Pair top fall-color tours with can’t-miss historical attractions for a weekend getaway that appeals to the heart and the mind.
It really never gets old, does it? Year after year, we love to witness the stunning and energizing transformation of leaves as they morph from fading green to bright hues of yellow, orange and brilliant red. One of the great joys of the summer-autumn window is driving through that annual performance of nature. It doesn’t happen everywhere, and in some places it just barely happens. But when you find the right region, with breathtaking leafy vistas and a nice dose of historical attractions along the way, you can turn a scenic drive into a weekend getaway. You’ll be relaxed and inspired all at once.
Here are five great fall color drives in states stretching across the country: Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, West and Southwest. Get behind the wheel and head where the leaves are putting on a show. And don’t forget your camera!
Caption Needed. Photo: Bob Caddick / Alamy Stock Photo
The ’60s flower children loved nature, and this is the area of the country they flocked to in August of 1969 for a little gathering of like-minded music lovers called Woodstock. They were a little early for the leaves, though, since the foliage really comes into its most brilliant colors here from mid-September through mid-October.
Take a detour and tool past Yasgur’s Farm in Bethel if you’re a rock ’n’ roll fan, or be more stone-and-mortar about your history with a visit to the Bronck Museum in Coxsackie. The museum is devoted to the area’s long history and its buildings – and the building that houses it is a piece of that history itself, having stood now in (count ’em) five different centuries. Yet another agrarian operation in the area, Susan’s Pleasant Pheasant Farm, offers a historic bed-and-breakfast with a scenic river and waterfall, plus kayaking, biking and plenty of the farm’s namesake, long-tailed birds.
North Carolina & Tennessee
Here’s a fall foliage challenge for you: See how many species of trees you can identify while winding your way through the Great Smoky Mountains. Don’t be too hard on yourself if your arboreal aptitude leaves much to be desired, as the park is home to more than 100 varieties. Would you even know a sweet pignut hickory if it reached out and tried to shake your hand? There are six different kinds of maples alone – red, yellow, silver, sugar, trident and Norway. The season here is later, October into November, so there’s time to brush up. For pioneer history buffs, the park has one of the largest collections of log cabin buildings in the eastern United States, including restored and preserved houses, barns, churches, schools and grist mills. Ogle Cabin in Gatlinburg was built in 1807 and today shows visitors how early 19th-century settlers lived.
Caption Needed. Photo: Patrick Jennings / Shutterstock
There’s more than one Nashville in this country, and the one famous for its fall foliage is in Indiana, about an hour south of Indianapolis. Stay at the rustic Iris Garden Cottages & Suites in the village of Nashville, which is home to quaint boutiques, galleries and the Copperhead Creek Gem Mine, where you can try your hand at prospecting. You can also explore the Pioneer Village and Museum to see how people in the area lived in days gone by. The two-story log jail was built in 1879 and used until 1919, and you can walk through it.
With more than 170,000 acres of forested land to explore, Brown County is also a mountain biking and hiking mecca. When you’re done pedaling or walking, you can sit and soak at the so-called “Hillbilly Footwash”! Leaves on the dogwood, sassafras, tupelo and other trees change anywhere from late September through early November. There’s even an Internet Leaf Cam so you can keep tabs on the colors and load up your vehicle for a trip on a moment’s notice.
The road to this stunning autumn leaf destination in northern Utah’s Cache Valley is U.S. 89. The National Scenic Byway recently underwent road, bridge and scenic-overlook improvements. It’s also an angler’s and water-lover’s paradise, with trout fishing on the Logan River and shimmering views of the 20-mile-long, turquoise-tinted Bear Lake. Foodies will love the trip as well, as the area is steeped in regional culinary tradition – offering, for example, some of the finest Swiss cheese, ice cream, coffee and chocolates in the West.
Kick off your drive at the mouth of Logan Canyon, near the town of Logan, where you can visit the famous Logan Tabernacle. Begun in 1864 and combining classic Greek, Roman, Gothic and Byzantine styles, the beautiful building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Don’t forget to explore the rest of the Historic District, which showcases several well-preserved early settlement homes. For an interactive dive into the past, visit the American West Heritage Center, offering an array of exhibits and events dedicated to the area’s rich history.
Caption Needed. Photo: Michael DeYoung / Blend Images / Getty Images
Nothing against Colorado, but the best aspens might just be in north-central New Mexico, where an 83-mile loop links Red River, Questa, Taos, Angel Fire and Eagle Nest. The drive can be done in less than three hours, or you can easily stretch it out with some pit stops. Either way, completing the ring will take you through a national forest, mesas, mountains and valleys. Go in late September or early October, and marvel at the view from the approximately 1,280-foot Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, nearby along U.S. 64.
On the hiking and biking trails of the Taos Ski Valley keep your eyes out for bighorn sheep, mountain elk or mule deer. The loop also oozes history. Attractions in the area include the 1,000-year-old multistoried Taos Pueblo; abandoned mining destination Elizabethtown; the Kit Carson Museum; and the D.H. Lawrence Ranch near Questa.