Blake Walsh

A Guide to the US's 15 Most Scenic Drives for Late Fall

  • Published 2023/11/15

As the leaves turn vibrant hues and the air grows crisp, the United States transforms into a canvas of breathtaking autumnal beauty.

Late fall, with its unique spectrum of colors and serene landscapes, presents an ideal time for road trips.

From the rustic charm of New England to the sunlit shores of California, each region offers its distinct tapestry of fall splendor.

This guide takes you on a journey through the country’s 15 most scenic drives during this magical season.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina

Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina

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Dubbed “America’s Favorite Drive,” the Blue Ridge Parkway is a marvel of the Appalachian Highlands.

Traversing Virginia and North Carolina, it offers views of rolling hills, dense forests, and the majestic Shenandoah National Park.

Autumn brings a palette of warm colors, ideal for hiking or visiting local craft centers along the way.

The Pacific Coast Highway, California

The Pacific Coast Highway in California

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The Pacific Coast Highway stretches scenically from Monterey to Morro Bay.

This iconic route boasts dramatic ocean views and quaint seaside towns.

In late fall, the crowds diminish, and the weather remains mild, perfect for enjoying the breathtaking vistas of Big Sur and the surrounding coastline.

The Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, New Mexico

Road of Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, New Mexico

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New Mexico’s Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway offers a unique blend of desert and mountain scenery.

Circling Wheeler Peak provides a glimpse into the state’s diverse landscapes.

The route is also a cultural treasure trove, featuring art galleries and rich Native American history.

New England’s Fall Foliage Trail

In the heart of the Northeast, the Fall Foliage Trail winds through picturesque Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.

These states are famous for their kaleidoscopic foliage, creating a stunning contrast against historic towns and covered bridges.

The best time to visit is from late September to mid-October when the colors are at their peak.

Skyline Drive, Virginia

Skyline Drive in Virginia

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Skyline Drive runs through Shenandoah National Park, encompassing 105 miles of Virginia’s finest landscapes.

With over 75 overlooks, the drive offers uninterrupted views of autumn forests.

The area is also home to diverse wildlife, including deer, black bears, and numerous bird species.

Columbia River Highway, Oregon

Columbia River Highway in Oregon

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As America’s oldest scenic highway, the Columbia River Highway in Oregon is a journey through lush forests and alongside the majestic Columbia River Gorge.

Waterfalls cascade down cliffs, creating a serene backdrop for a fall drive.

Nearby, Portland and local wineries provide perfect pit stops.

Highway 61, Minnesota

Road of Highway 61, Minnesota

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Highway 61 along Lake Superior’s North Shore in Minnesota is a testament to the Midwest’s underrated beauty.

The route features cliffs, waterfalls, and historic lighthouses, framed by the lake’s vast expanse.

Small harbor towns along the way offer cozy retreats with fresh local cuisine.

Hocking Hills Scenic Byway, Ohio

Ohio’s Hocking Hills Scenic Byway is a hidden gem.

Winding through rolling hills and dense forests, it leads to stunning rock formations and caves in the Hocking Hills State Park.

The area, ideal for hiking and photography, is especially beautiful as the leaves change color.

Kancamagus Scenic Byway, New Hampshire

Waters along Kancamagus Scenic Byway, New Hampshire

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The Kancamagus Scenic Byway, a 34-mile route through New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest, is renowned for its fall foliage.

The drive offers spectacular mountain views, river valleys, and opportunities for wildlife sightings, making it a fall paradise.

San Juan Skyway, Colorado

San Juan Skyway in Colorado

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Colorado’s San Juan Skyway loops through the San Juan Mountains, offering breathtaking mountain vistas.

The route passes through historic mining towns and includes the famed “Million Dollar Highway.”

The late fall season brings a unique charm to this high-altitude journey.

Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee

Signage of Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee

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Following an ancient trail, the Natchez Trace Parkway stretches through Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee.

It’s a serene drive through wooded landscapes and historic sites.

The parkway is particularly appealing in fall when the foliage turns and the temperatures are cool and comfortable.

Great River Road, Mississippi River

Tracing the course of the Mississippi River through 10 states, the Great River Road is a testament to America’s heartland.

With river views, wildlife refuges, and charming historic towns, it’s a drive that encapsulates the country’s diverse cultural and natural beauty.

Overseas Highway, Florida

Sunset at Overseas Highway, Florida

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The Overseas Highway is a unique journey stretching 113 miles over the ocean, connecting the Florida Keys.

The drive offers views of turquoise waters and picturesque islands.

Late fall is an excellent time to enjoy the region’s water activities, fresh seafood, and the vibrant atmosphere of Key West.

Going-to-the-Sun Road, Montana

Going-to-the-Sun Road in Montana

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In Montana’s Glacier National Park, the Going-to-the-Sun Road is an extraordinary mountain drive.

It offers stunning views of glaciers, alpine meadows, and rugged terrain.

Travelers should check for road closures due to early snowfall in this region.

Route 66, Illinois to California

Route 66, Illinois in California

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Route 66, one of the original US highways, is a journey through classic Americana.

Stretching from Illinois to California, it features diners, motels, and quirky landmarks.

In fall, the route reveals cooler temperatures and distinctive desert landscapes, particularly in its western stretches.

Final Thoughts

The US’s diverse landscapes offer a spectacular array of scenic drives, especially during the late fall season.

From the rustic charm of New England to the dramatic coastlines of the Pacific, each route offers a unique experience.

While exploring these scenic drives, remember to travel safely and respect the natural beauty of these areas.

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