With autumn in full swing, it’s the perfect time to hit the road for leaf-peeping and other activities in the great outdoors and along our National Scenic Byways. As the nation’s leading advocate for scenic conservation issues, Scenic America has put together this list of twelve of our favorite destinations that showcase autumn’s beauty.
Arkansas: The Natural State is full of dazzling autumn gems, such as the Crowley’s Ridge National Scenic Byway, which travels 212 miles from the Missouri bootheel through northeast Arkansas. The tree-lined parkway passes through the St. Francis National Forest and skirts seven state parks along the way. Or, traverse the state along the 290-mile Scenic 7 Byway, which begins at the Louisiana border and meanders through the Ouachita Mountains and the resort town of Hot Springs. The road then continues through the beautiful Ozark Mountains in the northwest, lauded as one Lof the nation’s finest spots for fall foliage.
Connecticut: No fall foliage round-up would be complete without a nod to New England, where the small state of Connecticut delivers and outsized punch of fall color. Scenic drives abound, such as Connecticut State Route 169, a National Scenic Byway that ambles through small towns, farms, and beautiful landscapes dotted with vibrant trees and interesting stone formations along a 32-mile stretch. Fans of history and architecture may also enjoy the 37-mile ride on the Merritt Parkway through Fairfield County. Recognized as a National Scenic Byway and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Merritt is one of the oldest parkways in the United States, known for the unique 1920s and 1930s Art Deco bridges that drivers pass under as they travel the length of the roadway.
Georgia: In Savannah, Forsyth Park is a must-see for any fall foliage fan. The city’s oldest and largest park, this popular gathering place for walkers, joggers, farmers market-goers, and more is framed by towering live oaks that are particularly spectacular in the fall. Also in Savannah, pay a visit to the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum. The museum is nestled inside a historic 19th-century Greek Revival-style house, which was once home to shipping merchant William Scarbrough. On the grounds of the museum, you’ll find the largest private gardens in the city’s historic district. Teeming with native plants, the gardens delight visitors throughout the year and are particularly lovely in the fall. The site’s north garden is home to a spectacular grove of maple trees, which serves as a picture-perfect backdrop for weddings.
Maryland: Get your fall colors fix as you travel the scenic highways, byways, and backroads of Western Maryland. Drive through hardwood forests on the Catoctin Mountain Highway (U.S. 15), near the presidential retreat at Camp David. Start your exploration of the scenic and historic Chesapeake & Ohio Canal at its western terminus in Cumberland. America’s first federal highway, the National Road, also passes through Cumberland. Additional foliage-filled outdoor wonders await in the mountains of Garrett County, home to Deep Creek Lake.
Minnesota: In central Minnesota, the Lake Mille Lacs Scenic Byway traces the edges of the state’s second-largest lake, serving up spectacular scenery along the way. Along the 68-mile route, stop at the Mille Lacs Kathio State Park for a bird’s-eye view of the colorful terrain atop a 100-foot observation tower. In the northeast, The Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway, Highway 38, rambles 47 miles through the pine and hardwood-covered hills of the Chippewa National Forest, past the aptly named Scenic State Park. The road ends in Grand Rapids, where you can also pay a visit to Judy Garland’s childhood home and the Forest History Center, which houses an early 1900s logging camp. (Photo: Rice River by Tom Hawkins)
Missouri: From the beautiful Ozarks to the trails and roads that flank the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, autumn in Missouri never disappoints. Some of the most spectacular leaf viewing opportunities await on the river bluffs, including Highway 94 between Jefferson City and Hermann, overlooking the Missouri River. Highway 79—known as Missouri’s Little Dixie Highway—is part of the Great River Road National Scenic Byway, which traces the Mississippi River through ten states. Rich in scenery as well as history, this route is particularly beautiful as you travel between the Missouri towns of Louisiana and Hannibal.
New Hampshire: Serving up some of New England’s most rugged and inspiring scenery, New Hampshire’s 100-mile White Mountains Trail traverses sections of the 800,000-acre White Mountain National Forest. Along this National Scenic Byway, you’ll travel through three mountain passes as you visit charming villages and enjoy stunning views of Mount Washington, waterfalls, covered bridges, and more.
North Carolina: If you’re fascinated by forests, enjoy a scenic drive on the 76-mile Forest Heritage National Scenic Byway near Asheville. The road guides you through the Pisgah National Forest, established in 1914 when the U.S. Forest Service purchased 80,000 acres from the George Vanderbilt estate. Inside the forest, don’t miss the views of Looking Glass Falls, a 60-foot waterfall, and visit the Cradle of Forestry, where the first school of forestry in America was founded.
Pennsylvania: Natural beauty abounds in the woodlands surrounding Pittsburgh, painting a colorful array of leaf-peeping options. Ohiopyle State Park in Fayette County is well-known for rafting and other water sports on the Youghiogeny River, but the scenic overlooks are particularly spectacular in the fall. Locals love the tree-filled view from Baughman’s Rock and the Great Allegheny Passage bike trail. Also near Pittsburgh, fans of the fall will enjoy the stunning displays in Laurel Ridge State Park and along the Historic Route 30 Corridor, between the Loyalhanna Gorge and Ligonier.
Tennessee: While the Great Smoky Mountains often get top billing among outdoor enthusiasts in Tennessee, the Volunteer State boasts several fascinating places that dazzle and delight as the seasons change. On the scenic Cumberland Plateau in the north-central part of the state, the tiny Victorian town of Rugby is an inviting place to explore. Founded as a utopian colony in the late 1800s by British author Thomas Hughes, Rugby was restored in 1966 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. Today the community draws visitors for its lively arts scene as well as its commitment to social justice and environmental issues. (Photo: Christ Church Episcopal in Rugby, TN, by Gregory Smith, courtesy of Scenic Tennessee).
Virginia: While many people flock to Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive when fall colors emerge, the Commonwealth of Virginia is home to many lesser known destinations with similarly spectacular displays. One such example: Mount Rogers Scenic Byway, a 60-mile drive through the George Washington and Thomas Jefferson National Forests that offers access to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and the Virginia Creeper National Recreational Trail. Located in southwest Virginia, the route crosses over whitewater streams, giving way to stunning views of Whitetop Mountain and Mount Rogers, the highest point in the state at 5,729 feet.
For more information Discover more scenic byways in and around your state at byways.org.