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The ultimate fall foliage road trip across the USA

If colorful leaves are your passion, you’ll want to hit up all the spots on this epic fall foliage road trip

Written by
Shoshi Parks
Sarah Medina

If you already packed up the car for a leaf-peeping drive, why not keep the engine running for another five thousand miles? That’s what a true fall foliage aficionado would do, after all, which is why we’ve pulled together the ultimate fall foliage road trip across the USA, with every stop guaranteed to engulf you in beautiful fall colors.

Let’s get one thing straight: leaf-peeping opportunities don’t revolve around New England alone. They actually stretch across the country with scenic drives in the Pacific Northwest, Rocky Mountains, Shenandoah Valley, and the Upper Midwest. It’ll take you about 100 hours, give or take, to see the millions of colorful ash, oak, elm and aspen trees on this journey. So what are you waiting for? Show-stopping fall colors start popping up in mid-September and generally fade by the end of October — so let’s get this show on the road!

And while the jaw-dropping views from your window are stunning from Oregon to Vermont, you’ll get even more out of any road trip if you get out of your car from time to time. Rest your head under the colorful canopies at these fall foliage campgrounds across the U.S., pack your bicycle for a ride along our curated list of fall foliage bike trails, and get ready to fall in love with the open road.

RECOMMENDED: The best U.S. road trips for epic drives

Ultimate fall foliage road trip across the USA

Columbia River, OR
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1. Columbia River, OR

The Columbia River Gorge, between Washington and Oregon, is always a gorgeous drive. Throw in fir, cottonwood, maple, ash, and pine trees that glow with golden-hued leaves during the fall and you may never want to leave this mystifying riverbank.

Discover the best things to do in Oregon

Tahoe, CA
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2. Tahoe, CA

Tahoe’s Fallen Leaf Lake got its name for a reason: large swaths of Aspen trees hug the shoreline, and when their leaves turn bright colors in the fall the scenic lake is evermore stunning. For more leaf-peeping, head down Highway 89 to Hope Valley where there are road pullouts and hiking access to a network of trails through brilliant stands of autumnal Aspen trees.

Discover the best things to do in South Lake Tahoe

Parowan, UT
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3. Parowan, UT

See nature’s paintbrush at play during autumn in Southern Utah. Stop in the city of Parowan before taking the Cedar Breaks Scenic Byway south toward the namesake natural amphitheater — running a half-mile deep, the geologic wonder creates a supreme backdrop for fall's changing leaves. Next, take the Markagunt High Plateau Scenic Byway and make a pit stop at Woods Ranch. Situated in a lush aspen and pine forest, the ranch is a perfect spot for a fall-themed picnic and a breath of fresh air.

Discover the best things to do in Utah

Taos, NM
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4. Taos, NM

Located at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains in northern New Mexico, Taos marks another spot to see gorgeous fall foliage in a desert landscape. The easiest way to see the seasonal display is via the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, a 83-mile loop. True to its name, the enchanted byway is lined with bright yellow and orange aspen trees that round out a uniquely New Mexican landscape of mountains, valleys, and mesa.

Discover the bes things to do in New Mexico

Aspen, CO
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5. Aspen, CO

Next, make your way as fast (and as safely) as you can to Aspen. Why the rush? The Colorado city's colorful season is especially short, lasting from just mid-September to early October. But if you do happen to arrive in that golden window, you'll be greeted with thousands of aspen trees in rich yellow hues.

Discover the best things to do in Colorado

Ozark Mountains, AR
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6. Ozark Mountains, AR

After a long-haul drive through Kansas, head southeast into the heart of Missouri's Ozark Mountains. Famous for its massive lakes in the summertime, it's also a great fall getaway after crowds trickle away and the temperature cools. Come autumn, the forest turns shades of gold and maroon across rivers, springs, canyons, and bluffs.

Discover the best things to do in Missouri

Blue Ridge Mountains, NC
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7. Blue Ridge Mountains, NC

Stretching 469 miles between Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway offers a scenic drive from North Carolina to Virginia. Once fall hits, the already stunning landscape goes the extra mile: dogwood, sassafras, and maple trees that line every curve turn into vibrant displays of yellows, oranges, and reds.

Discover the best things to do in North Carolina

Lisle, IL
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8. Lisle, IL

Head back north to this small town just 30 minutes outside of Chicago. Here, you'll find Morton Arboretum, a public garden and outdoor museum that’s home to 4,200 types of trees. Take a hike on one of the arboretum’s trails or explore the gardens, wetlands, and other all-natural areas spread throughout 1,700 acres.

Discover more fall foliage near Chicago

Wisconsin Dells, WI

9. Wisconsin Dells, WI

Every autumn, before white winter weather blankets the Midwest, Wisconsin Dells gets one more splash of color as the region's linden, oak, and elm trees turn vivid and festive. Stroll beneath autumn’s colors along the tree-lined Wisconsin Dells River Walk, or head to Devil's Lake State Park (or even Mirror Lake State Park) where mornings are crisp and the fall scenery is unbeatable.

Discover the best things to do in Wisconsin

Upper Peninsula, MI
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10. Upper Peninsula, MI

Michigan's Upper Peninsula borders three of the Great Lakes and includes more than 4 million acres of protected forestland — in other words, it’s a wonderland of fall foliage opportunities. Take your pick from over 20 state parks within the region where ash, aspen, beech, birch, maple, oak, sycamore, and tamarack trees pop with fall colors.

Discover the best things to do in Michigan

Shawangunk Mountains, NY
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11. Shawangunk Mountains, NY

90 miles north of Manhattan, the Shawangunk Mountains Scenic Byway is an 88-mile loop in New York between Kerhonkson and New Paltz. Go for a drive and you’ll be in prime leaf-spotting terrain as you ascend into the Shawangunk Mountains, which rise more than 2,000 feet above sea level.

Discover more places to see fall foliage in New York

Boston, MA
Photograph: Courtesy GBCVB/Kyle Klein

12. Boston, MA

Boston's Public Garden, America’s first botanical garden, is the green heart of the city. As fall descends, the leaves in the Public Garden are some of the first to change in Boston, making it a sight to behold. And with such a diverse array of trees, leaves from each species change at different times, which means you never know what you're going to see.

Discover more fall foliage near Boston

White Mountains, NH
Photograph: Unsplash

13. White Mountains, NH

Don’t worry about the pronunciation of Kancamagus Highway — just call it beautiful. This road winds through the White Mountains past rivers, ponds, and gorgeous vistas as a variety of festive colors sprinkle the roads, changing with elevation. Don’t forget to make a pit stop at the Pemigewasset Overlook, a great spot to watch the sunset over seasonal reds, yellows, and oranges.

Green Mountains, VT
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14. Green Mountains, VT

The maple, birch, and beech trees that cover Vermont’s mountainsides put on one of the most dazzling displays of fall foliage in the country. The Green Mountain Byway is an extra special drive that offers scenic views of forests, waterfalls, and state parks.

Discover the best things to do in Vermont


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