Photo by melissamn/Shutterstock
Photo by Yuzi S/Shutterstock
An aerial view of the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire
Whether you’re craving a day trip or a weekend getaway this autumn, consider one of these destinations for a fall road trip in the U.S.
A road trip can be as simple as taking an afternoon drive to peep some fall color (with an excellent soundtrack or podcast, naturally). Or it could be slightly more ambitious: spending a full weekend exploring the autumnal glory and fall foliage of neighboring states you may not have seen in awhile. Take in the changing trees, inhale the crisp air, and taste local foods on one of these 16 fall road trips across the United States.
Distance: 56 miles
Start: Conway, NH
End: Bath, NH
Winding 56 miles on country roads through New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest, the Kancamagus Highway drive has earned its place on several “best of” road trip lists, thanks to its picturesque ponds, hiking trails, scenic overlooks, and hairpin turns. Colloquially known as the “Kanc,” the byway draws millions of visitors every year—if you go during a peak foliage week, you may find fewer crowds in the early morning.
Book now: Red Jacket Mountain View Resort, from $175 per night, expedia.com
Red Jacket Mountain View Resort is at the start of the drive in North Conway. The resort’s indoor water park and large rooms make it a family favorite.
Distance: 63 miles
Start: Williamstown, MA
End: Greenfield, MA
Massachusetts’s Berkshire Mountains and its famed 63-mile Mohawk Trail are the stuff of legends. Start in Williamstown, home to Williams College, and continue on Route 2 to Western Gateway Heritage State Park, Natural Bridge State Park, and MASS MoCA, among other attractions. Eventually, you’ll hit the Hoosac Range where the mountain views only get better.
Book now: Tourists, from $239 per night, expedia.com
Start your journey with a stay at Tourists, a mere three miles into the route in North Adams. The property opened in summer 2018, after a group of creatives, including the bassist from the band Wilco, turned a midcentury motor lodge into a contemporary, rustic-chic hotel with a bar and comfort-food joint, The Airport Rooms.
Distance: 25 miles
Start: Bennington, VT
End: Manchester, VT
This road trip—along the state’s Route 7A—sneaks between the Taconic Mountains and Green Mountains, running parallel to the Long Trail, a 272-mile footpath. Bookended by the towns of Bennington and Manchester (you can start your trip at either town), the route stretches nearly 30 miles, passing quaint towns, hay bales, and general stores, with the mountains as a backdrop.
Book now: Inn at Manchester, from $175 per night, expedia.com
Manchester is one of our favorite small towns to visit in the fall. Make it your home base with a stay at the 21-room, family-run Inn at Manchester, on a grassy, four-acre property with views of the nearby forests.
Distance: 7 miles
Start: Bar Harbor, ME
End: Cadillac Mountain, ME
To take in views of the mountains and the colorful foliage, start at Hulls Cove Visitor Center (Bar Harbor) and drive up the summit of Cadillac Mountain. At the base of the mountain, suggests writer Melanie Haiken, stop by the 187-acre Jordan Pond, which “provides a wash of color against two rounded hills known as the Bubbles, which offer a spectacular view of a multi-hued treeline in the backdrop.”
Book now: Under Canvas, $329 per night, expedia.com
Upscale camping provider Under Canvas opened one of its newest properties on the rocky coastline in Surrey, Maine, this past spring, making it an ideal place to stay while exploring the nearby nature in Acadia National Park. Its dog-and kid-friendly safari tents are bookable through early October.
Distance: 154 miles
Start: Duluth, MN
End: Grand Portage, MN
Officially known as Highway 61—and immortalized in song by Minnesota native Bob Dylan—this 154-mile route starts in Duluth and winds along Lake Superior before ending in the town of Grand Portage. Along the way? Waterfalls, lighthouses, state parks, and fall foliage galore. Superior National Forest, to the west of the Lutsen ski resort, is a worthy detour for its fall colors.
Before you start your drive, spend a night at Hotel Pikku, a three-suite hotel with Scandinavian and vintage-inspired decor in Duluth’s hip Lincoln Park neighborhood. Once you’re on the road, a vacation rental is your best bet. We recommend looking for a cozy cabin along Lake Superior, like Mökki Dwelling by the Dock in Grand Marais or Beacon Hill Haven in Schroeder.
