Autumn is here and Mother Nature has once again begun to wield a paintbrush to color the landscape with golden yellows, tawny reds and deep oranges. Want to know where to find the best places for leaf-peeping across the country? From the West Coast to the East Coast, here are some of our favorite road trips for viewing incredible fall foliage.
1. Central Oregon
With 300 days of sunshine per year and a high desert climate, Central Oregon is a fall foliage-seeker’s dream. You won’t be disappointed with a drive through one of the various color-saturated state parks or national forests. Drive to the Lava Lands Visitor Center, which offers nature walks over 7,000-year-old lava flow, or bask in the sunshine on a hike up to the top of Lava Butte for stunning views of the Cascade Range.
The Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, a 66-mile loop, offers inimitable views of Mt. Bachelor, Todd Lake, Sparks Lake and Crane Prairie Reservoir. Take the guesswork out of planning an adventurous fall vacation by staying at Sunriver Resort, where the concierge can arrange for all of the above as well as biking, horseback riding, golf or spa experiences. The resort, as a bonus, offers a Fall Escape Package, which includes discounted lodging rates.
Check out Sun Country Tours for thrilling whitewater rafting and Wanderlust Tours for beautiful Cascade Lake kayaking and canoeing, Lava Tube Cave Tours and Volcano Tours. And, of course, north of Central Oregon is the historic Columbia River Highway, America’s first scenic highway and a National Historic Landmark. All along the 75-mile snaking road you’ll see cottonwood, ash and maple trees in all their glory as well as waterfalls, cliffs, trails and the Bonneville Lock and Dam.
2. California Central Coast
Located at the midpoint between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the California Highway 1 Discovery Route on the Central Coast offers travelers a little bit of everything: culture, history, food and wine, shopping, family activities and art. The best part: Road-warriors can experience 10 unique destinations from beginning to end along 101 miles of hills and ocean views, which include two wine regions, multiple state parks, tours of marine protected areas, and loads of outdoor activities.
Start or finish at any one of the points along the way—Arroyo Grande Valley, Avila Beach, Cambria, Cayucos, Edna Valley, Los Osos/Baywood Park, Nipomo, Oceano, Ragged Point or San Simeon—to experience the most gorgeous fall agriculture and aquaculture. From outdoor adventures like hiking, biking and kayaking to cultural activities like visits to lighthouses and Hearst Castle, you’ll find what you’re looking for along this drive.
Be sure to check out the seaside fishing village Morro Bay (made more famous recently as the setting for Disney’s “Finding Dory”), because who doesn’t like a little sunshine, birding and beachcombing while on a fall road trip? Morro Rock, the 581-foot volcanic plug located at the entrance to Morro Bay Harbor, is worth a look as well.
3. Snowmass, Colorado
Snowmass is an adventurer’s dream, and opportunities for excitement abound in the fall. Road-trippers here can ride on the Elk Camp Gondola for golden aspen leaf-covered mountain views; see the fall foliage up close on over 75 miles of local hiking trails—ACES and Blazing Adventures both offer fantastic family-friendly outdoor hiking programs; or see the orange and tawny red leaves fly by as you hit the mountain biking trails through aspen groves, the Rio Grande Bike Trail and Sky Mountain Park (check out Bike Snowmass for more information).
4. Quad Cities
If festivals are your thing, revel in the fall colors along the Mississippi River as you drive to the Quad Cities. This fall, drink microbrewed beers, listen to live music and watch improvisational comedy at Brew Ha Ha in LeClaire Park in Davenport; check out the Riverssance Festival of Fine Arts in Lindsay Park in the Village of East Davenport; watch the stunning Hot Air Balloon Festival at the Rock Island County Fairgrounds in East Moline; or check out the Festival of Trees Parade in downtown Davenport. Other accessible activities include wine tours, mountain biking and fall foliage river cruises.
The east coast is one of the most beautiful areas of our country during the fall months. The Blue Ridge Parkway (full of scenic overlooks and thick woodland hikes) and Skyline Drive (105 miles in the breathtaking Shenandoah National Park) are just two of many scenic roadways you’ll find here in Virginia’s stunning natural environment. Coastal drives along the beaches are also great for watching migrating fowl. And, of course, if you need to stretch your legs and get out of the car, you’ll find a plethora of hiking, paddling and biking opportunities throughout 15 million acres.
Hands down, one of the most beautiful drives in our great country has to be crossing the Continental Divide and traversing the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park, located in northwest Montana. Portions of the road are open all year while some areas in the alpine region close due to snow in late fall; if you want to be sure to drive the full 50 miles, visit before late October.
The National Park Service just hit its centennial and this fall is the perfect time to visit Glacier National Park to avoid crowds, see more wildlife and witness the grand trees and foliage change color. During your visit, stay in the charming ski town of Whitefish. Here you’ll find excellent mountain accommodations like Kandahar Lodge, with an excellent seasonal restaurant, Café Kandahar, or in-town eateries like the newly opened, swanky Firebrand Hotel . While in Whitefish, load up on huckleberry snacks for noshing and take a meandering walk on one of the many pedestrian trails or go for a long bike ride to take in all of the magnificent fall shades before hopping back in the car.