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The 10 Best Road Trips For Leaf Peeping

by Staff

The U.S. is home to countless gorgeous roads that make for a pleasant drive when the colors come out. However, some roads just stand above the rest.

10. Upper Delaware Scenic Byway, New York

The 70-mile stretch of New York State Route 97 between Port Jervis and Hancock, N.Y,. is known as the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway. Much of the road runs alongside the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, treating drivers to the contrast of the deep hues of the water against the backdrop of oranges, yellows and reds.

With Port Jervis a little less than two hours from Manhattan and Hancock around two-and-a-half away, the entire journey is doable as a daytrip from New York City. Not that you’d necessarily want to do it that way. Towns along the route such as Narrowsburg and Cochecton make great stopping points for lunch, but are also worth spending a night in. Taking an extra day allows you to explore the area’s up-and-coming dining scene in towns like Kenoza Lake or pop over to the site of the original Woodstock in Bethel.

9. Smuggler’s Notch Road, Vermont

At just over 17 miles long, the section of Vermont State Highway 108 between the winter sports destination of Stowe and Jeffersonville isn’t as long of a drive as some of the others on this list. But what Smuggler’s Notch Road lacks in travel time, it more than makes up for in sheer density of jaw-dropping fall beauty.

The slopes of Stowe Mountain Resort get the most attention during the winter. But during the autumn months, the beech, maple and birch trees that surround the resort area provide a vibrant, cinematic backdrop for a leisurely drive. And whether you start or end your journey in the town of Stowe, when you’re there you’re roughly 15 minutes away from the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory. The factory offers tours and a shop where you can buy a cone or a pint if you’re just passing through.

8. Independence Pass, Colorado

You won’t find the highest concentration of colorful hardwoods along Colorado State Highway 82, which is more commonly known as Independence Pass. However, the splashes of color you’ll find amongst the evergreens on the drive between Aspen and Leadville, Colorado, are nestled into some of the country’s most spectacular scenery. The 32-mile highway crosses over the Continental Divide and provides a front-row seat to the dramatic beauty of the Rockies.

While the road is a must-see for almost anyone who loves a scenic drive, it’s important to note that the journey isn’t for everyone. Independence Pass is defined by narrow, twisty roads that often lack guardrails. Make sure to understand the risks of the drive and your own comfort before setting off. Trailers, recreational vehicles (RVs) and commercial vehicles are not allowed on the road.

7. Chesapeake Country Scenic Byway, Maryland

Scenic fall drives are often — and understandably – associated with the mountains. But the Chesapeake Country Scenic Byway offers an alternative of catching the colors among the gentle terrain and lulling waters of the Chesapeake Bay region. The National Scenic Byway runs along Maryland Route 213 and Maryland Route 18 between the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

At just two-and-a-half hours from Washington and an hour-and-a-half from Baltimore, the byway is doable as a day trip from either city. And while the fall colors and tideland scenery are worth the trip alone, fall color season is also still crab season in eastern Maryland. Make sure to set aside some time for the region’s famed crab cakes at one of the many waterside restaurants along the route in scenic towns like St. Michael’s and Cambridge.

6. Natchez Trace Parkway, Tennessee

The Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains in the eastern part of the state tend to get the most fanfare. But the Natchez Trace Parkway that runs a total of 444 miles through western Tennessee and across Mississippi also has plenty of natural beauty to offer when the leaves turn colors. 

Natchez Trace Parkway is maintained by the National Park Service and has limited entry points. As a result, it’s a calm — albeit sometimes crowded — crawl through the hills and valleys of western Tennessee and the sleepy plains of Mississippi. The best leaf watching is in the northern part of the route in Tennessee, terminating in the country music capital of Nashville. But with historic cities like Jackson and Tupelo, Miss., along the way, the entire length of the parkway makes for an unforgettable multiday trip.

5. Park Loop Road, Maine

People who know their fall foliage are probably well aware of Acadia National Park. The park is a favorite among American hikers, but for people who like to take in the sights from the window of a cruising car, Park Loop Road provides an unbeatable vantage point for touring the entire island. Park Loop Road takes drivers to the peak of Cadillac Mountain, where they’re treated to awe-inspiring views of dense forests packed with a perfect blend of colorful deciduous trees and stoic conifers.

The 27-mile scenic highway isn’t easy to get to due to its distance from major cities. Even Portland, Maine, is a little over three hours away. Thankfully, the town of Bar Harbor that shares Mount Desert Island with Acadia is everything you could ask for from a seaside New England town. With an abundance of shops, local restaurants and quaint accommodations, Bar Harbor is a destination in its own right. Its location just a few minutes from Park Loop Road makes the town the perfect launching point for exploring the best fall colors Maine has to offer.

4. Ozark National Forest Scenic Byway, Arkansas

Highway 7 connects Louisiana to Missouri by way of Arkansas. Known as the Ozark National Forest Scenic Byway, the road takes drivers through a national park, two national forests and several state parks in just over 60 miles. Thanks to the National Park Service, the road features more than a few scenic overlooks to take in the technicolor vistas of autumn while staying still, too.

The Ozarks have recently grown in popularity as a sightseeing destination, perhaps due to the popular TV show that bears their name. Yet a drive through the area — especially during peak color season — can confirm that the hype is warranted. The historic town of Hot Springs, Ark., is surrounded by Hot Springs National Park and filled with old-fashioned charm, making it an excellent place to start or pause your fall foliage road trip.

3. Route 6, Pennsylvania

You can travel from the western border of northern Pennsylvania to its eastern border entirely on U.S. Route 6, and the road provides an abundance and variety of fall foliage hot spots. Two of the most notable are the sections that traverse the state’s famed Poconos mountain range and the aptly named Endless Mountains.

At 403 miles long, you’ll need a few days if you want to complete the entire journey at a leisurely pace. However, the Allegheny region on the western side of the state is less than two hours from Pittsburgh as well as Cleveland and Akron, Ohio, and has plenty of leaf-gazing opportunities for a memorable day trip. The same is true for the Poconos region in the eastern part of the state, and its convenient distance from New York City and Philadelphia. Fans of the TV series “The Office” can also make a quick detour to pay homage to the show’s home base of Scranton.

2. Currier and Ives Scenic Byway, New Hampshire

New Hampshire is synonymous with fall colors, and no other road in New Hampshire is as good an example of why as the Currier and Ives Scenic Byway. The 30-mile byway features everything a leafer could want or expect from a cruise through New England in the autumn: roadside rivers and streams, old wooden covered bridges and of course, some of the most vibrant fall colors in the U.S.

And while it can, at times, feel like a million miles away from fast-paced city life, the Currier and Ives Scenic Byway is only about an hour and a half from Boston. That means Bostonians or visitors can easily explore the entire stretch of road and all its sights, kick around picturesque towns like Contoocook and still make it home in time for dinner.

1. Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina

For those who want to be overwhelmed by the majesty of fall foliage while cruising down the road, it doesn’t get any better than the Blue Ridge Parkway. The National Parks-maintained scenic byway has been the country’s most-visited national park nearly every year since 1946 for good reason. With 469 miles of road, there’s plenty of opportunity to take in the immense, awesome power of the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains in full color.

While one might be hard-pressed to find a section of the Blue Ridge Parkway that isn’t straight off of a postcard, the most iconic view is the Lynn Cove Viaduct, located just south of the charming college town of Boone, N.C. Many people choose to double- and triple-back over the viaduct for extra chances to take in one of the most stunning fall foliage views in the Appalachians. The parkway eventually leads to Asheville, N.C., a favorite destination for people who love live music, food and craft beverages.

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