Are you ready to take some colorful fall road trips in the U.S. before the snow comes? Alan and I are raising our hands high over here in Montana. We love getting out on the road in crisp, autumn weather.
Want to go, too? Planning fall road trips is easy with our tips based upon twenty years of roadtripping together.
Planning fall road trips: it helps to be in the know
While road tripping is one of our favorite ways to travel, we’re not big fans of the crowds that are often encountered on fall leaf peeping drives. What fun is bumper-to-bumper traffic, riding around a popular viewpoint looking for a parking space, or standing tiptoe with a camera held high over a crowd of visitors as you try to capture the colorful scene?
But Alan and I don’t let those crowds scare us away. Follow our tips for planning fall road trips for a fun, boomer travel adventure to places like Twin Lakes in Montana, where you’ll enjoy big scenery and small crowds.
Know where to go: finding the best fall road trips in the U.S.
When I think of prime fall foliage destinations, Northeastern states like Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine come to mind. And they are gorgeous fall destinations as long as you’re okay with crowds.
Have you thought about a fall trip to Arches National Park or other destinations in the western United States? While you won’t see hillsides blazing with red sugar maples, there’s something special about watching golden aspen leaves shivering in a light breeze or bright, yellow larches marching down a hillside at Glacier National Park.
Are you ready to pick your destination based upon our experiences? Here are some of fall favorites from My Itchy Travel Feet.
Fall trip to Grand Teton National Park
When Alan and I traveled on a fall trip to Grand Teton National Park, we arrived just as the leaves were turning. Of course we weren’t alone, but avoiding peak summer crowds was a bonus.
If you’re looking for serrated stone peaks rising above a landscape colored gold, a fall trip to Grand Teton National Park is your destination. Don’t miss the fall reflections at Oxbow Bend.
Oregon coast fall trip
Driving down Highway 101, stopping at the beach parks and overlooks is a highlight on any autumn coastal drive in Oregon. But don’t miss the covered bridges scattered throughout the coastal range. The quaintness of the bridges makes up for the limited fall colors.
Follow my suggestions for an Oregon coast fall trip to beaches and covered bridges, mostly along the central portion of the coast.
Finding fall in Alaska
When Alan and I planned a late summer-early fall Alaska road trip, we didn’t think about the autumn colors that would be decorating the landscape. But find them, we did. Driving the Top of the World Highway turned out to be a stunning trip bathed in mist and color.
Fall in the South Without the Crowds
Growing up in the South, and living there for much of my adult life, I can attest to autumn’s beauty. Even as a child, my family took the annual fall day trip into the North Georgia mountains to see the colors.
While Alan and I have yet to experience autumn in the South together, James Richardson offers excellent tips on where to see Fall in the South without the crowds.
Tips for finding fall road trip itineraries
If you conduct an Internet search, using the term “best fall foliage road trips,” you’ll find plenty of articles like “Best fall road trips in the U.S.” or “America’s Best Fall Drives.” I like this one from the Travel Channel.
State parks are usually less crowded (most of the time) than national parks. Here’s a list of 9 state parks that are beautiful in the fall.
But the fact is that there are fall foliage destinations located throughout the U.S., even Florida. Here are our favorite sites for finding them:
- America’s Byways from the Federal Highway Administration offers brief information about designated scenic U.S. highways.
- America’s Scenic Byways provides much of the original information found on the former byways.org site, which was defunded by the U.S. Federal government. This was once a great site with detailed travel information about scenic byways in the United States. Hopefully it will be fully restored. In the meantime, Furkot, a trip planner web application, is attempting to recreate the database through an open source initiative. You’ll find plenty of valuable information so give it a look.
- Check state tourism websites for sample road trip itineraries.
When it comes to going off-the-beaten-path on back country byways and forest roads in the western U.S., we rely on the Benchmark Road and Recreation Atlas.
Know when to go: timing a fall road trip for the best color
It’s impossible to predict when fall colors will be at their prime when you’re planning fall road trips a year to several months ahead. One way to guess is by checking out the peak time from the year before.
Boomer Travel Tip
Use our road trip planner to make the most of your next road trip adventure.
Knowing when to go also helps avoid traffic and crowds. I recommend visiting fall foliage high spots in the middle of the week rather than on a busy weekend. And driving secondary roads and country lanes located adjacent to highways known for their fall color displays is a smart way to go.
Know where to stay: choosing the best fall accommodations
In my opinion, a beautiful fall color tour requires cozy accommodations like those I experience at bed and breakfasts, inns and boutique hotels. Relaxing with an early morning cup of coffee while looking out the window at autumn colors, followed by a delicious breakfast is a great way to start a fall adventure. Returning for wine and cheese in the afternoon, like Alan and I did at Coyote Bluff Estate, is even better.
I start my research by consulting the local visitor’s bureau to see what lodging choices are available in the area. Then I read online reviews—ignore the best and worst reviews to find the true story. I also compare prices, especially when looking for hotels, inns and lodges.
Know what to do: finding fun on fall road trips
Admiring and photographing scenery colored by the changing leaves is a given on a fall drive—look at the ones we found while driving the Alaska Highway. But there’s so much more to see and do.
Take a fall hike
Put those feet on the ground and get your body moving with a hike to really soak up autumn’s splendor. In addition to fall color, you’re likely to spot more wildlife from the trail as animals busily prepare for winter.
Although you are probably familiar with local hikes, how do you find good ones in unfamiliar travel destinations? The American Hiking Society publishes trail listings throughout the United States. There’s also plenty of hiking advice at the U.S. National Park website,
Attend a fall festival
Pumpkin patches, corn mazes, scarecrow festivals, Octoberfests—that’s just part of the fall festival fun in the USA. How do you find them on a road trip?
An Internet search using the term “fall festival in (name your destination) (year you are traveling)” is a good place to start. If you are already at the destination, simply search “fall festival near me.” You’ll find plenty of festivals to attend.
Look for color on fall train rides
Upon arriving at your destination, local train trips are a stress-relieving way of letting someone else do the driving while you do the looking. But how do you find them?
Discover fall foliage train travel listed by state at American Rails. You’re sure to find a colorful adventure by train.
Know what to bring: the best fall road trip gear
You’ve heard it a million times before but I’ll say it again. Pack layers. The weather is changeable in the fall.
Don’t forget a rain jacket and gloves. That may sound like an odd combination but you never know if it will rain or snow, especially at higher altitudes.
For shoes, I usually wear Kuru Chicane shoes. They are lightweight but sturdy enough for an easy to moderate hike. Plus they look good when I’m not hiking.
Hiking poles are helpful for trails. And, of course, you’ll want to bring a camera.
Don’t forget to review photo settings on your Smartphone, point and shoot, or DSL camera. For the best results, plan a practice session before leaving home.
Whether you want to see the blazing red of maple trees in New Hampshire or golden shimmer of Aspen leaves trembling in a Colorado breeze, there’s no better time for a road trip than in the fall.