7 Scenic Road Trips for Enjoying Fall Foliage

Blue Ridge Parkway
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A road trip is perhaps the epitome of the American vacation, regardless of the route you take. But a road trip through the nation’s most scenic and colorful fall foliage displays? That’s the epitome of an autumn American getaway.

The following drives — found in the Northeast, the Southwest and the mountain ranges in between — will immerse you in some of the best sights and experiences that the nation’s great outdoors offers this time of year.

Most of them have earned a spot in the Federal Highway Administration’s National Scenic Byways Program. Others are state-designated scenic byways.

If you’re short on time this autumn, don’t let that deter you. The following adventures can be pulled off in as little as an afternoon, or savored for days. The shortest drive is 37 miles, and the longest is 469 miles.

1. Cherohala Skyway — North Carolina and Tennessee

Cherohala Skyway National Scenic Byway
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The Federal Highway Administration highlights this national scenic byway’s “mile-high vistas and brilliant fall foliage.”

The Cherohala Skyway stretches for some 40 miles, winding through the two national forests for which it’s named, the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee and the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina.

Leaves start turning color as early as September in higher elevations and continue through mid-November in lower elevations.

For more information: Cherohala.org

2. Blue Ridge Parkway — North Carolina and Virginia

Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina
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The National Scenic Byways Program recognizes 150 distinct drives, with a special minority of those designated “All-American Roads.” The Blue Ridge Parkway is one such road.

Travel its 469 miles in autumn, and you’ll be treated to far more than colorful leaves, says the Federal Highway Administration:

“The Parkway provides spectacular mountain and valley vistas, quiet pastoral scenes, sparkling waterfalls and colorful flower and foliage displays as it extends through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina.”

For more information: Blue Ridge Parkway Association

3. Woodlands Trace – Kentucky and Tennessee

Fall foliage on the Cumberland River in Kentucky
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This 43-mile National Scenic Byway stretches through the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, which comprises some 170,000 acres of peninsula on the Kentucky/Tennessee state line.

For more information: TennesseeRiverValleyGeotourism.org

4. Merritt Parkway — Connecticut

New Milford, Connecticut
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This National Scenic Byway running through natural surroundings abounds with magnificent foliage in the fall as well as in the spring, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

Merritt Parkway is a 37-mile stretch of Connecticut’s Route 15 from the New York state line to the route’s intersection with the Housatonic River, near the Merritt Parkway Museum.

According to Connecticut’s current fall foliage report, the state estimates its fall foliage season will peak from Oct. 5 through Nov. 8.

For more information: Merritt Parkway Conservancy

5. Olympic Trail — New York

Lake Placid, New York
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This state scenic byway spans upstate New York, including the Adirondack Mountains, stretching from Lake Champlain to Lake Ontario. Along the way, it runs through the village of Lake Placid, which hosted the Winter Olympic Games in 1932 and 1980.

For more information: New York State Scenic Byways

6. Mountain Maryland

Swallow Falls State Park in Maryland
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This state scenic byway runs through western Maryland. The 193-mile route is punctuated with mountain, forest and river terrains as well as the state’s largest freshwater lake. Points of interest include multiple state parks and small towns like Oakland.

For more information: Maryland Office of Tourism

7. Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway — New Mexico

View from the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway in New Mexico
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The Northeast might be known for its fall foliage, but you also can find road trip-worthy displays of color far west of the Adirondacks and the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Check out north-central New Mexico’s Enchanted Circle, for example. This looping byway covers some 80 miles around 13,159-foot Wheeler Peak, the highest point in the state.

For more information: EnchantedCircle.org

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