Fall Is the Best Season for Road Trips in the U.S.—Here Are the Top 12

If you’re craving a roadside adventure this autumn, consider one of these destinations.

Hairpin turn of highway in New Hampshire through colorful trees, viewed from above

An aerial view of the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire

Photo by Yuzi S/Shutterstock

A road trip can be as simple as taking an afternoon drive to view 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 12 fall road trips across the United States.

1. Mohawk Trail, Massachusetts

  • Start: Williamstown
  • End: Greenfield
  • Distance: 63 miles

The 63-mile Mohawk Trail cuts through Massachusetts’s Berkshire Mountain region and follows the old trail used by Native Americans to travel between the valleys of Connecticut and the Hudson. Starting in Williamstown, home to Williams College, continue on Route 2 to North Adams for the Western Gateway Heritage State Park, Natural Bridge State Park, MASS MoCA, and other attractions. The drive eventually ends east in the small town of Greenfield.

Tip: If you drive through North Adams at the right time, you may even catch the annual Fall Foliage Festival and Parade.

Where to stay along the way

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.

Orange trees covering an area during sunrise

Drive to Stowe, Vermont and you can see fall foliage in places like Mount Mansfield.

Photo by Rafael Rodrigues/Unsplash

2. Burlington to Woodstock, Vermont

  • Start: Burlington
  • End: Woodstock
  • Distance: 132 miles

Take in Vermont’s gorgeous fall scenery and its local fare with this road trip in the northwest region of the state. Starting in Burlington, head to the local farmers’ market for breakfast before continuing south on Route 89 to Stowe (which claims to be “Fall’s Color Capital”). Come here from early September through late October, and you can try concepts like Long Trail Brewing Company and Hen of the Wood while enjoying the fall foliage display around you. The drive concludes in Woodstock, offering local dishes from Fat Toad Farm.

Where to stay along the way

Field Guide Lodge in Stowe has an escape-to-the-woods atmosphere thanks to decorations like aspen tree wallpaper and deer motifs. But this property is far from a bare-bones cabin stay, thanks to amenities like its seasonally heated pool and hot tub.

Waterfall in the with patches of orange fall colors around

Duluth, Minnesota is a port city home to many trails for fall nature.

Photo by Tom Gainor/Unsplash

3. North Shore Scenic Drive, Minnesota

  • Start: Duluth
  • End: Grand Portage
  • Distance: 154 miles

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 seasonal colors.

Where to stay along the way

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.

Red lighthouse on a body of water

While in Sturgeon Bay, don’t miss the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal Pierhead Lighthouse.

Photo by Keenan Davidson/Unsplash

4. Door-to-door Door County, Wisconsin

  • Start: Sturgeon Bay
  • End: Sturgeon Bay
  • Distance: 70 miles

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 toward 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, enjoy a dose of small-town charm with a stop by Ephraim, a Scandinavian-style village.

Where to stay along the way

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?).

Archway of live oak trees during golden hour

One of the best places to see Savannah’s live oak trees is at the Wormsloe Plantation Historic Site.

Photo by Jose Llamas/Unsplash

5. Atlanta to Savannah to Charleston

  • Start: Atlanta, Georgia
  • End: Charleston, South Carolina
  • Distance: 248 miles

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. And what better time to tour through the South than the fall, when the temperatures are mild and roadside nature gets especially scenic? 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 toward 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.

Where to stay along the way

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 favorite Charleston hotels.

6. West Virginia’s natural wonders

  • Start: Blackwater Falls State Park
  • End: New River Gorge National Park
  • Distance: 200 miles

West Virginia’s location in the Appalachian Mountain region makes it an attractive place to visit in the fall, especially in October. One of the best ways to tour this area is on a three-day adventure visiting Blackwater Falls State Park, Seneca Rocks, and the New River Gorge National Park. Experienced rafters may want to come earlier in the fall because there’s plenty of exhilarating white water rafting on the Gauley River once “Gauley Season” comes around (the six weeks or so following Labor Day).

