Image: Fall foliage
Jim Morton  /  AP
Beautiful fall drives, like this one on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, aren't found only in New England.
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updated 9/22/2009 4:43:44 PM ET 2009-09-22T20:43:44

New England is justifiably famous for its fall foliage (to see it for yourself, don't miss our recommended scenic drives in the Northeast), but high-season autumn crowds can often create traffic jams along the region's most popular routes. Luckily, New England is hardly the only part of the United States where travelers can take in the spectacular colors of the season. Why not take your own leaf-peeping trip along less-traveled roads?

Autumn's finery will be on display across the nation, from the mountains of the Southeast to the river gorges of the Pacific Northwest. We've crafted five unique sightseeing itineraries to help you experience these regions at their best, including information on hiking trails, scenic drives, local wineries, historic towns and more.

Idaho's scenic byways
Idaho's mountains, rivers and back country come alive with brilliant fall color during the first three weeks of October, offering sweeping vistas and outdoor recreational opportunities throughout the state. Plan your trip using IdahoByways.gov, where you'll find interactive maps and suggested itineraries for 27 state scenic byways. One of our favorite drives is the Pend Oreille Scenic Byway, a 33-mile trip along Highway 200 that borders the glacier-sculpted Lake Pend Oreille in northern Idaho. Along the way you can browse art galleries and go antiquing in the mountain town of Sandpoint, or take a hike through one of many recreation areas along the route.

Missouri's Ozark Mountain region
Missouri's most spectacular foliage occurs in the Ozark Mountains from late October into early November. You can experience the area on foot via the Ozark Trail, a network of hiking paths stretching more than 500 miles. One good day trip is the nine-mile Marble Creek Trail, which runs from the Marble Creek Trailhead to scenic Crane Lake. (Editor's note: This trail was closed due to storms over the summer of 2009, but work will be done to clear it this fall.)

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If you prefer to see the foliage from your car, take a scenic drive along Highway 19, which starts in Cuba and winds its way through Mark Twain National Forest and Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Along the route, the old-fashioned town of Eminence is worth a stop for its craft and antique shops and the richly forested hills surrounding it. Before your trip, you may want to check out these foliage reports for the Ozarks; postings begin in mid-October.

Chattanooga, Tennessee
Enjoy colorful foliage in Tennessee's Chattanooga region, which offers a wealth of outdoor opportunities for visitors. Go during mid-October to catch the most vibrant autumn colors from the top of Lookout Mountain in Rock City, where you'll see a panoramic vista over seven U.S. states. Not far away is the dramatic Tennessee River Gorge, a sanctuary for endangered species such as bald eagles and ospreys.

Those seeking a scenic drive shouldn't miss the Cherohala Skyway, which winds its way up some 5,400 feet into the mountains of eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina; this spectacular drive makes a perfect day trip from Chattanooga. Or view the foliage the old-fashioned way — from a railroad car. The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum offers 100-mile train journeys called Autumn Leaf Specials throughout October and November. Tennessee's official foliage report can be found here.

Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
With its dramatic cliffs, dense temperate rain forests and dozens of tumbling waterfalls, Oregon's Columbia River Gorge is an impressive sight year-round — but it's at its most dazzling when it's blanketed with fall color. To get up close and personal with the natural landscape, hike to the top of Multnomah Falls, which at 620 feet is one of the nation's highest waterfalls. The hike is a little more than a mile (uphill) and can be combined with other longer trails to make for a full day in the outdoors.

For a scenic drive along the gorge, check out the Historic Columbia River Highway, which passes through a number of state parks and provides dramatic views of the gorge. The drive takes anywhere from three to five hours. Oregon's peak foliage occurs throughout October; for more information, visit TravelOregon.com.

Northern Illinois
Fall is the perfect time to steal away for a long weekend. To help make it easier, the Illinois Bureau of Tourism has compiled a collection of three-day getaways throughout the state, ranging from big-city sightseeing in Chicago to antiquing and pumpkin picking out in the countryside. Our favorite autumn itinerary is the outdoorsy Natural Wonders getaway in northern Illinois, which features a number of state parks and other outdoor attractions where you can enjoy the beautiful foliage of the season. Hike the trails at Matthiessen State Park to see dramatic canyons and waterfalls, or take a scenic ride down the historic Illinois and Michigan Canal aboard the LaSalle Canal Boat.

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