Leafy Scenes: 12 of the Best Road Trips for Viewing Fall Foliage

Fall foliage won’t wait and neither should you

Every year, Mother Nature sets the hills ablaze with vibrant hues of red, orange, yellow, pink, and purple. Autumn is a special time of year. The air begins to cool and the leaves start to change color. It’s the season to admire the magic of nature at a slower pace.

Green Mountain Byway, Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall is a great time to head out in the RV. Crisp days, cool evenings, and an amazing show as the leaves turn vibrant colors! Fall signals the change from summer to winter. It’s the time when we change from the relaxed, carefree attitudes of summer to the more serious and introspective energies of fall.

Did you know: we’ve been calling this season “fall” since the 17th century. Before then it was simply “Harvest” but as more people moved away from agricultural locations, fall became the more common word for this fantastic season (because leaves fell!). Fall and autumn are interchangeable but you’re likely to hear “autumn” more frequently in Britain while “fall” is more common in America.

Fish Lake Scenic Byway, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best time to view the fall foliage is typically late September to late October but timing varies according to region, elevation, and weather.

This autumn, take advantage of cooler temperatures and beautiful foliage by planning a fall drive through some of the country’s most scenic regions. With a dozen routes through the most picturesque states around the country, you’re bound to find a perfect autumn getaway. From coast to coast, these fall road trips offer amazing views and unique things to do.

Trapp Family Lodge near Stowe, Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Green Mountain Byway, Vermont

The Green Mountain Byway travels from Stowe to Waterbury between mountain ridges. Along the route are Little River, Smugglers Notch, and Waterbury Center state parks, and Mount Mansfield and Putnam state forests. Stowe is a premier four-season resort destination particularly known for its alpine and Nordic recreation, mountain biking, and hiking. Here, the Von Trapp family (of Sound of Music fame) attracted worldwide attention more than 50 years ago. Along with beautiful scenery, a large variety of attractions for all ages and tastes including Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory, Cold Hollow Cider Mill, and Vermont Ski Museum.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia

The Blue Ridge Mountains offer one of the most colorful and longest-running fall leaf seasons. One of the many reasons for this is the varied elevations which show prime fall colors for more than a month. Fall colors begin at the highest elevations in early October and work their way down to the lower elevations in early November.

The Blue Ridge Parkway connects the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. This National Parkway often called “America’s favorite drive” meanders 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina. It is truly one of the most stunning fall drives in the country. Everyone should complete this trek at least once in their lifetime! While you drive, you’ll pass split-rail fences, old farmsteads, mountain meadows, and scenic overlooks. Stop along the way at the numerous hiking trails or visit a local farm to grab some autumnal produce.

Heritage Driving Tour near Goshen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heritage Driving Tour, Indiana

The 90-mile Heritage Trail Driving Tour winds through Amish Country taking you down rural highways, country lanes, and charming main streets. Stop in Shipshewana to stroll the shop-lined streets where you’ll find handcrafted items, baked goods, and the Midwest’s largest flea market. Enjoy a delightful Amish meal at Das Dutchman Essenhaus in Middlebury or Amish Acres in Nappanee.

Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cades Cove, Tennessee

Cades Cove is one of the most popular spots in the Smoky Mountains National Park and it’s not hard to see why. Visitors can explore hiking trails, historic sites, and an auto tour. During the fall season, Cades Cove comes alive with gorgeous colors and becomes an even more magical place to visit. But be aware that the traffic is often bumper-to-bumper especially on weekends. Late October into November is when the gorgeous fall foliage can best be seen in Cades Cove. Be sure to bring your camera when you visit—there are plenty of picture-perfect opportunities throughout Cades Cove!

Brian Head-Panguitch Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Brian Head-Panguitch Lake Scenic Byway, Utah

Brian Head-Panguitch Lake Scenic Byway climbs up Parowan Canyon’s white, gold, red, and yellow rock pillars and cliffs, traveling between its two town anchors, Parowan and Panguitch. As you travel this rolling route through varying elevations, note the distinctive combination of colorful scenery and ancient history. For a relaxed afternoon, go fishing in Panguitch Lake from which the byway gets half of its name. As you continue along your way, a section of the route brushes the top of Cedar Breaks National Monument, an amphitheater canyon eroded out of the western edge of the Markagaunt Plateau. Dixie National Forest is home to Brian Head Peak, which reaches 11,315 feet and gives the byway the other half of its namesake.

