Summer, with its idyllic weather and inherently sunny disposition, creates an atmosphere ripe for travel. With it comes a list of charming, must-see destinations, beach days, and al fresco dining options, plus that carefree itch we always seek to scratch between May and September: the urge to break from routine. And yet, despite summer’s allure, it’s fall we’re most excited about this year. Why, you ask? Because travel is an itch always worth scratching, and fall is the season renowned for its jaw-dropping natural landscapes. Fall foliage is the new ocean vista and a weekend road trip is the best way to experience it in all its glory. Here are our top must-take road trips featuring the season’s most beautiful views.
Virginia, about 70 miles west of Washington, D.C.
If you’ve never been, you’ve probably heard of the legendary Shenandoah Valley and national park that shares its name. To do the whole drive (roughly 100 miles), will take you about three hours—but every minute is worth it. The months of September, October, and November promise spectacular shades of bright red, burnt orange, and golden yellows that peak and dip along stunning crests and turns. And, if your heart desires, there’s plenty to keep you busy along the drive. Visit Luray Caverns, or take a hike to truly immerse yourself in nature (Old Rag, Dark Hollow Falls, and Whiteoak Canyon Trail all come to mind).
Vermont, about 230 miles from Boston
Locals know it as a shortcut, but one of the most incredible stretches of road in Vermont is a destination all its own. Smugglers Notch is a well-known mountain pass with an adjacent ski resort that serves as the split between Mount Mansfield, Spruce Peak, and Sterling Range. What to expect on this “shortcut”: a surprisingly scenic drive with vistas and treelines galore. In other words, one of the best places in the Northeast to fully recognize autumn’s beauty. The road runs about 17.3 miles, allowing you to take in the rolling hills in an array of crisp fall colors.
REDWOOD NATIONAL PARK
California, about 170 miles from San Francisco
The Pacific Northwest may not boast the same vibrant, seasonal changes as the east coast. But the redwood region, with its earthy forests and behemoth trees, has so much to offer. Living up to its long-living reputation of being an American landmark, Redwood National Park features some of the most historically beautiful trees in not just the country, but the world. For a small fee––ranging from $5 to $10––you can even drive through them. (To do so, plan to visit the Chandelier Drive Thru Tree, the Shrine Drive Thru Tree, or the Tour Through Tree Klamath.)
WEST ELK LOOP
Colorado, road begins around 170 miles outside of Denver
At any time of year, Colorado is a gem of nature-rich views––more true than ever come fall. The West Elk Loop is a stunning, scenic, 200-mile byway that you can explore for up to 6 to 8 hours if you choose to drive the full loop. The perfect weekend road trip, this circular route weaves through no less than nine towns, including Colorado’s wildflower capitol, elk pastures, reservoirs, rivers, and big mountain passes. Plus, for more stops along the way, particularly as the temperature cools: Penny Hot Springs are a relaxing way to end the full drive (or start it, if you choose).
No matter your road trip preferences, you’ll get the full effects of the fall season from each of these scenic drives.