picture-perfect contrast with the evergreens and craggy mountain peaks in the area. Bring your mountain bikes or rent some in Crested Butte for some jaw-dropping single track – the mountains are on fire with yellow aspens in this special place.

Highlights

  • West Elk Loop Scenic & Historic Byway – this route connects old mining towns, mountain towns and mountain vistas you won’t forget. Start in Carbondale, the growing mountain town at the base of Mount Sopris, then make your way through Marble, appropriately named for its famous marble found in the Lincoln Memorial. The route then passes through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison – take in the views of the canyon here. Stop through Gunnison, a part-college, part-ranching town and finally make your way to Crested Butte, where the ski mountain juts out of the valley and the town charms with it’s little colorful buildings.
  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (as mentioned above) is a must.
  • Blue Mesa Reservoir – this is a nice refreshing stop with plenty of places to camp!
  • Bonus: The famous resort town of Aspen is an additional 3-hour drive away, but it’s worth it! They don’t call it “Aspen” for nothing.

Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway

New Mexico

Distance: 86 miles (138 km)

Time: 2+ hours (perfect for a weekend trip)

When it comes to southwestern fall foliage, this is some of the best of the best. Cruise along the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway loop from Taos to Eagle Nest and back. Be on the lookout for elk, black bears, and eagles.

Highlights

  • Taos Fall Arts Fest
  • Elizabethtown – old gold-mining town
  • Angel Fire Resort
  • Wheeler Peak – 13,161 ft. high

Eastern Sierras

California

Distance: 125 miles (200+ km)

Time: 2+ hours (perfect for a weekend trip, or longer if you want to stop and hike around)

This stretch of Highway 395 outside of Yosemite National Park has it all: colorful aspens, willows, and cottonwoods, alpine lakes, waterfalls, and snow-frosted mountain peaks. From Coleville head down to the June Lake Loop and Mono Lake outside Lee Vining. Meander through Mammoth Lakes and finally to Rock Creek Canyon.

Highlights

  • Lundy Lake and Lundy Canyon Falls
  • High Sierra Bakery in Bridgeport – get the squaw bread
  • Sunrise at Mono Lake
  • Bodie – ghost town
  • Bishop – rock climbing to finish out your trip (Note: look out for Bruno’s Sierra Nevada Chileno Peppers at the grocery store here. They’re great on quesadillas, grilled cheese sandwiches, crackers with cheese…pretty much everything!)

Olympic Peninsula

Washington

Distance: 350+ miles (563+ km)

Time: 1+ week

Starting in Seattle, head northwest toward Cape Flattery, known for its Sitka spruces and misty coves. Make a side trip to Olympic National Park along the way, and look out for elk, cranes, sea otters, and more.

Highlights

  • Hurricane Ridge – great views of the park’s snow-capped peaks
  • Lake Crescent – hike to the 90-foot Marymere Falls
  • Port Townsend – historic seaport lined with Victorian houses, thriving boat-building industry

Additional Routes of Note:

  • Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
  • Glacier National Park, Montana
  • Upper Peninsula, Michigan
  • The Ozarks, Arkansas and Missouri

Portland and Calgary not available until after May 1, 2019

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