Before you check out our 10 Best Fall Foliage Road Trips in 2023, make sure your auto insurance or car warranty policy includes roadside benefits.
Leaf season is upon us — or just around the corner, depending on where you live. That means it’s the perfect time to load up the car and hit the road for a scenic drive to take in the splendor of fall colors, also known as leafing or leaf-peeping.
In this article, we at the MarketWatch Guides team highlight 10 of the best roads for leaf peeping in the U.S. First; we share a few tips to make sure you’re prepared for your trip, including checking your car insurance and auto warranty policies. Then, plunge into the features and history of these scenic roads and how to get to them. You’ll also find a few tips on what conditions make for a great fall foliage road trip so that you can discover new routes in your area.
How To Prepare for Your Fall Foliage Road Trip in 2023
The anticipation of a beautiful fall drive can make anyone want to get on the road as quickly as possible. But it’s always a good idea to prepare for a trip so the journey is as comfortable, pleasant, and safe as possible.
Check Your Auto Insurance Policy
Perhaps the biggest downside to exploring the country’s most scenic roads for fall colors is the potential for traffic. While there are worse places to be stuck in slow-moving traffic, there may be an increased risk of getting into an accident. That means it’s a good idea to consider the coverage included in your auto insurance policy. Most insurance experts recommend full-coverage policies to protect drivers from significant financial loss in the event of an accident.
Make Sure You Have Roadside Assistance Benefits
Car trouble can severely damper an otherwise pleasant drive through leaf country. Whether you get rear-ended by a distracted leaf-looker, suffer a mechanical breakdown, or blow a tire, having a roadside assistance package as part of your car insurance policy can ensure you don’t end up stuck in the wilderness or paying a considerable towing bill alone.
It’s a good idea to look into an upgrade if your current insurance policy does not include these perks. Some auto warranty plans also include roadside assistance benefits, so if you have a warranty, know what’s included before hitting the road.
Pack at Least One Phone Charger
Your phone’s GPS is extremely useful in helping you navigate rural areas, and you don’t want to be caught without one you can use. Make sure you have at least one phone charger that fits your phone. It’s also a good idea to test it before you go and have a backup, just in case.
Top 10 Best Roads for Leafing in 2023
The U.S. has countless gorgeous roads that make for a pleasant drive when the colors come out. However, some roads stand above the rest.
10. Upper Delaware Scenic Byway, New York
The 70-mile stretch of New York State Route 97 between Port Jervis and Hancock, N.Y., is the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway. Much of the road runs alongside the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, treating drivers to the contrast of the deep hues of the water against the backdrop of oranges, yellows, and reds.
With Port Jervis a little less than two hours from Manhattan and Hancock around two-and-a-half away, the journey is doable as a day trip from New York City. Not that you’d necessarily want to do it that way. Towns along the route, such as Narrowsburg and Cochecton, make great stopping points for lunch but are also worth spending a night in. Taking an extra day allows you to explore the area’s up-and-coming dining scene in towns like Kenoza Lake or pop over to the site of the original Woodstock in Bethel.
9. Smuggler’s Notch Road, Vermont
At just over 17 miles long, the section of Vermont State Highway 108 between the winter sports destination of Stowe and Jeffersonville isn’t as long of a drive as some of the others on this list. But what Smuggler’s Notch Road lacks in travel time, it more than makes up for in the sheer density of jaw-dropping fall beauty.
The slopes of Stowe Mountain Resort get the most attention during the winter. But the beech, maple, and birch trees surrounding the resort area provide a vibrant, cinematic backdrop for a leisurely drive during autumn. Whether you start or end your journey in the town of Stowe, you’re roughly 15 minutes away from the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory when you’re there. The factory offers tours and a shop where you can buy a cone or a pint if you’re passing through.
8. Independence Pass, Colorado
You won’t find the highest concentration of colorful hardwoods along Colorado State Highway 82, more commonly known as Independence Pass. However, the splashes of color you will find amongst the evergreens on the drive between Aspen and Leadville, CO., are nestled into some of the country’s most spectacular scenery. The 32-mile highway passes through the Continental Divide and provides a front-row seat to the dramatic beauty of the Rockies.
But while the road is a must-see for almost anyone who loves a scenic drive, it’s important to note that the journey isn’t for everyone. Independence Pass is defined by narrow, twisty roads that often lack guardrails. Make sure to understand the risks of the drive and your comfort before setting off. Trailers, recreational vehicles (RVs), and commercial vehicles are prohibited on the road.
7. Chesapeake Country Scenic Byway, Maryland
Scenic fall drives are often — and understandably – associated with the mountains. But the Chesapeake Country Scenic Byway offers an alternative to catching the colors among the Chesapeake Bay region’s gentle terrain and lulling waters. The National Scenic Byway runs along Maryland Route 213 and Maryland Route 18 between the Chesapeake Delaware Canal and Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
At just two-and-a-half hours from Washington, D.C., and an hour-and-a-half from Baltimore, Md., the byway is doable as a day trip from either city. And while the fall colors and tideland scenery are worth the trip alone, fall color season is still crab season in eastern Maryland. Set aside some time for the region’s famed crab cakes at one of the many waterside restaurants along the route in scenic towns like St. Michael’s and Cambridge.