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Skyline Drive, Virginia

Skyline Drive is a 105-mile journey along the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park. The landscape is spectacular in the fall with trees transforming into every shade of yellow and red imaginable and piles of crunchy leaves lining the drive like confetti. Skyline Drive’s nearly 70 overlooks give you practically endless opportunities to soak up the scenery.

Fish Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fish Lake Scenic Byway, Utah

Fish Lake Scenic Byway (SR-25) bookends Fishlake National Forest, an often-missed oasis featuring three mountain ranges broken up by desert canyons. Fishlake National Forest is a paradise known for its beautiful aspen forests, scenic drives, trails, elk hunting, and mackinaw and rainbow trout fishing. Fish Lake, Utah’s largest natural mountain lake lies in a down-faulted valley (technically known as a graben) at an elevation of 8,843 feet. The 5.5-mile-long lake is one of the most popular fishing resorts in the state attracting as many as 7,000 visitors on summer weekends.

Newfound Gap Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newfound Gap Scenic Byway, North Carolina and Tennessee

Autumn is both a beautiful and a busy time in the Great Smoky Mountains. The annual show of fall colors attracts huge numbers of sightseers especially during the last three weeks of October.

With more than 130 tree species, many of them deciduous, the Great Smoky Mountains put on quite a show as summer starts to fade. If you’re looking to take a scenic drive through the Smokies, Newfound Gap is the perfect route! As the lowest pass through the mountains, there are plenty of spots along this road to see the gorgeous fall foliage. As you drive along Newfound Gap, you’ll reach an overlook that’s a great place to get some pictures of the views.

Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway, Georgia

Surrounded by the beauty of the Chattahoochee National Forest, the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway runs 40 miles from Blairsville to Brasstown Bald, the state’s highest peak, and access points along the Appalachian Trail. This national byway winds through the valleys and mountain gaps of the southern Appalachians. From the vistas atop Brasstown Bald to the cooling mists of waterfalls, scenic wonders fill this region. Hike the Appalachian Trail or fish in a cool mountain stream. Enjoy spectacular views of the mountains and piedmont. Several scenic overlooks and interpretive signs are features of this route.

Gold Rush Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California Highway 49

Throughout its length, the Gold Rush Trail winds through many of the towns that sprung up during the Gold Rush as it twists and climbs past panoramic vistas. Rocky meadows, oaks, and white pines accent the hills while tall firs and ponderosa pine stud higher slopes. The old mining towns along the Trail retain their early architecture and charm—living reminders of the rich history of the Mother Lode. Placerville, Amador City, Sutter Creek, Jackson, San Andreas, Angels Camp, and Murphys all retain their 1850’s flavor.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cherohala Skyway, North Carolina and Tennessee

The Cherohala Skyway crosses through the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee and the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina. The name “Cherohala” comes from the names of the two National Forests: “Chero” from the Cherokee and “hala” from the Nantahala. The elevations range from 900 feet above sea level at the Tellico River in Tennessee to over 5,400 feet above sea level at the Tennessee-North Carolina state line at Haw Knob.

Fall is a beautiful time of year on the Cherohala Skyway. Cool weather arrives and the changing leaves are spectacular. The leaves begin changing color as early as September in the higher elevations and continue through mid-November in lower elevations. The dogwoods, poplars, and sourwoods are some of the first to transform. The red oaks, hickories, and white oaks change later and often hold their leaves until late fall.

Roaring Fork Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Tennessee

The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a favorite among visitors to Gatlinburg and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trail is a 5.5-mile, one-way loop that includes views of rushing mountain streams and old-growth forests. There are a number of historic log cabins, homes, and buildings that have been preserved along with grist mills. The trail is narrow and winding, so make sure to go slow and take your time exploring the sights. Right before you get to the motor nature trail, take some time for a quick stop at the Noah “Bud” Ogle self-guiding nature trail which offers a walking tour of an authentic mountain farmstead and surrounding hardwood forest.

Worth Pondering…

Is not this a true autumn day? Just the still melancholy that I love—that makes life and nature harmonize.

—George Eliot