The Ultimate Fall Foliage Drive: 10 Scenic Drives Across America
The changing of the seasons is a beautiful thing. As leaves change from green to yellow, orange, and red, it’s impossible not to be drawn outdoors in celebration. Fall foliage drives are one way to celebrate the beauty of nature while getting in some much-needed time outside before winter sets in! Fall is here, and it’s a good time for a drive. To help you choose the best route, we have created a list of ten scenic routes across America.
The Blue Ridge Parkway in (North Carolina and Virginia)
This scenic highway winds through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Shenandoah National Park, and the Appalachian mountains with breathtaking views of mountain ranges as far as the eye can see. It’s one of America’s most popular routes for foliage enthusiasts!
The Blue Ridge Parkway is at its best in early October, when peak color has reached North Carolina.
The Natchez Trace Parkway (Mississippi)
Named one of the nation’s most scenic by The American Society of Civil Engineers, this 444-mile route stretches from Natchez to Nashville. It includes more than 90 scenic and historic sites. Visitors will enjoy driving through forests, pastures, and even some wetlands as they follow in the footsteps of Native Americans who once hunted along its path.
The Natchez Trace Parkway is one of the prettiest places in the South. The unique topography and abundance of hardwood forests have created a stunning array of fall foliage. The Natchez Trace Parkway runs through the state park, passing small lakes, marshlands, and deep rivers.
As summer gives way to fall, the oak, maple, and hickory trees change colors, and travelers have the chance to witness the beautiful fall foliage on the Natchez Trace Parkway.
The Natchez Trace is a beautiful way to see the North American fall landscape. There’s plenty of wildlife to encounter as well. The best time for a foliage drive on the Trace is late September or early October, when peak color has reached Mississippi.
The Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)
Nestled in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia’s Skyline Drive is an 87-mile loop through some of America’s most beautiful forests. Visitors will enjoy a variety of views along the way as they pass fields, farms, and woodland areas that represent over 500 years worth of American history.
The best time for a foliage drive on this scenic route is late September or early October, when peak color has reached Western Virginia.
The C&O Canal Towpath Trail (Maryland-Washington, D.C.-West Virginia)
The C&O Canal Towpath Trail is a 184-mile route stretching between Western Maryland and Washington, D.C. The Potomac River runs parallel to it for much of its length. Visitors will enjoy hiking, biking, or horseback riding along portions of this historic waterway initially built-in 1831 as an ambitious project by George Washington himself.
For years this trail was one of the U.S.’s most essential navigation routes. The canal is now a flood plain in Maryland and Virginia, but it remains an extraordinary landscape of natural beauty.
On either side of this route are beautiful creeks and streams with abundant wildlife. Many government and private organizations have worked over the years to preserve the trail and promote its use. Several nature programs, including walking, biking, kayaking, and nature walks, are among the many environmental, historic, and inspiring activities that you can enjoy while on The C&O Canal Towpath Trail.
The best time for a foliage drive on The C&O Canal Towpath Trail is late September or early October when peak color has reached Western Maryland and Western Virginia.
Black Bear Pass Scenic Byway (Colorado)
This road is not for the timid! It’s a steep, rough, and rocky route that winds through Western Colorado. From rugged canyons to spectacular mountain vistas, Black Bear Pass Scenic Byway will take you on an adventure for all your senses!
One of the country’s most scenic drives, this 45-mile stretch of road offers visitors Rocky Mountain National Park views as it winds through Colorado. It passes over two mountain ranges and past five lakes for spectacular panoramic vistas with each mile traveled.
The best time of year for foliage viewing is September, when the aspens are at their peak.
If you’re looking to learn about more great places to see fall colors in Colorado, check out our Colorado Guide to Fall Drives and Hikes.
Historic Route 66
This classic American highway stretches from Chicago to Santa Monica, California. Along the way, visitors will pass through deserts, prairies, and even small towns representing America’s Western expansion history.
While Historic Route 66 is no longer the main street of America, it is still a memorable stretch between Los Angeles to Chicago. This route is like an Americana tour. It features historic neon signs, faded gasoline stations, quaint motels, historic motels, incredible natural formations, authentic eateries, and some of the nation’s most iconic landmarks.
The best time for a foliage drive on this historic route is late September or early October when peak color has reached the Western States.
Highway 12, Oregon Coast Highway
This scenic route is located just a few hours away from Portland. Visitors will enjoy Oregon’s lush landscapes as the coastal mountains give way to rocky shores and crashing waves.
The best time for a foliage drive on this Pacific Northwest Coast highway in Western Oregon is late September or early October. That is when the leaves will be turning color, and you should see lots of beautiful colors.
Mount Rainier National Park (Washington)
This American treasure has been named one of the country’s most beautiful by USA Today. It offers visitors views from over 14,000 feet up!
The best time for a foliage drive on Mt. Rainier is late September or early October when peak color has reached Western Washington.
Highway 13 along the Mississippi River Delta from Baton Rouge to New Orleans
This scenic route along the Mississippi River is ideal for anyone who loves to experience a sense of culture and history. It’s also one of the best places in America to see fall foliage!
Highway 13 is a major artery that connects Mississippi with its many historic communities. Due to its historical significance, many have referred to this route as “The Mississippi Steeple.” Highway 13 runs roughly seven hundred miles between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
Highway 13 will take you to many historical sites, activities, as well as New Orleans landmarks. New Orleans is a great place to visit for those interested in experiencing fall colors along the way!
The best time for a foliage drive on Highway 13 is late September or early October, when peak color has reached Western Louisiana.
The Palisades Interstate Parkway (New Jersey)
Another of America’s most beautiful scenic drives, the Palisades Interstate Highway, cuts through the Ramapo Mountains and offers views of Western New York along its 2,000 acres of prime parkland. It starts at the New Jersey State Line and continues south to New York. This toll road passes through several toll stations in Monmouth County and Atlantic counties. It is one of the busiest freeways across the country. It is also known as the “Valley of the Sun” because it has more sunshine than any other part of the country.
The best time for a foliage drive on this Palisades Interstate Parkway is late September or early October when peak color has reached Western New Jersey.
I hope this list of scenic routes has helped you find the perfect one for your fall foliage drive. Whether it’s a trip to the Southern Appalachian Mountains or the Eastern Seaboard, we’ve compiled some stunning sights that will be sure to take your breath away!