Fall is for football games, smoky campfire s’mores, comfy sweaters and, of course, scenic fall drives!
Now that the hazy dog days of summer are over, it is about time you take advantage of the picturesque fall scenes evolving all around you on that scenic drive that you’ve been dreaming about.
1. M-22 Route, Michigan
Fill your lungs with the pristine Michigan air as you traverse this 116-mile route that is bursting with the warm colors of fall foliage. Then, be prepared to have your breath taken away by views of Lake Michigan’s cool blue-green waters.
This scenic highway also presents a variety of excursion possibilities, such as shops and dining options and, for those who are history buffs, Point Betsie Lighthouse. If you are feeling especially antsy to stretch the legs, M-22 also boasts the 400-feet-tall sand dunes of Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore and the 1.5-mile Riverwalk along the Manistee Riverfront, located right in Manistee, Michigan.
The M-22 Route skirts the perimeter of northern Michigan, and is best traveled from mid-September to late October.
2. Hocking Hills Scenic Byway, Ohio
Take a drive on the wild side as you explore the unique sandstone region of southeastern Ohio, which crosses through Hocking Hills State Park by way of State Routes 374, 56, 664, and U.S. Highway 33.
As you meander along the byway, take some time to marvel at the yields of nature’s craftsmanship: cascading waterfalls, expansive forests, massive rock formations, gorgeous gorges, steep bluffs, and more.
You can view these natural attractions for free by hiking the paths of Hocking Hills’ non-contiguous sites, which include Lake Logan State Park, Cantwell Cliffs, the Rock House, Conkle’s Hollow, Old Man’s Cave, Cedar Falls, and Ash Cave. Both Conkle’s Hollow and Ash Cave are handicap-accessible.
While this byway is relatively short at 32 miles long, there is no shortage of sights and activities. Take advantage of the numerous possibilities: zip-lining and canopy tours, rock climbing and rappelling treks, and horseback riding.
If you feel like you can’t seem to get enough of Hocking Hills’ rugged terrain, add on to your adventure by exploring Big Pine Scenic Loop, a 19-mile route that begins at mile 12.5 of the Hocking Hills Scenic Byway.
3. Skyline Drive, Virginia
Virginia’s Skyline Drive is for lovers – of breathtaking autumn sights, that is. Reach out and nearly poke the puffy, white clouds as you drive up and up along the rim of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Known as the gateway to the Shenandoah Valley, this 109-mile route runs the entire length of Shenandoah National Park. Its highest elevation, at 3,680 feet, Skyline Drive has been rated as one of the best mountain drives in America. Even more, Shenandoah National Park itself features 500 miles of hiking trails, many of them easily accessible from Skyline Drive. If you are looking to make a pit stop, pack a lunch and picnic with the family at one of the road’s 75 panoramic overlooks.
This road is also an ideal spot for stargazing. Because of minimal light pollution, you have the opportunity to spot nebulas, constellations, and distant galaxies. For an informative exhibition and viewing session, book a reservation for one of Skyland and Big Meadows Lodge’s presentations, free to all park visitors.
4. Route 100, Vermont
Are you hoping to experience the iconic New England feel during fall? Look no further than this 216-mile bypass that crisscrosses the eastern spine of the Green Mountains. You’ll be enveloped in the New England-y atmosphere as you meander along the rolling peaks, which, during the fall months, have been adorned by Mother Nature’s sweeping brush strokes featuring her autumn color palette.
Not only will you be blown away by the beauty of Vermont’s fall leaves, but you will also get to experience the impression of old-timey New England as you pass white-steepled churches, historical villages, dairy farms and country stores. Known as the main street of Vermont, Route 100 boasts a sense of isolation, with no gaudy roadway signs, and quaint villages along the way.
Adding to the historical vibe, Vermont 100 visitors can also stop to tour the preserved village of Plymouth Notch, Calvin Coolidge’s birthplace and boyhood home, or pause to take in a show at the Weston Playhouse, home to Vermont’s oldest theater company.
