Hop in the car to explore time-honored routes, as well as more-unexpected destinations, that deliver dazzling foliage in the fall. Leaf seekers will get their fix from behind the wheel, though plenty of activities along the way will entertain and offer opportunities to enjoy the crisp fall air.
In autumn the 70,000-acre Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (nps.gov/dewa), on the border between New Jersey and Pennsylvania, is a prime destination for viewing the reds and purples of the area’s oak, maple and dogwood. Drive U.S. Route 209 on the Pennsylvania side through the park along the Delaware River, stopping at the grassy Hialeh Picnic Area for a picnic lunch on the riverbank. From the 3 overlooks on Pennsylvania Route 611 in the southern portion of the park, feast your eyes on the water gap, a notch the river carved in a large Appalachian ridge, with its colorful slopes of deciduous forest. Don’t miss Bushkill Falls (visitbushkillfalls.com). Dubbed the Niagara of Pennsylvania, this series of 8 waterfalls is interconnected by a network of bridges and trails that meander through the woods.
East Coasters trek to this region to admire fall’s changing palette. Cruise the Mount Greylock Scenic Byway (open through mid-October), a popular drive in western Massachusetts. You can stock up on apple cider, doughnuts and pick-your-own apples at Lakeview Orchard(lakevieworchard.com). Soak up the panoramic views of Hoosac Lake there before winding up toward the 3,491-foot summit of Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts. Break for snacks by the roaring fire on the stone hearth at Bascom Lodge (bascomlodge.net). Views of hillsides bursting with color are on display at Stony Ledge and Adams Overlookscenic areas. On the byway back toward Adams, climb the Massachusetts Veterans War Memorial Tower; from the top you can see five states on a clear day.
The Blue Ridge Parkway
From Asheville take the Blue Ridge Parkway northeast to Craggy Gardens Visitor Center (blueridgeparkway.org), where a quick hike from the parking lot up Craggy Pinnacle Trail offers a 360-degree view of the valleys below. Next head to the top of Mount Mitchell (ncparks.gov), the highest peak in the Appalachian Mountains. Visitors park just 100 feet shy of the 6,684-foot summit for breathtaking views of the red-and-yellow hillsides of the Blue Ridge Mountains. To learn about the geologic processes that created these rocky formations, explore the interactive exhibits at the Museum of North Carolina Minerals (nps.gov). Follow that with a visit to 3-tiered Linville Falls (Blue Ridge Pkwy., mile 316.3), which plunges dramatically into a rugged gorge.
The Colorado Rockies
Come mid-September it’s hard to beat the beauty of a grove of white-bark aspens with glowing yellow leaves. To see the state’s signature tree in all its glory, drive southwest on U.S. Route 62 out of Ridgway through the high mountain pass of Dallas Divide. The prominent peaks of the rugged Sneffels Range soon rise behind a forest of aspens. You’ll find plenty of lunch options in the mountain town of Telluride, as well as the Telluride Gondola (telluride.com), a free 13-minute ride to Mountain Village with 10,000-foot aerial views of the mountains and valleys. Be sure to visit the stunning 365-foot Bridal Veil Falls (visittelluride.com), at the end of a box canyon just outside town. End the day with a soak in the sulfur-free pool at Ouray Hot Springs (ourayhotsprings.com).
Quebec's Sugar Maples
For prime leaf peeping, look no further than the Laurentian Mountains, where yellow birch and sugar maple put on a showy display in Jacques-Cartier National Park. Thirty minutes east of Quebec City, stock up on treats baked in 150-year-old ovens at Boulangerie Chez Marie; the bread with maple butter is especially good. Continue on to the impressive Canyon Sainte-Anne(canyonsa.qc.ca), where you can admire the scenery from suspension bridges over the roaring waterfall. And don’t miss the panoramic gondola at Mont-Sainte-Anne (mont-sainte-anne.com); it whisks visitors to the 2,625-foot summit, where a lookout tower and hiking trails await.
For a jaunt from Phoenix through some of Arizona’s most beautiful landscapes, travel north on State Route 87 to the 3-million-acre Tonto National Forest (fs.usda.gov/tonto). Stands of shimmering aspen, cottonwood and elder trees line the way to one of the world’s largest natural travertine bridges, in Tonto Natural Bridge State Park (azstateparks.com). View the 183-foot-high bridge and 400-foot-long tunnel from the parking lot, or take a short hike to see this geologic beauty at close range. There’s more nature and wildlife to soak up at Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery (azgfd.gov), which has pools of rainbow and brown trout and Arizona’s state fish, the Apache trout. Then wind through more forests and canyons along the gravel scenic loop that hugs the steep escarpment of Mogollon Rim (fs.usda.gov/asnf).
Great River Road in Iowa
The Great River Road follows the Mississippi River through 10 states. The part that runs along the border between northeast Iowa and Wisconsin offers vistas of brilliant foliage against the Mississippi’s bluffs. Start in Dubuque and go north on the scenic byway, past the brick churches and stone houses of Sherrill. Be sure to stop at the bluff just north of Balltown, which many locals claim has the most astonishing overlook of the Mississippi Valley. Next head to the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge (fws.gov), where in late October hundreds of thousands of waterfowl gather as they migrate south for the winter. You can enjoy a picnic in the gazebos of Pikes Peak State Park (iowadnr.gov). Live music and festivities are on offer at the annual McGregor Arts & Crafts Festival during the first full weekend in October.
NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.