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Be in the Know on Fall Road Trips

Updated 09.01.2017
Tips for fall road trips including when to go, where to go, what to do and what to bring on a fall scenic driving tour.
Are you ready for some fall road trips in the U.S.? Alan and I are raising our hands high over here in Montana. 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 get a photo of the colorful scene?

Alan and I don’t let those crowds scare us away. Here’s how we travel in the know using our favorite fall road trip tips:

Know where to go on fall road trips

A fall road trip in Arches National Park is filled with golden-colored wildflowers and cornflower blue skies.

A fall road trip in Arches National Park includes golden-colored wildflowers.

When I think of prime fall foliage destinations, states like Vermont, New Hampshire, and Virginia come to mind. If you conduct an Internet search, 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.

Use the term “best fall foliage road trips” to begin an Internet search when planning your trip.

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 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.
  • Back Country Byways and Driving Tours, from the Bureau of Land Management, is our go-to source for really going off-the-beaten-path—as in dirt or gravel.
  • Check state tourism websites for road trip itineraries like the scenic byways information from Travel Wyoming.
  • Fall Color Guide at Roadtrippers features some colorful drives that will surprise you.

Avoid the traffic by driving secondary roads and country lanes located adjacent to highways known for their fall color displays.

Know when to go on a fall road trip

It's hard to time fall road trips for peak color. Read our tips on where to find the latest information and peak color times.

It’s hard to time fall road trips for peak color. Autumn was just making an appearance on a September drive along the Magruder Corridor in Montana.

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. But if you’re planning a last-minute getaway, The Weather Channel publishes maps of current fall foliage peak times. And here are the 2017 peak fall foliage dates listed by state from the Farmers Almanac.

Knowing when to go also helps avoid traffic and crowds. We recommend visiting fall foliage high spots in the middle of the week rather than on a busy weekend.

Know what to do on fall road trips

Early September is a beautiful time to drive the Alaska Highway.

Early September is a beautiful time to drive the Alaska Highway.

Admiring and photographing scenery colored by the changing leaves is a given on a fall road trip. But there’s so much more. 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 Sierra Club and American Hiking Society publish trail listings throughout the United States. There’s also plenty of hiking advice at the specific national park website, if you’re visiting a U. S. National park. Or take a look at the best fall hikes for fall foliage according to Active Times.

Once you arrive 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? Start with Fodor’s list of 10 fall train itineraries. Or 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 on a fall road trip

I'm geared up for a fall hike in Glacier National Park. Layers are the key to staying warm and comfortable. And wear a bright-colored jacket to stand out in photos. Click through for more hiking gear.

I’m geared up for a fall hike in Glacier National Park. Layers are the key to staying warm and comfortable. And don’t forget to wear a bright-colored jacket to stand out in photos.

You’ve heard it a million times before but I’ll say it again. Pack layers. The weather is changeable on fall road trips. And 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. Hiking poles are helpful for trails. And, of course, you’ll want to bring a camera.

Don’t forget to refamiliarize yourself with the 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. Have I inspired your next boomer road trip. Be sure to start your search for hotels or bed and breakfasts with us.

Visit our road trip resources page to be totally in the know on fall road trips.

Do you have favorite advice on fall road trips to share? Join the conversation at the My Itchy Travel Feet page on Facebook or send us an email to ask a question or share your favorite tips with us.

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