It’s Leaf-Peeping Season: Avoid the Crowds on These Scenic Drives
Come fall, there are many leaf-peeping opportunities in America’s national parks. But the great outdoors extends far beyond official park boundaries. If you’re looking for a scenic drive to enjoy the vibrant colors of fall foliage without the crowds, we’ve got you covered. From coast to coast, these lesser-known scenic drives offer breathtaking views and a more relaxed travel experience. So grab your camera, pack a picnic, and hit the road for a memorable autumn adventure.
1. Ohio River Scenic Byway, Indiana
- Follow the Ohio River as it winds through southern Indiana, passing by charming towns, rolling hills, and vibrant forests. The tree-lined route offers stunning views of the river and its surrounding foliage.
- Make a stop at the Hoosier National Forest, where you can take a hike among the changing leaves or enjoy a leisurely picnic surrounded by nature’s beauty.
- Enjoy the small-town charm of Madison, Indiana, known for its well-preserved historic district and colorful fall festivals.
2. Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, New Mexico
- Celebrate fall in the Land of Enchantment by taking a drive along the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway. This 84-mile loop offers stunning views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, as well as the vibrant fall colors of the aspen trees.
- Stop in Taos, a vibrant arts community known for its unique adobe architecture and vibrant cultural scene. Take a stroll through the historic Taos Plaza and browse the local art galleries.
- Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the historic Taos Pueblo, a World Heritage Site and one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the United States.
3. Tunnel of Trees, Michigan
- Experience the magic of fall on the Tunnel of Trees, a scenic drive along M-119 in northern Michigan. The road is surrounded by a dense canopy of trees, creating a tunnel-like effect as the leaves change colors.
- Make a stop at the picturesque Harbor Springs, a charming waterfront town known for its historic architecture and stunning views of Little Traverse Bay.
- Enjoy a hike or bike ride along the nearby Little Traverse Wheelway, a paved trail that follows the shoreline of Little Traverse Bay.
4. Cherohala Skyway, North Carolina and Tennessee
- Escape the crowds and enjoy the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains on the Cherohala Skyway. This 43-mile scenic drive takes you through the unspoiled wilderness of the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests.
- Take a break at the Santeetlah Overlook, where you can enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
- Explore the charming town of Robbinsville, North Carolina, located near the southern end of the Cherohala Skyway. The town offers a range of outdoor activities, including hiking, fishing, and boating.
5. San Juan Skyway, Colorado
- Experience the stunning fall colors of the Colorado Rockies on the San Juan Skyway. This 236-mile loop takes you through some of Colorado’s most scenic landscapes, including the breathtaking Million Dollar Highway.
- Make a stop in the historic mining town of Silverton, where you can learn about the area’s rich history and enjoy a meal at one of the local restaurants.
- Don’t miss the opportunity to visit Mesa Verde National Park, home to some of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in the United States.
6. Kancamagus Highway, New Hampshire
- For a taste of New England’s fall foliage, take a drive along the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. This scenic byway offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and the vibrant colors of the changing leaves.
- Make a stop at the Flume Gorge, where you can take a walk through a natural gorge and witness spectacular waterfalls.
- Explore the charming town of North Conway, known for its outlet stores and outdoor recreational opportunities.
While national parks are a popular destination for leaf-peeping, there are many lesser-known scenic drives that offer equally stunning views of fall foliage. By exploring these off-the-beaten-path routes, you can enjoy the vibrant colors of autumn without