As November dawns, our expansive, amenable country kindles with it. The gelid air and shorter days mean our summertime sadness withers with the onset of peak foliage season. Plumes of reds, yellows, and blues irradiate our hills and valleys, as if Georgia O’Keeffe’s brush colored the earth. While some of the best and earliest foliage is seen up north, almost anyone is within a day’s drive of this classic fall activity. Here are a few places to tour the season’s colors from anywhere in the country.
Just a short drive from Portland, Vernonia is home to cozy diners, lazy rivers and the 21-mile Banks-Vernonia state hiking and biking trail, offering a seemingly endless vista of falling leaves and salmon sightings. Be sure to stop into Black Bear Coffee, a local staple, for a post-hike pick-me-up. For fans of the film Twilight, parts of the saga were filmed in none other than Vernonia.
Hope Valley, South Lake Tahoe, California
It can be challenging to find foliage in the Southwest, given the temperate climate, but Lake Tahoe is perfect for anyone living in the perpetual summer of Southern California. Complete with miles of hiking trails, Hope Valley offers towers of golden aspens, and the nearby Sorensen’s Resort, where you can pop-in for lunch.
Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Winding 50 miles from Estes Park to Grand Lake, Colorado, Trail Ridge Road is a comprehensive tour through the Rockies with continuously paved roads and elevations as high as 12,183 feet, with plenty of stops for photo opportunities. This is an ideal trip for anyone in New Mexico, Utah, or northern Arizona looking for a foliage fix. Estes Park renders dozens of attractions, notably the Stanley Hotel, which horror movie buffs know as the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining.
Bitterroot Valley, Montana
On the helm of the Bitterroot River, the valley incorporates nearly 100 miles of paved road through the Sapphire Mountains and Bitterroot Range. The preferred tour runs north to south on Highway 93, traveling from Florence to Hamilton, but offers hikes for rookies and experts on the way. The anchor cities are small, but proffer basic amenities such as fuel and food.
North Shore of Lake Superior, Minnesota
Located on Minnesota’s north coast, this tour spans 150 miles on Highway 61 from Duluth through Grand Portage State Forest. Minnesota is a classic state for foliage spotting due to its colder climate and proximity to the Great Lakes. Duluth offers all the benefits of a big city, and be sure to stop into the Duluth Grill while you’re there.
This 90-minute driving tour takes you through Table Rock Lake and Kimberling City, exhibiting a variety of mountain and lake views, and two historic bridges. Located in southwestern Missouri, this is the quintessential tour for anyone in the western heartland.
Arts Road 46, Bloomington, Indiana
The 40 miles along State 46 from Bloomington to Columbus, Indiana permeate old churches, historic bridges and plenty of places to stop and photograph foliage. The towns on the route include art, food, and midwest culture to be enjoyed by visitors and natives alike.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
Located on the south coast of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, this recreation area offers scenic drives through winding roads and jagged, lofty rock formations. Being so far north, foliage peaks rather early, so if you’re in the area, head out during the month of October. If the weather holds, the park is home to waterfalls, sandstone cliffs, and plenty of other hiking opportunities.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
For southerners looking for a scenic foliage drive, Newfound Gap Road reveals views as high as 5,000 feet within the park’s misty mountains. Often referred to as a “drive from Georgia to Maine,” Newfound Gap includes numerous ecosystems, from spruce to pine forests. Being a southern tour, foliage tends to peak a bit later in the year, usually mid-October through November.
Upper Delaware Scenic Byway, New York
Spanning 90 miles along the Delaware River and crossing three New York counties, State Route 97 takes you through not only miles of neon foliage, but to local eateries, museums and theatres. It’s the perfect driving tour for anyone on the cusp of the Northeast.
Route 3, Acadia National Park, Maine
From Mount Desert Island to Cadillac Mountain, driving along Route 3 will yield dozens of remarkable photo opportunities in a state well-known for its fall colors.
Route 11 from Roanoke to Natural Bridge, Virginia
Virginia’s historic Blue Ridge is often called “America’s favorite drive,” and the 40-mile cruise northeast from Roanoke to Natural Bridge is no different. Offering a quiet, sparsely-traveled view along the Jefferson National Forest, this day trip includes various stops at local eating establishments and hiking opportunities.