Distance: 160 miles
Start: St. Ignace, MI
End: St. Ignace, MI
History is at the heart of this tour of the picturesque Upper Peninsula. Start in St. Ignace, which was founded in 1671 at the Straits of Mackinac, then head east toward the heavily wooded Drummond Island. (You will need a ferry to make the 15-minute crossing.) Head back to the mainland once you have had your fill of island life—kayaking, swimming, fishing—and spend some time in historic Sault Ste. Marie, the oldest city in Michigan and the third oldest in the entire country, before closing the loop in St. Ignace at town favorite Java Joe’s Cafe.
Distance: 70 miles
Start: Sturgeon Bay, WI
End: Sturgeon Bay, WI
A squiggly peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan, Door County is often called the “Cape Cod of the Midwest”—and rightfully so. Just 50 miles northeast of Green Bay, Door County has scenic coves, cherry and apple orchards, harbors, lighthouses, wineries, and some 300 miles of coastline.
Start your drive in Sturgeon Bay, heading towards Newport State Park—which happens to be an International Dark Sky Reserve—before getting to the end of the road at car-free, 900-acre Rock Island State Park. On your way back to Sturgeon Bay, get a dose of small-town charm with a stop by Ephraim, a Scandinavian-style village.
Book now: Hillside Waterfront Hotel, from $329 per night, expedia.com
Book a room roughly halfway between Sturgeon Bay and Rock Island State Park, in Ephraim, at the Hillside Waterfront Hotel. The comfortable bed-and-breakfast has five suites and two cottages, along with the longest porch in the county (sundowner, anyone?).
Distance: 248 miles
Start: Atlanta, GA
End: Charleston, SC
The drive from Atlanta to Charleston by way of Savannah, Georgia, is “an ideal itinerary for the traveler seeking a city and coastal experience,” says Kristin Braswell, founder of CrushGlobal Road Trips. Start with a city adventure in Atlanta, exploring historical points of interest like the National Center for Civil and Human Rights and art at Westside Cultural Arts Center.
Next, head towards the coast to Savannah, Georgia. “No trip to Savannah would be complete without fully immersing yourself into the city’s incredible dining scene,” says Braswell. “Make a trip to the Grey, where the legendary crab beignets with mascarpone will be a dish you’ll talk about for years to come.” Then, end your trip in Charleston, South Carolina, a city worth lingering in to get to know its most iconic foods or learn about Gullah-Geechee cuisine and African American history.
Book now: Perry Lane Hotel, from $230 per night, expedia.com
Once in Savannah, spend the night at the luxurious, centrally located Perry Lane Hotel, complete with a bar and restaurant, rooftop pool, and expansive lawn for lounging in between seeing the sights. At the end of your route, book a room for a few days at one of our 17 favorite Charleston hotels.
Distance: 150 miles (give or take)
Start: Austin or San Antonio, TX
End: Austin or San Antonio, TX
You can begin your journey into Texas Hill Country in either Austin or San Antonio; limestone and granite hills radiate out from both cities. They’re also where the worlds of cowboys and wine collide. For the former, head to Bandera (the self-proclaimed “Cowboy Capital of the World”) and catch a rodeo; for the latter, dip into the wineries that line Wine Road 290 in Fredericksburg. There are more than a dozen other towns to explore, including New Braunfels (where two rivers flow through) and Lockhart, the state’s barbecue capital.
Book now: Treehouse Utopia, from $475 per night, treehouseutopia.com
Continue 40 minutes outside of Bandera to Utopia for a unique Texas Hill Country accommodation. Here, you’ll find Treehouse Utopia, a quartet of luxury tree houses overlooking the lazy Sabinal River run by Texas-born chef and entrepreneur Laurel Waters.
Distance: 384 miles
Start: Charlottesville, VA
End: Asheville, NC
Launched in 1935 as a New Deal project, the Blue Ridge Parkway took 52 years to complete and is now one of the country’s most iconic highways. Come fall, it’s also one of its most vivid. To make the most of the experience, give yourself plenty of time to cruise from Charlottesville, Virginia, to Asheville, North Carolina (the most popular segment of the 469-mile road). You’ll want that time to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail, pop into Blue Ridge Music Center for a little bluegrass, and savor both barbecue and fall colors.
Book now: Oakhurst Inn, from $159 per night, expedia.com
Start your road trip with a good night’s sleep at Oakhurst Inn in Charlottesville, Virginia, a cluster of buildings from the 1920s turned into a comfortable boutique hotel. Along the next leg of your journey, seek out a secluded Airbnb or vacation rental (here are 12 of our favorites in the Blue Ridge Mountains). Save a few days at the end of your drive and check-in to one of these Asheville hotels so you can leisurely explore the city’s multicultural dining scene and nearby hikes.
