Autumn is one of the most beautiful times of year to hit the open road and explore all that America has to offer. From coast to coast, there are endless scenic routes to take and stunning vistas to behold.
To help you plan your next fall getaway, we’ve put together a list of 10 must-see destinations across the United States. Far more than just leaf-peeping in New England, we take you across the country to find fall-delights behind the wheel.
So gas up the car, check your extended auto warranty coverage, pack your bags, and get ready for an unforgettable road trip!
This post is part of our Discover the USA and Epic Family Road Trips series
1. The Pacific Coast Highway – California
The Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most scenic drives in the United States. Stretching for over 650 miles along the California coast, the highway offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and a chance to see some of the state’s most iconic landmarks.
One of the best times to experience the highway is in autumn when the leaves are turning, and there is less traffic on the road. Starting in San Diego, the first stop on your road trip should be the world-famous San Diego Zoo.
From there, head north to Los Angeles, where you can explore Hollywood and Beverly Hills. For something a little different, detour inland to Joshua Tree National Park to see the unique desert landscape.
As you continue up Highway 1, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to relax on the best California beaches, experience Big Sur, hike through redwood forests, and taste delicious wine from Napa Valley.
2. The Blue Ridge Parkway – Virginia and North Carolina
The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most scenic drives in America. Winding its way through Virginia and North Carolina, the Parkway offers breathtaking views of the Appalachian Mountains.
Autumn is an ideal time to take a road trip on the Parkway, as the leaves are changing color and the crowds have thinned out. The drive can be broken up into sections, with each section offering its own unique attractions.
In Virginia, visitors can explore the Shenandoah National Park, charming small towns like Staunton, and historic sites like Monticello. In North Carolina, highlights include the Biltmore Estate, Asheville, and Linville Falls.
Although the weather is cooling, it’s one of the best spots on the east coast for camping in the fall.
3. Route 66 – Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona
Route 66 is one of the most iconic roadways in America, and there’s no better time to explore it than during the autumn months. The journey begins in Illinois, where visitors can see the famous Route 66 signs that welcome travelers to the Mother Road.
From there, the journey takes visitors through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Kingman in Arizona. Along the way, visitors can experience the unique cultures of each region and see some of the country’s most stunning scenery.
4. The Overseas Highway – Florida Keys
The Overseas Highway is a 127.5-mile road that connects the Florida mainland to the Florida Keys. The highway stretches from Key Largo to Key West, though most will set out from Miami for one of the country’s most scenic drives – Miami to Key West.
The Overseas Highway is especially beautiful when the crowds are low in autumn (but do factor in its low for a reason as its hurricane season). Along the way, there are numerous attractions to explore, such as the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and the Dry Tortugas National Park.
There are also plenty of opportunities to stop and enjoy the views, whether you’re watching dolphins swimming in the water or soaking up the rays on a sandy beach.
5. The Hana Highway – Maui, Hawaii
The Hana Highway is one of the most scenic drives in all of Hawaii. Winding its way through lush rainforests and along the rugged coastlines, the highway offers breathtaking views at every turn.
And while the drive can be challenging, it’s well worth the effort. Autumn is the perfect time to explore The Hana Highway, as the cool weather makes for ideal driving conditions. Plus, the colors of the changing leaves provide an added element of beauty to the already stunning scenery.
6. The Natchez Trace Parkway – Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee
The Natchez Trace Parkway is a scenic road that runs through Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee. The best time to take a road trip along the parkway is in the autumn, when the leaves are changing color.
During this time of year, the air is cool and crisp, and the views are simply stunning. The parkway is home to many different species of animals, so keep your eyes peeled for deer, wild turkeys, and other wildlife.
There are also numerous historical sites along the route, so be sure to explore some ancient Native American mounds and villages. Before you leave the Bayou State, consider buying tickets for Mississippi music festivals. It’s the only way to experience the best of jazz and Delta blues.
7. Great River Road – Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Louisiana
Great River Road is a network of highways spanning ten states along the Mississippi River. From its headwaters in Minnesota to its delta in Louisiana, the Great River Road offers travelers a unique chance to see America’s heartland.
Along the way, visitors can enjoy stunning fall foliage, learn about the river’s history and ecology, and sample the region’s food and culture.
8. Beartooth Highway – Montana and Wyoming
If you’re looking for a scenic drive this autumn, consider the Beartooth Highway in Montana and Wyoming. This 68-mile stretch of road takes you through some of the most beautiful scenery in the country, including alpine meadows, rocky peaks, and glacial lakes.
The highway typically closes in early November due to snowfall, so be sure to plan your trip accordingly. And if you’re looking for a truly unique experience, try driving the highway at night to see the stars shining overhead.
9. Seward Highway – Alaska
For those who are looking for a truly unique autumn experience, there is no better destination than Seward Highway in Alaska.
This scenic route winds its way through some of the most beautiful countryside in the state, offering views of mountains, glaciers, and wildlife. Fall is also an excellent time to see the Northern Lights, and there are few places in the world where they are more visible than Seward Highway.
10. Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area – Oregon and Washington
There’s no better way to experience the beauty of autumn than by taking a road trip through the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area. This region, which spans Oregon and Washington, is home to some of the most stunning fall foliage in the country. You can continue your journey south as a loop around Mt Hood to combine this road trip with stunning mountain scenery.
From the bright hues of larch and vine maple along the river to the golden aspens of Mt. Hood, there’s no shortage of breathtaking scenery. And because the scenic area is located along the Columbia River, you can enjoy views of the river as it winds through towering mountains and lush forests, not to mention the stunning waterfalls.
(NB permits are required for driving the “Waterfalls Corridor” – Highway 30 – from May to September).
No matter where you’re located in the United States, there’s sure to be a gorgeous fall road trip destination within driving distance. So what are you waiting for? Start planning your trip today!