Those craving to taste more Vermont flavor should make a stop at Cold Hollow Cider Mill in Waterbury Center. There, visitors sink their teeth into cider donuts and sample Cold Hollow’s renowned cider. The mill also offers viewings of old-fashioned cider pressing.
5. Columbia River Highway Scenic Byway, Oregon
If you are looking to do some leaf-peeping in the Pacific Northwest, look no further than the Columbia River Highway Scenic Byway in Oregon, and prepare to be dazzled by this 74-mile byway, known by many as the “jewel of the northwest.” As you trek your way through the Columbia River Gorge, you will marvel at nature’s sensational exhibitions all around you.
Make a pit stop at one of the highway’s various vistas and look out at the fiery remnants of Big Leaf Maples, Cottonwoods and Oregon Ash Trees fluttering in the breeze. Take a glance below and listen to the bubbling Columbia River, the largest in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. Or take a hike to one of the byway’s waterfalls and feel the cascading waters reverberating from your toes to your ears.
Add to your sensory experience by driving through the Fruit Loop, a 35-mile loop off the bypass, and plunge your fingers into the fuzzy alpaca fur at one of the loop’s many alpaca farms or sink your teeth into fresh produce at one of the route’s farm stands.
Those hoping for the perfect picture should consider stopping at the Vista House at Crown Point and Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint. Each spot features a panoramic view of the Columbia River gorge, the perfect backdrop for your family road trip picture. The Bonneville Dam and the Mosier Twin Tunnels offer wondrous man-made additions to nature’s exquisite architecture.
6. West Elk Loop, Colorado
Embrace your wild side as you snake through Colorado’s West Elk Mountains on the lasso-shaped West Elk Scenic Loop. The route not only showcases 205 miles of brilliant autumn colors, but also highlights a diverse collection of wildlife and historical stops along the way.
Those eager to whip out the camera should not pass up Kebler Pass, a 10,000-foot ascent to some of West Elk Loop’s most vibrant scenery. This 30-mile section – which consists of gravel roadways at times – offers idyllic views of the area’s thousands of aspen trees and surrounding mountain ranges.
If you are seeking some relaxation along the way, immerse your tired body into the naturally made Penny Hot Springs near Carbondale, or try your feet at one of the route’s many hiking trails, teeming with bighorn sheep, deer, and elk.
For a blast from the past, make your way through Dillon Pinnacles Trail, a hiking path along the Blue Mesa Reservoir that showcases the ancient Dillon Pinnacles – geological formations created over 30 million years ago by volcanic rock spewed from the West Elk Mountains. Adrenaline junkies should consider being launched further back in time with a trek along the rugged, crumbly cliffs and canyons that define the Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park, featuring weather-eroded rock from 2 billion years ago.
Be transported once again – to a more recent history – as you visit the Gunnison Pioneer Museum, an outdoor gallery that showcases and preserves the lives of early settlers.
7. Peter Norbeck Byway, South Dakota
Want a full serving of nature’s rugged splendor with a healthy dose of the American spirit? Then pack up your camera, binoculars, and favorite sweatshirt and head to the Peter Norbeck Byway, home of not only Mount Rushmore National Memorial, but also Crazy Horse Memorial – a monument dedicated to a leader of the Lakota Indians.
On the way to these historic landmarks, the nearly 70-mile route snakes through the rugged landscape featuring granite formations, tunnels, curves, pigtail bridges. The route is also adorned by the vivid colors of the changing aspen trees, the dazzling blue of Sylvan Lake, and the wild animals of the route’s several wildlife preserves.
Other attractions along the route include the route’s highest point, Black Elk Peak, the world’s third largest cave, Jewel Cave Monument, and the route’s unique rock formations, the Cathedral Spires, and the Eye of the Needle.
Finally, for those looking to truly capture a sense of the wilderness that Peter Norbeck Byway beholds, make a stop at the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, a 35,000-acre site that includes over 35 miles of hiking trails.
So take advantage of these awe-inspiring drives and plan your next fall road trip: buckle in the fam, roll down the windows, turn on the radio, and dial up the fall foliage.
With each scenic mile, watch your worries vanish in the rearview mirror, as your next fall road trip comes into view.