6. Natchez Trace Parkway, Tennessee
The Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains in the eastern part of the state tend to get the most fanfare. But the Natchez Trace Parkway, which runs a total of 444 miles through western Tennessee and across Mississippi, also has plenty of natural beauty to offer when the leaves turn colors.
The National Parks Service maintains Natchez Trace Parkway and has limited entry points. As a result, it’s a calm — albeit sometimes crowded — crawl through the hills and valleys of western Tennessee and the sleepy plains of Mississippi. The best leaf watching is in the northern part of the route in Tennessee, terminating in the country music capital of Nashville. But with historic cities like Jackson and Tupelo, Miss. along the way, the entire length of the parkway makes for an unforgettable multi-day trip.
5. Park Loop Road, Maine
People who know their fall foliage are probably well aware of Acadia National Park. The park is a favorite among American hikers, but for people who like to take in the sights from the window of a cruising car, Park Loop Road provides an unbeatable vantage point for touring the entire island. Park Loop Road takes drivers to the peak of Cadillac Mountain, where they’re treated to awe-inspiring views of dense forests packed with a perfect blend of colorful deciduous trees and stoic conifers.
The 27-mile scenic highway isn’t easy to get to due to its distance from major cities. Even Portland, Maine, is a little over three hours away. Thankfully, the town of Bar Harbor that shares Mount Desert Island with Acadia is everything you could ask for from a seaside New England town. With an abundance of shops, local restaurants, and quaint accommodations, Bar Harbor is a destination in its own right. Its location, just a few minutes from Park Loop Road, makes the town the perfect launching point for exploring Maine’s best fall colors.
4. Ozark National Forest Scenic Byway, Arkansas
Highway 7 connects Louisiana to Missouri by way of Arkansas. Known as the Ozark National Forest Scenic Byway, the road takes drivers through a national park, two national forests, and several state parks in just over 60 miles. Thanks to the National Parks Service, the road features more than a few scenic overlooks to take in the technicolor vistas of autumn while staying still.
The Ozarks have recently grown in popularity as a sightseeing destination, perhaps due to the popular TV show that bears their name. Yet a drive through the area — especially during peak color season — can confirm that the hype is warranted. The historic town of Hot Springs, Ark., is surrounded by Hot Springs National Park and filled with old-fashioned charm, making it an excellent place to start or pause your fall foliage road trip.
3. Route 6, Pennsylvania
You can travel from the eastern border of Northern Pennsylvania to its western border entirely on U.S. Route 6, and the road provides an abundance and variety of fall foliage hotspots. Two of the most notable are the sections that traverse the state’s famed Poconos mountain range and the aptly named Endless Mountains.
At 403 miles long, you’ll need a few days to complete the journey leisurely. However, the Allegheny region on the state’s eastern side is less than two hours from Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Akron, Ohio. It has plenty of leaf-gazing opportunities for a memorable day trip. The same is true for the Poconos region in the western part of the state and its convenient distance from New York City and Philadelphia. Fans of the TV series “The Office” can also make a quick detour to pay homage to the show’s home base of Scranton.
2. Currier and Ives Scenic Byway, New Hampshire
New Hampshire is synonymous with fall colors, and no other road in New Hampshire is as good an example of why as the Currier and Ives Scenic Byway. The 30-mile byway features everything a leafer could want or expect from a cruise through New England in the autumn: roadside rivers and streams, old wooden covered bridges, and, of course, some of the most vibrant fall colors in the country.
And while it can sometimes feel like a million miles away from fast-paced city life, the Currier and Ives Scenic Byway is only about an hour and a half from Boston, Mass. That means Bostonians or visitors can easily explore the entire stretch of road and all its sights, kick around picturesque towns like Contoocook and still make it home in time for dinner.
1. Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina
For people who want to be overwhelmed by the majesty of fall foliage while cruising down the road, it doesn’t get any better than the Blue Ridge Parkway. The National Parks-maintained scenic byway has been the country’s most-visited national park nearly every year since 1946 for good reason. With 469 miles of road, there is plenty of opportunity to take in the immense, incredible power of the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains in full color.
While one might be hard-pressed to find a section of the Blue Ridge Parkway that isn’t straight off of a postcard, the most iconic view is the Lynn Cove Viaduct, located just south of the charming college town of Boone, N.C. Many people choose to double- and triple-back over the viaduct for extra chances to take in one of the most stunning fall foliage views in the Appalachian mountains. The parkway eventually leads to Asheville, N.C., a favorite destination for people who love live music, food, and craft beverages.