Where to stay

Stay deep within West Virginia’s nature with Adventures on the Gorge, which offers wooden cabins and stargazing opportunities. (Some cabins offer a private porch and hot tub.) To maximize the experience, AFAR senior manager Jessie Beck suggests catching a sundown drink at nearby restaurants Smokey’s on the Gorge or Chetty’s Pub.

Two people walk alongside San Antonio's River Walk

While in San Antonio, don’t miss its 15-mile-long River Walk.

Photo by Robin LeeAnn/Unsplash

7. Hill Country, Texas

  • Start: Austin or San Antonio
  • End: Austin or San Antonio
  • Distance: 150 miles (give or take)

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.

Where to stay along the way

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.

Highway curving across hill full of autumn colors along the Blue Ridge Parkway, with mountains in distance

The Linn Cove Viaduct, at mile marker 304.4, is one of the most ambitious and technically challenging segments of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Photo by Anthony Heflin/Shutterstock

8. Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia to North Carolina

  • Start: Charlottesville, Virginia
  • End: Asheville, North Carolina
  • Distance: 384 miles

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.

Where to stay along the way

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 (there are plenty to choose from in the Blue Ridge Mountains). Save a few days at the end of your drive and check in to one of Asheville’s best hotels so you can leisurely explore the city’s multicultural dining scene and nearby hikes.

A view of the blue Pacific Ocean crashing into rocks at the glass beach in Fort Bragg, California.

Mendocino County is located on California’s northern stretch of coast.

Photo by Zahid Lilani/Unsplash

9. Highway 1 in Mendocino County, California

  • Start: Gualala
  • End: Fort Bragg
  • Distance: 59 miles

This road trip tackles a different part of Highway 1—not the iconic stretch through Big Sur, but the section that winds along coastal 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.

Where to stay 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.

Water flowing into a creek with green vegetation around.

The nearly one-million-acre Olympic National Park has more than 3,000 miles of rivers and streams.

Photo by John Thomas/Unsplash

10. Olympic Peninsula Loop Drive, Washington

  • Start: Edmonds
  • End: Olympia
  • Distance: 329 miles

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 edge of the peninsula.

Where to stay along the way

Start your trip with a stay in a cabin at Lake Crescent Lodge, whose waterside location offers scenic views of the lake and nearby mountains. Next, head south to the historic Kalaloch Lodge, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean.

From the Beartooth Highway, travelers can hike around Gardner Lake, seen here with green fields on one side and hills with patchy snow on the other

From the Beartooth Highway, travelers can park and hike the short (but steep!) 1.6-mile (round-trip) trail to Gardner Lake.

Photo by Mendenhall Olga/Shutterstock

11. Enchanted Circle, New Mexico

  • Start: Taos
  • End: Taos
  • Distance: 84 miles

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.

Where to stay along the way

The historic Taos Inn is a group of adobe houses, some dating back to the 1800s, and sits just off the town’s main square. With its adjacent Southwestern restaurant, Doc Martin’s, and Adobe Bar (known for its Margaritas), you won’t have to venture far after you’ve parked the car for the night.

Desert landscape with mountains in the background

Blanca Peak, the fourth highest summit of the Rocky Mountains, is located around 20 miles from the town of Alamosa.

Photo by Rico Gore/Unsplash

12. Los Caminos Antiguos, Colorado

  • Start: Alamosa, Colorado
  • End: Chama, New Mexico
  • Distance: 129 miles

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 small city of Alamosa, the gateway to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, and ends just over the Colorado border in Chama, New Mexico.

Where to stay along the way

For those staying near Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, AFAR contributor Melanie Haiken recommends Zapata Ranch, a working dude ranch and nature conservancy. But there are also options within the park, including campsites at Piñon Flats Campground.

This article originally appeared online in September 2020; it was updated on August 15, 2023, to include current information.

Katherine LaGrave is a deputy editor at Afar focused on features and essays.
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