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As summer wanes, cooling temperatures will soon bring the blazing oranges, reds, and yellows of fall foliage to many parts of the country. If you’re looking to plan a leaf-peeping road trip, New England destinations usually top the list of places to visit, but the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic put on an impressive show as well. Hop in your car and road trip through the deep valleys, sleepy country roads, and isolated nature of these six favorite fall foliage destinations.
Upper Peninsula, Michigan
One of Michigan’s shortest (and sweetest) day trips starts in the western Upper Peninsula town of Bessemer. From there, travel north on the Black River National Forest Scenic Byway, a 15-mile route surrounded by a million acres of the Ottawa National Forest and autumn colors that blaze brilliantly throughout the drive. Continue the day with a stop at Copper Peak, accessible by an 800-foot chairlift — the 360-degree views of the area’s vivid foliage are well worth the detour. Before reaching the shores of Lake Superior, make time to trek to the stunning cascades of the Potawatomi and Gorge Waterfalls, which offers plenty of leaf-peeping opportunities along the way. Plan your trip in late September or early October to see the colors at their best.
Green Mountain Byway, Vermont
Vermont’s ski country is known for more than its snow-covered slopes — in fall, the Green Mountain Byway that runs between Waterbury and Stowe is a foliage-lover’s dream. Enjoy a leisurely drive through New England’s sleepy forests and meadows, interrupted only by quaint towns and country farms. The Green Mountains rise up on either side on the road and tempt drivers from their cars to the trails with ample hiking opportunities. From Stowe, continue along Route 108 and enjoy the fiery red and orange hues that blanket the region from Mount Mansfield to several nearby state parks. Hit the road in October to catch the color change at its peak.
Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia
The 469-mile-long Blue Ridge Parkway stretches between Virginia and North Carolina and was the first national parkway designed with tourist recreation in mind (as opposed to just a road from point A to point B). Today, drivers can enjoy uninterrupted views of the southern Appalachians at the multiple viewpoints along the route. The landscape is especially striking in mid- to late October when the fall foliage is in full effect. If the road trip leaves you wanting more of the great outdoors, you’re in luck: The Blue Ridge Parkway connects two spectacular natural treasures, Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina.
Kancamagus Highway, New Hampshire
Leaf-peeping season in New Hampshire reaches its prime between late September and early October, and the Kancamagus Highway puts on an unforgettable show during that time. The 36-mile stretch of road is incredibly scenic in any season, but is particularly breathtaking in fall. The drive bisects the White Mountains National Forest, which carpets the soaring peaks in dazzling colors around every twist and turn. From Interstate 93, veer off the highway at Lincoln and onto the remote Route 112, also known as the “Kanc” by locals. The road leads past multiple scenic vistas hiking trails before ending in Conway — where you can refuel in one of the town’s cozy cafes.
Rangeley Lakes Scenic Byway, Maine
Secluded western Maine is an underrated area near the New Hampshire border that’s often bypassed for better-known attractions like the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire and coastal Maine. When it comes to fall foliage road trips, though, it’s hard to do better than Rangeley Lakes Scenic Byway. Soak up the red, orange, and yellow shades of autumn in mid-October with an idyllic cruise past the forests, rolling hills, mountain streams, lakes, and meadows of rural Maine. The byway runs from Smalls Falls, loops around Rangeley Lake, and finishes at Height of Land, an elevated rest stop with sweeping views over the lakes and the vibrant colors of fall.
Seeley-Swan Valley, Montana
The Seeley-Swan highway connects Seeley Lake with Swan Lake and leads road trippers on an epic drive through a magnificent mountain-framed valley near Missoula. Montana’s lake country scenery is magnificent in any season, but the abundance of unspoiled nature combined with the fall foliage make it truly remarkable. The main attractions here are the tamarack trees, with needles that change to a brassy gold, and the dozens of lakes that reflect the autumn hues along the 90-mile route. Be sure to pause to enjoy the views and make time for a leisurely paddle along Clearwater Canoe Trail.