Distance: 43 miles
Start: Tellico Plains, TN
End: Robbinsville, NC
The Cherohala Skyway is the kind of road you’d expect to see at the end of a James Bond movie: A skinny highway winds through mountains blanketed only by trees, with nothing but more mountains in the distance. The route stretches from western North Carolina to eastern Tennessee, crossing through the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests (the skyway’s name is a portmanteau). There are scenic vistas along the way, but more adventurous travelers can hike one of 29 trails along the route or fly-fish in Tellico River near the end of the skyway.
Distance: 59 miles
Start: Gualala, CA
End: Fort Bragg, CA
This road trip tackles a different part of Highway 1—not the iconic stretch through Big Sur, but the section that winds through Mendocino County, whose border begins three hours north of San Francisco. Take a couple of days to meander from the town of Gualala (where you can visit galleries and walk through a pygmy forest) to Fort Bragg (home to the aptly named Glass Beach, abundant with sea glass) with stops for redwoods, lighthouses, and winetasting along the way.
For your first night, book a room and reservation for dinner at Harbor House Inn in Elk, a small inn overlooking a private beach with a one-Michelin star restaurant by the same name. Just north in Mendocino, stay the next night (or longer) at the modern, oceanside JD House or the tranquil, newly renovated Glendeven Inn & Lodge, before wrapping up your journey in Fort Bragg.
Distance: 329 miles
Start: Edmonds, WA
End: Olympia, WA
Yes, you might get rained on during a fall visit to the Olympic Peninsula—the wild, mossy arm west of Seattle that encompasses Olympic National Park. But that’s part of the charm as you tour the loop, counterclockwise. Ferry over from Edmonds to Kingston, a city 17 miles north of Seattle, and begin where Highway 104 meets Highway 101 (your road for most of the drive). Along the route, learn to pronounce the names of small towns like Sequim (“Skwim”) and Dosewallips (“Doh-si-wall-ips”), hike to waterfalls flush with seasonal rain, explore rain forests alive with colorful maples and mushrooms, and walk the raw coast on the westernmost part of the peninsula.
Start your trip with a stay in a cabin at Lake Crescent Lodge, whose waterside location offers stunning views of the lake and nearby mountains. Next, head south to the historic Kalaloch Lodge, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean.
Distance: 68 miles
Start: Red Lodge, MT
End: Yellowstone National Park, WY
The Beartooth Highway is an “All-American Road”—a designation given to fewer than 50 highways in the United States—and one of the most eye-popping ways to approach Yellowstone. From Red Lodge, Montana, drivers follow the switchbacking highway into Wyoming, through three national forests (at one point reaching 10,947 feet), ending near the northeast entrance of the park. Keep in mind that the elevation means the highway typically closes around mid-October.
Distance: 84 miles
Start: Taos, NM
End: Taos, NM
Wheeler Peak, also known as Cerro de Taos and the highest mountain in New Mexico, is the center point for the Enchanted Circle drive. Most travelers drive the loop north from Taos, first passing through the Hondo Valley, home to the D.H. Lawrence memorial. Fascinating and historical towns dot the route: Questa, where woodworkers whittle and tinsmiths hammer; Red River, where travelers can get a taste of the Old West and, in the winter, ski and snowboard; and Elizabethtown, once a bustling gold mining enclave, now a ghost town. All roads, of course, lead back to Taos.
Book now: Taos Inn, from $142 per night, expedia.com
The historic Taos Inn is made up of a group of adobe houses, some of which date back to the 1800s, and sits just off the town’s main square. With its adjacent Southwestern restaurant, Doc Martin’s, and bar known for its margaritas, Adobe Bar, you won’t have to venture far after you’ve parked the car for the night.
Distance: 129 miles
Start: Alamosa, CO
End: Chama, NM
Of Colorado’s 26 byways, Los Caminos Antiguos offers a peek at some of Colorado’s earliest history (hence the name, which translates to “the ancient roads”). Spanish explorers settled in the San Luis Valley in the 16th century, founding some of Colorado’s earliest communities, including San Luis (a stop along the way). The route begins in the city of Alamosa, the gateway to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, and ends just over the Colorado border in Chama, New Mexico.
This article originally appeared online in September 2020; it was updated on September 17th 2021, to include current information.
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