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Autumn Road Trips: 8 Breathtaking Destinations to Enjoy the Change of Season

Photo by Brian Stansberry on Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0.

Although the road trips of summer may be behind us, that does not mean we have to wait for more fun car trips until next summer. Fall is one of the best times of the year to enjoy a great trip. In fact, there are parts of the country that look absolutely incredible right now due to the breathtaking fall foliage and its myriad of colors that are beautifying those areas.

Take a look at this list of beautiful scenic destinations that leaf peepers (people who travel to places where foliage is changing colors in significant numbers) have been driving to every fall.

1. Upper Peninsula, Michigan 

One of the country’s most densely forested areas is home to a tremendous variety of tree types, including ash, birch, maple, oak and sycamore. The Keweenaw Peninsula, which is the northernmost part of the state, is one of the most popular sites for leaf peepers. Newberry, a village located 75 miles northwest of the Mackinac Bridge, is another popular area.

There are two ways to get to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. One is to drive up through Wisconsin and enter the Upper Peninsula on its western side. The other option involves crossing the majestic Mackinac Bridge, which connects the Upper and Lower Peninsulas.

This region’s peak time for fall foliage is within a couple of weeks on either side of Oct. 1.

2. Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina and Tennessee 

Pixabay.com / CC0 1.0.

Of course, the Great Smoky Mountains are incredibly picturesque at any time of the year, but to go during this time of year is a magical experience.

Most making the trip here take U.S. Highway 441 and make their base in either Cherokee, N.C., or Gatlinburg, Tenn., two beautiful towns that are worth visiting on their own merits. The best time to make your trip here is the beginning of October for the inner, higher portions of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or the middle of the month for the outlying areas.

One of the best places to go to enjoy this park’s hickories, maples, scarlet oaks and sweetgums is Clingmans Dome and its famous observation tower and lookout spot.

3. Gold Coast and Grand Rapids, Michigan

This area is very convenient for those who live in Michigan’s much more populated Lower Peninsula or in nearby cities such as Chicago. The Gold Coast and Michigan’s second-largest city, Grand Rapids, are also great for those in the Midwest who may be slightly late in getting their fall trips under way as the lush forests found in the southern half of the Lower Peninsula absolutely explode with color around Oct. 15.

This drive is also a great one for those who enjoy water as it hugs Lake Michigan for much of the trip from the state border with Indiana up to the Mackinac Bridge. Also, Grand Rapids is a great place to make your base as this energetic city is home to various festivals and other attractions throughout the year.

4. Asheville, North Carolina

About 60 miles east of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is this beautiful community, which is famous for being home to artists and is known as the “Happiest City in America.” Asheville is situated amidst the Blue Ridge Mountains, a picturesque set of peaks that is in fact home to trees that appear blue from a distance. However, up close these trees are red and yellow throughout much of October as, due to the area’s variety of tree types and significant elevation changes, leaf peepers heading here are provided with one of the longest seasons of changing colors in the country.

Most of those traveling to the Blue Ridge Mountains take Interstate 26, 40 or 260 or fly into Asheville Regional Airport.

5. Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri

Lake of the Ozarks
Pixabay.com / CC0 1.0.

Lake of the Ozarks, which is conveniently located between Columbia and Springfield, Mo., can be easily reached by taking U.S. Route 54. Its Ozark Hills become especially picturesque in late October when its trees start transitioning into mahogany, russet and scarlet colors. Visitors enjoy taking in these spectacular colors while hiking, biking, yachting or playing golf.

Some of the best places to stay are right in the midst of all of this color: in one of the 230 campsites located in Missouri’s largest state park.

6. Little River Canyon, Alabama

This national preserve, which is located on the top of Lookout Mountain, a peak with an elevation of 2,389 feet situated in Alabama’s northeast corner, is a great place to see all the fall colors during October. Of particular note is an 11-mile scenic drive along Alabama Highway 176, which starts at the preserve’s Boardwalk Overlook before ending at Eberhart Point Overlook. Several overlooks are also available all along the route to park.

Another beautiful place to watch the changing colors of the fall is Little River Falls, a 45-foot waterfall just off the Alabama Highway 35 in Gaylesville, Ala.

7. Central Ohio

The middle of October is usually the best time to visit the picturesque areas surrounding the state’s capital and largest city, Columbus, as this is when their leaves tend to change colors. The variety of ways in which you can take in these vibrant colors is nothing short of impressive. You can paddle down a river, hike along a trail or simply drive along and enjoy the view.

Three attractions near Columbus stand out. Alum Creek provides you with 3,630 acres of woodlands and fields; several secluded coves are located here as well. Mohican State Park, with its 1,110 acres, is adjacent to Mohican-Memorial State Forest, which is home to 4,525 acres of sheer natural beauty.

8. Door County, Wisconsin

Door County is a convenient destination to enjoy the changing leaf colors for those living nearby, especially those in Milwaukee and Chicago. The county consists of a peninsula that is located to the east of the route leading to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Impressively, five state parks, which are known colloquially as the “Five Jewels in The Crown”, are located here: Newport, Peninsula, Potawatomi, Rock Island and Whitefish. This region’s 10 lighthouses also provide you with great places to look at the beautiful Lake Michigan and Green Bay in one direction, and take in the changing leaves in the other.

The best time of year for leaf peepers to visit Door County is early October.

Have you taken advantage of any of these picturesque fall foliage drives?

Are there any places you have visited during this time of the year that impressed you, but were not listed above?

We want to hear about your experiences, share them with us in the comments below!

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