Summer travel has been stressful, to say the least. With the increase of travelers returning to airports and hotels after two years of a pandemic, it’s been a challenge to find anxiety-free experiences that don’t involve lost luggage, high prices, long delays or straight-up canceled flights. Luckily, there’s a solution for those looking to book a fall trip: hit the road. A fall road trip in the U.S., whether it’s over a weekend or comprising an entire week, is the perfect way to experience new destinations without the complication of flying. It’s also a great opportunity to set your sights on colorful fall foliage. The U.S. offers a plethora of options for an autumn road trip, from mountains of Colorado to the coast of California, and it’s easy to find something that is close to your homebase. So pack a sweater, grab your pumpkin spice latte and fill the tank—the open road is waiting.
The 10 Best Fall Road Trips in the U.S., No Question, Hands Down
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1. San Juan Skyway – Durango, CO to Durango, CO
Suggested Itinerary: 236 miles, 3-4 days, stops in Cortez, Telluride and Ouray
Why We Love It: mountain views, hot springs, fall foliage and historic sites
The San Juan Skyway is a picturesque loop through southern Colorado—a fabulous alternative to popular destinations like Aspen—which begins and ends in Durango. It traverses multiple spots, including the ski town of Telluride, and it’s a great way to ogle the fall colors while also enjoying new destinations like Mesa Verde National Park and the historic mining town of Ouray. Notably, there are multiple hot springs off the route, so be sure to stop for a soak. Because the journey is circular, travelers can adjust their routing based on how many days they want to spend on the road. If you have extra time, staying an extra night or two in Telluride is a great bonus, especially for hikers and mountain bikers.
2. Finger Lakes – Ithaca, NY to Ithaca, NY
Suggested Itinerary: 110-140 miles, 5 days, stops in Ithaca, Seneca Falls and Watkins Glen
Why We Love It: fall foliage, charming towns, wineries, nature
The Finger Lakes, located in upstate New York, are comprised of 11 lakes and dozens of charming small towns. The area is best known for its wine production, meaning there are tons of wineries to explore, but it’s also an especially nice region to traverse by car. From Ithaca, located on the edge of Cayuga Lake, head to Taughannock Falls State Park before spending a day or two exploring the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail. While you can take any number of routes around the Finger Lakes, we suggest continuing to Seneca Falls and then looping south along the west coast of Seneca Lake to the charming town of Watkins Glen. Be sure to explore the Finger Lakes National Forest before returning to Ithaca, or opt to continue on into Pennsylvania.
3. Pacific Coast Highway – Los Angeles, CA to Monterey, CA
Suggested Itinerary: 315 miles, 2-5 days, stops in Santa Barbara, Pismo Beach and Carmel-by-the-Sea
Why We Love It: seaside towns, beaches, wineries, nature, camping
Explore the California coast with a road trip up the iconic Pacific Coast Highway. Start in Los Angeles and then head north with a stop in Santa Barbara and Solvang (home of some great wineries). Along the way, travelers can explore Pismo Beach and Morro Bay, spend an afternoon at Hearst Castle or detour inland to San Luis Obispo. Take a hike near Big Sur before relaxing in Carmel-by-the-Sea, a seaside town known for its beach and nice restaurants. You could continue all the way to San Francisco, but Monterey makes for a nice end point. This is a trip that could last two days, or could be expanded into a week if you want to add a few extra overnights at the beach along the way.
4. Blue Ridge Parkway – Charlottesville, VA to Asheville, NC
Suggested Itinerary: 435 miles, 2-4 days, stops in Roanoke, Boone and Asheville
Why We Love It: fall foliage, charming towns, nature, camping
Kick things off in Charlottesville before following the Blue Ride Parkway through southwestern Virginia into North Carolina. This is more of a countryside road trip, with some small towns along the way. Mostly, you’re here for the leaves, which make the parkway one of the best destinations for fall (mid-to-late October is when you’ll find the colors at their most vibrant). The route is adjacent to two national parks—Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains—which are ideal for hiking, cycling or camping, if you’re so inclined. Be sure to spend a day or two in Roanoke, a great homebase for leaf viewing, along the way.
