At their peak: 13 of the best fall foliage road trips in America


John Coltrane may have sung it best in “Autumn Serenade.”

“Through the trees comes autumn with her serenade/melodies the sweetest music ever played.”

Those who reside in (or regularly visit) the parts of the country where the changing of leaves to their autumn colors is an annual event can relate to Coltrane’s imagery.

Blazing colors in the Lake Champlain region of Vermont.
Blazing colors in the Lake Champlain region of Vermont.

Bedazzling fronds of yellow, orange, gold, pink, red, magenta and purple clinging to the trees before carpeting the ground across swaths of the country from New England and Appalachians to the Midwest and Great Lakes regions to the Rocky Mountains, beginning in late September through mid-October.

Those areas are followed by the Mid-Atlantic coast, Mississippi Valley, South and parts of the Northwest and West, where the changes occur from October through early November.

“All across the U.S. … deciduous trees put on their dazzling display of color,” wrote Jayme Moye recently at Fodor’s Travel online. “In fact, leaf viewing is one of the easiest (and least expensive) ways to experience America’s awe-inspiring natural beauty.”

We consulted various sources on the best autumn foliage road trips in the country – such as fodors.com travelchannel.com, smithsonianmag.com, marketwatch.com, mapquest.com and yahoo.com – and came up with 13 that were named by two to four or more of them:

Kaaterskill Creek in the New York Catskill Mountains.
Kaaterskill Creek in the New York Catskill Mountains.

Upstate New York

This area includes the Adirondack Mountains and Lake Placid, the Catskills and the Hudson River Valley, with the leaf season ranging from mid-September to late October (times approximate).

The Blue Ridge Parkway

The parkway runs from North Carolina through Virginia and includes two other fall foliage favorites, Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park, best viewed mid-September to late October.

Aspen, CO

The Maroon Bells, two of the most photographed mountains in North America are located southwest of here with peak viewing (no pun intended) from mid-September to the end of the month.

Birches and maple leaves on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Birches and maple leaves on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Upper Peninsula, MI

Best viewed from mid-September to mid-October, more than 20 parks populate the densely forested peninsula, which is sandwiched between three of the Great Lakes.

The Kancamagus Highway, NH

Designated an American Scenic Byway, Route 112, also known as The Kanc, is considered one of the best fall foliage viewing areas in the country from mid-September to mid-October.

Northeast Pennsylvania

Colorful foliage of Ricketts Glen State Park and/or Lake Wallenpaupack, both near Scranton, PA, the Pocono Mountains, and the Delaware Water Gap of Pennsylvania/New Jersey peaks in early October.

The Silver Dollar City Scenic Railway chugs through the Ozarks.
The Silver Dollar City Scenic Railway chugs through the Ozarks.

The Ozark Mountains

Best to visit during early to mid-October, the mountains cover parts of Arkansas and Missouri, and include Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks, nicknamed “The Magic Dragon” for its serpentine shape.

Acadia National Park, ME

Take the Loop Road around Mount Desert Island in early October for great foliage views.

Ethan Allen Highway

or Green Mountain Byway, VT

Ethan Allen Highway (Route 7) runs the length of Vermont’s western edge, including Lake Champlain, and the byway (Route 100) tours the Green Mountains – best viewing mid-September to mid-October.

Cherry orchards in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.
Cherry orchards in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.

Columbia River Gorge, OR

Travel the Columbia River Scenic Byway through the gorge in mid-September through early October.

Taos, NM

Take the High Road to Taos and the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway late September to mid-October.

Glacier National Park, MT

Going-to-the-Sun Road slices 50 miles through the forested, million-acre park via an alpine pass, and is at its fall foliage best September through mid-October.

Big Bear Lake, CA

Southern California isn’t where you would expect to find a fall foliage destination, but “with colors so bright and vibrant, you’ll swear you’re in Maine” – at least in late October.

Of course, you may have your own favorite place – we couldn’t possibly have named them all.

Just make sure you get there this autumn before – as Van Morrison sang in “Moondance” – “all the leaves on the trees are falling/to the sound of the breezes that blow.”

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