No autumn is complete without enjoying the changing of the leaves. And sure, not everyone lives in a climate where the fall colors are mesmerizing, but that’s why road trips were invented!
Even if you live in a place that boasts exceptional autumnal hues, a road trip is the best way to experience this special season.
That’s because some of the best places to go leaf peeping are not so much “destinations” as they are “journeys.” For folks living in the U.S., there are hundreds of scenic byways across the country that provide unparalleled opportunities to experience the beauty of fall foliage. These routes are perfect for spontaneous Sunday drives or pit stops along a greater cross-country journey.
There are several designations used to honor roads distinguished for their cultural, historical, ecological, recreational, or scenic qualities. The most common type of designation is the National Scenic Byway, though there are also state scenic byways, National Forest Byways, and Back Country Byways. Another type of scenic byway is a National Parkway, which is a type of protected roadway within federal park lands that is managed by the National Park Service for recreational use.
Sometimes a road can have multiple honorary designations. If a particular parkway or scenic byway is especially outstanding, it may sometimes be bestowed with the additional title of “All-American Road.”
Not sure where to start planning your leaf-peeping road trip? We’ve listed a few of our favorites below.
Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina
The crown jewel of spectacular autumn drives is the Blue Ridge Parkway. Established in 1936, the 469-mile parkway in the heart of Appalachia serves as a connection between Shenandoah National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Because its reach is so extensive and accessible, the parkway is consistently ranked at the top of the National Park System’s most visited list.
Cherohala Skyway in North Carolina and Tennessee
Nestled within the Appalachian Mountains, the Cherohala Skyway runs 43 miles from Tellico Plains, Tennessee, to Robbinsville, North Carolina. First opened in 1996 after decades of planning and construction, the byway’s name is a portmanteau of the Cherokee and Nantahala national forests.
Skyline Drive in Virginia
Meandering along the crest of the mountains through the woods and past spectacular vistas, Virginia’s Skyline Drive begins in Front Royal and twists and turns southwest through Shenandoah National Park.
Hike in the shade of oak trees along the Appalachian Trail, discover the stories from Shenandoah’s past, or explore the wilderness at your leisure.
Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway in South Carolina
Looming majestically beyond the low Piedmont hills, the Blue Ridge escarpment thrills the mountain lover’s soul. The Cherokees called these heights the “Great Blue Hills of God.” Following an ancient Cherokee path, this beautiful two-lane road arcs through peach orchards and villages, past Cowpens National Battlefield and over Lake Keowee.
Coal Heritage Trail in West Virginia
Wind through mountains and valleys showcasing America’s remarkable industrial heritage. The region commemorates the history and culture of the coal industry and the impact it has had on the physical and social environment. Numerous resources line the corridor, including coal company towns, tipples, railroad structures, and reclaimed mining lands.
Wilderness Road Heritage Highway in Kentucky
The Wilderness Road Heritage Highway is an important historic route and was crucial in the West’s settlement and during the Civil War. Today places like Cumberland Gap National Historic Park preserve that history. The route also leads to Renfro Valley, the famous country music venue, as well as Berea, Kentucky’s crafts capitol.
Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons.