11 U.S. Fall Foliage Road Trips You Can Drive in a Day

From Maine to New Mexico, these fall foliage road trips prove that a day is all you need.

The changing leaves of fall are arguably best seen from a vehicle, when panoramics of scarlet, tangerine, and gold are visible roadside. While you could take a weeklong road trip for the annual event, a quick scenic drive is usually all that’s needed to experience dramatic fall foliage—if you know where to look.

These 11 short drives are all under 200 miles, meaning travelers can enjoy the full spectrum from a summit drive that takes a mere 20 minutes to a meandering day trip. Oh, and don’t forget to stop for some apple cider along the way.

1. Park Loop Road, Acadia National Park, Maine

  • Start: Bar Harbor
  • End: Cadillac Mountain
  • Distance: 7 miles

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, AFAR writer Melanie Haiken suggests stopping by the 187-acre Jordan Pond. Take a canoe and you can have the fall foliage experience by boat as the surrounding landscape “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.”

Beautiful autumn colors along a meadow in the Green Mountains of Vermont, USA

The Green Mountains extends from Massachusetts to Canada.

Photo by JeniFoto/Shutterstock

2. Route 7A, Vermont

  • Start: Bennington
  • End: Manchester
  • Distance: 25 miles

This road trip along the state’s Route 7A sneaks between the Taconic Mountains and the 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 small towns, hay bales, and general stores selling syrup and candies, with the Green Mountains as a backdrop.

Cherohala Skyway in late october at the peak of the autumn leaf color season.

The Cherohala Skyway crosses through the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests.

Photo by NaturalStock/Shutterstock

3. Cherohala Skyway, Tennessee to North Carolina

  • Start: Tellico Plains, Tennessee
  • End: Robbinsville, North Carolina
  • Distance: 43 miles

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 eastern Tennessee to western North Carolina, 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 one end of the skyway.

Winding road against a mountain backdrop in the daytime

Beartooth Highway is considered an “All-American Road”, which is a part of the U.S. National Scenic Byway program.

Photo by EricLiu08/Shutterstock

4. Beartooth Highway, Montana and Wyoming

  • Start: Red Lodge, Montana
  • End: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
  • Distance: 68 miles

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 (and the associated unpredictable weather) means the highway typically closes around mid-October—but don’t worry: The foliage in these parts peaks as early as September.

An aerial view of the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire

Consider a drive through Kancamagus Highway early in the morning.

Photo by Yuzi S/Shutterstock

5. Kancamagus Highway, New Hampshire

  • Start: Conway
  • End: Bath
  • Distance: 56 miles

Winding along 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.

Bridge over water behind yellowing trees

From St. Ignace, you can see the Mackinac Bridge.

Photo by Pictureguy/Shutterstock

6. Historic Upper Peninsula, Michigan

  • Start: St. Ignace
  • End: St. Ignace
  • Distance: 160 miles

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 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.

Sunset over the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains from Crescent Rock, in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.

Shenandoah’s Skyline Drive can be accessed through points including Front Royal and Thornton Gap.

Photo by Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

7. Skyline Drive, Virginia

  • Start: Shenandoah National Park
  • End: Shenandoah National Park
  • Distance: 105 miles

The curving Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park—with mostly a 35 mph speed limit—encourages drivers to take it slow and bask in the peaks and valleys of the Appalachian Mountains as they change colors. Start your drive at the Front Royal Entrance Station and continue south as the road winds along the Crimora Lake Overlook and Hogback Overlook. The 3,284-foot peak of Old Rag Mountain offers a challenging hike for a brilliant panoramic view, but easy hikes like Blackroad Summit make a fall foliage trip just as accessible for kids. If you can’t get enough of the regional foliage, the Blue Ridge Parkway starts at the endpoint of the Skyline drive—offering 469 more miles of Appalachian autumn scenery.

Couches, tables on a patio beside a vineyard in the daytime

Be sure to add extra days to your wine country road trip to properly enjoy tastings at wineries like Clos du Val on the Silverado Trail.

Photo by Rocco Cesalin

8. Silverado Trail, California

  • Start: Napa
  • End: Calistoga
  • Distance: 30 miles

“When you rave about the reds in Napa Valley in fall, you might mean leaves as well as wines,” AFAR editor Pat Tompkins writes in her article on California’s notable fall foliage. Yellow and red grape leaves adorn wine country in the fall, making a trip as captivating for sight as it is for taste. While Highway 29 efficiently connects Napa and Calistoga, take the parallel Silverado Trail to experience a less-crowded road trip through the region’s rolling hills. And for those amazing reds mentioned earlier? Stop at Quintessa and Clos du Val for some of the region’s best bottles for later—the perfect way to celebrate a drive well done.



Photo by samuel gorbunov/Unsplash

9. Historic Columbia River Highway, Oregon

  • Start: Troutdale
  • End: The Dalles
  • Distance: 70 miles

After a weekend getaway in Portland, drive about 15 miles east to Troutdale to embark on the country’s first scenic highway. This road trip takes travelers along the Columbia River, contrasting the river views on the driver’s side against the colors of the maples, oaks, and alder trees on the passenger side as it heads east. The ride along the way offers waterfalls galore, including Latourell Falls, Shepperd’s Dell Falls, Wahkeena Falls, and Oregon’s tallest, the 620-foot Multnomah Falls. Many of these scenic drops are easily accessible from the parking lot (if you even need to leave it), making it well-suited for trips with kids.

Mountainous landscape along the High Road to Taos, Northern New Mexico in the daytime

Flora in the region include junipers, piñon trees, and aspens.

Photo by William Silver/Shutterstock

10. The High Road, New Mexico

  • Start: Santa Fe
  • End: Taos
  • Distance: 105 miles

The U.S. Southwest isn’t exactly known for its fall foliage, but at high elevations you can see spurts of changing aspens contrast with red desert landscapes. There’s another good reason to drive the High Road: The summer heat starts to wane in the region. Starting in Santa Fe, head north through Old Spanish communities like Chimayo and see the Sangre de Cristo Mountains backdrop the yellowing leaves and green junipers. Once in Taos, there’s the option to extend the adventure along the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway.

Red, yellow, and orange trees cover a mountain.

The region has inspired artists with its awe-inspiring landscapes.

Photo by hessianmercenary/Shutterstock

11. Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway, New York

  • Start: Olive
  • End: Andes
  • Distance: 52 miles

If you’re an New Yorker looking for a weekend break from the big city, look no further. The streams, mountains, and valleys of New York’s Catskill Mountains were the inspiration for the Hudson River school of landscape painters, making this route a no-brainer for those in search of gorgeous scenery. Golden and amber hues dot the surrounding landscape, as you drive through towns Olive, Shandaken, Middletown, and Andes along the way. These small towns offer quirky handmade furniture shops and easy walking trails, so use the extra daylight to follow your curiosity.

Chloe Arrojado is the associate editor of destinations at AFAR. She’s a big fan of cafés, dancing, and asking people on the street for restaurant recommendations.
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