5. The Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway – Taos, NM to Taos, NM
Suggested Itinerary: 83 miles, 2 days, stops in Eagle Nest, Questa and Red River
Why We Love It: weekend trip, camping, culture
New Mexico’s Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway is a popular drive that circles the state’s highest peak, Wheeler Peak, and passes through a variety of landscapes. It’s not a lengthy journey, however travelers could extend the drive by staying or camping overnight at various stops. It’s a good pick for those looking to get outdoors, whether it’s fishing, hiking or wildlife viewing, and there’s a lot of history to uncover in Red River and Elizabethtown, an old mining village. Stay an extra day or two in Taos, an artsy destination with lots of galleries and shopping.
6. North Shore Scenic Drive – Duluth, MN to Grand Portage, MN
Suggested Itinerary: 154 miles, 2-3 days, stops in Two Harbors, Grand Marais and Lutsen
Why We Love It: scenic, less traveled, nature, small towns
The North Shore Scenic Drive is also know as Highway 61, made famous by Bob Dylan. The route, which begins in Duluth, follows the edge of Lake Superior with plenty of stops at waterfalls, hiking trails and parks along the way. For those in search of fall leaves, make a pit stop in Superior National Forest before ending in the town of Grand Portage. If nature isn’t your vibe, there’s plenty of other things to do near Lake Superior, from the Great Lakes Aquarium to small towns like Two Harbors and Silver Bay. To extend the road trip, continue north into Canada, where you’ll eventually find yourself in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
7. Cherohala Skyway – Tellico Plains, TN to Robbinsville, NC
Suggested Itinerary: 41 miles, 1 day
Why We Love It: scenic, one-day, nature, camping, rustic
Traverse a particularly scenic stretch of Tennessee and North Carolina via the Cherohala Skyway, which has only existed since 1996. It passes through Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests, which means you can stop to explore the paths and hiking trails. There are no gas stations or facilities other than public restrooms throughout the skyway, so come prepared. If you want extend the trip and stay overnight, look for rustic campsites along the Forest Service Road or bunk up in Robbinsville.
8. Olympic Peninsula Loop Drive – Seattle, WA to Seattle, WA
Suggested Itinerary: 445 miles, 5-7 days, stops in Forks, Aberdeen and Olympia
Why We Love It: scenic, nature, beaches, big cities
While Seattle is a popular destinations, it’s a bigger undertaking to circle the picturesque Olympic Peninsula. It’s worth it, though: the road trip crosses through both nature and cities, offering the best of both worlds to travelers. Seattle is the easiest place to begin the journey, which loops around the peninsula with a potential detour into Olympic National Forest. There is a lot to see and do along the way, so you’ll want to prioritize your stops. A few must-do’s include Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, Shi Shi Beach and Aberdeen, which is home to the Aberdeen Museum of History. Bonus: Twilight fans can explore the wooded town of Forks.
9. Route 100 – Wilmington, VT to Newport, VT
Suggested Itinerary: 193 miles, 3 days, stops in Killington, Stowe and Montpellier
Why We Love It: fall foliage, scenic, nature, glamping, small towns
Ah, Vermont in the autumn. This New England state is ideal for a quintessential fall road trip that involves colorful foliage, quaint towns and relaxed hikes through the woods. Route 100 is the best way to experience Vermont this time of year, allowing visitors to meander through the towns and nature areas, with possible stops to see Killington Peak, Green Mountain National Forest and Stowe Mountain Resort, a popular ski area that is equally fun in the warmer months. While there are lots of places to stay along the journey, this is a good opportunity for campers (or glampers) to make the most of being outdoors before winter sets in.
10. The Mohawk Trail – Williamstown, MA to Athol, MA
Suggested Itinerary: 63 miles, 2 days, stops in North Adams and Shelburne Falls
Why We Love It: weekend trip, scenic, historic
Previously a Native American trade route, the Mohawk Trail is a scenic route that’s perfect for a weekend away in the countryside. It’s a particularly good pick for families as the driving distance is relatively short, but there’s plenty of activities to experience along the way. Hikers will love the trails in Savoy Mountain State Forest and Mohawk Trail State Forest, while those looking for charming New England towns will find Shelburne Falls particularly compelling. Extend the trip by continuing east all the way to Boston, a great destination for an extra few fall days.