Image: Blue Ridge Parkway
NC Division of Tourism
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Blue Ridge Parkway, an ideal time to drive its winding scenic roads with panoramic views.
updated 9/23/2010 9:48:45 AM ET 2010-09-23T13:48:45

Crisp air, panoramic views, brilliantly colored ash and poplar trees: the exhilarating route to North Carolina’s Mount Mitchell State Park — the highest peak in the Eastern United States — is a destination in itself. The scenic 75-year-old Blue Ridge Parkway is just one of the country’s great autumn drives.

    1. Secret Celebrity Hideaways
    2. America's Best Cocktail Bars
    3. America's Most Scenic Roads
    4. Coolest Disney Rides

The fall foliage season, when the changing palette of deciduous trees is in blazing bloom, is now starting. And the way to maximize your intake of color is to map out a driving route. In September, October, and — in some spots — even November, color seekers can visit 31 states and drive more than 3,000 miles of national scenic byways, plus thousands of other scenic roads.

Slideshow: America's best fall color drives

Some nature lovers, like former Shenandoah National Park guide Hazel Mills, can’t wait to buckle up and get up close and personal with the purple dogwoods and deep burgundy leaves of the Virginia creepers.

“It’s like a basketful of fall chrysanthemums in every color,” she says. “Red and yellow, purple, and deep burgundy. When the afternoon sun hits the hickory, it looks exactly like gold, absolutely breathtaking.”

Others, like Mike Boutin, owner of Maine-based Northwoods Outfitters, like to take country drives surrounded by mountains bursting with yellow beeches, scarlet maples, and purple witch hazel around Moosehead Lake. He also loves one of the season’s biggest local adventures — back-road moose safaris.

  1. Related coverage
    1. NC Division of Tourism
      Great drives to take in autumn's colorful splendor

      Want to be dazzled by Mother Nature’s fall foliage display? Just hop in the car. Full story

    2. Affordable towns for an autumn getaway
    3. Idaho in the fall: A subtle beauty all its own
    4. 10 spectacular places to see fall foliage
    5. Autumn a great time to fall into a vacation deal
    6. Events, ideas and destinations for fall travel

“It doesn’t get better than pulling over to see a huge brown male moose crash through a riot of bright red and yellow leaves,” says Boutin.

Certain areas of the country — the Northeast corridor, the Southeast, along the Appalachian Mountains, and much of the Midwest — produce the most striking and vibrant colors because of mild autumn days and cool (but not freezing) evenings. If daytime temperatures are too warm for an extended period of time, colors are less intense.

If you’re planning a fall foliage trip, choose your route based not only on the timing of nature’s fiery color display, but also around available activities. Horseback ride through the orange hickory trees in Shenandoah National Park. Or stand beneath a quivering golden aspen at Mammoth Lakes in the Eastern Sierra while peering through a dusty window in Bodie, the best-preserved ghost town in California.

But no matter where you are, the way to cover the most ground — and take in the biggest eyeful of color — is behind the wheel.

Copyright © 2012 American Express Publishing Corporation


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments