When it comes to fall foliage, America is truly blessed…with spectacular, breath-taking autumn scenes of falling leaves of every color in the rainbow…and then some. It’s so blessed, in fact that we could easily have a Top 20 list and still not get in all the beautiful places. One of the best ways to experience fall foliage is in the comfort of a car, driving while enveloped in an ever-changing kaleidoscope of color.
Here are my Top 5 fall-foliage drives in America:
5 – DALLAS DIVIDE AND LIZARD HEAD PASS, SOUTHWESTERN COLORADO – You can begin your journey in the town of Ridgway, heading west on Colorado 62 over Dallas Divide. You’ll get fantastic views of the Sneffels Range, with a carpet brilliant-gold aspens at its feet. At Placerville, head southeast toward Telluride on Colorado 145. All the way to Lizard Head Pass you’ll drive through dense groves of white-barked (and rich, gold-colored leafed) aspens, with dramatic panoramas of 14,023-foot Wilson Peak. Where to stay? My favorite is Dunton Hot Springs, where you can soak in historic hot springs (it’s an old mining town that later became a ghost town) surrounded by snow-capped peaks, and then retire to a real log cabin that combines luxury and the Old West. I also like Scarp Ridge Lodge, an elegantly-restored 19th-Century mason’s lodge in Crested Butte, surrounded by the ruddy colors of the Ruby Range.
4 – FAYETTE STATION ROAD, WEST VIRGINIA – Exploring Fayette Station Road is to travel back in time, to before the modern New River Gorge Bridge was built in 1977 (it’s the longest single-arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere). This 100-year-old road of hairpin turns winds down to the bottom of the gorge, across a narrow bridge, and back up the other side. Visible along the way are vistas of the river and bridges, a dense hardwood forest framing both sides of the river, remnants of the New River Gorge communities that once teemed with activity, and a painter’s palette of fall colors. For a place to stay, I love the ACE Adventure Resort, with great lodging and food, and more exciting outdoor activities than you could experience if Fall Foliage lasted a month!
3 – BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY, NORTH CAROLINA – The winding, climbing and diving Blue Ridge Parkway is often called the most beautiful road in America – and it’s not hard to see why. It’s especially magnificent during fall foliage, when its waterfalls and gorges and mountains and valleys are bathed in lush, iridescent layers of greens, reds, rusts, purples, and yellows. This is one highway on which you can’t be in a hurry – because you’ll probably be stopping at every scenic overlook. The air is sweet and fragrant with the cooler temperatures. And the boiled peanuts being cooked on the front porches of wood-frame houses in nearby towns bring an especially wonderful taste to autumn. One of those towns is Bryson City, overlooked by my favorite place to stay in the Great Smokey Mountains, Lands Creek Log Cabins. These are among the most beautiful cabins I’ve ever seen. They sit on top of a mountain with daytime views into Tennessee, and black-velvet nighttime views deep into the heavens. And, because they sit on stilts on top of Lands Creek, you’ll fall asleep to the sounds of the rushing creek right under you.
2 – THE ENCHANTED CIRCLE, NEW MEXICO – The Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway is an 83-mile loop in north-central New Mexico that winds its way through stunning mountain ranges, the Carson National Forest, vast meadows, and historic old villages. During Fall Foliage the route is especially beautiful, as the colors seem to literally burst out of the mountains. The Enchanted Circle passes New Mexico’s highest mountain, 13,161-foot Wheeler Peak, and moves through the towns of Taos, Questa, Red River (great skiing in a month or two!), Eagle Nest, Angel Fire, and the Taos Ski Valley (more great skiing!). Each community has its own unique character – 300-year-old Taos, of course, with its scenic old Plaza and adobe architecture, is the birthplace of Southwestern Art – and these towns all host colorful special events throughout the fall. You can get up-close-and-personal with the fall colors on the area’s numerous hiking and mountain-biking trails, camping in the Carson National Forest, and private campgrounds around the Circle.
1 – LAKE COEUR D’ALENE SCENIC BYWAY – In the northern Idaho Panhandle, Lake Coeur d’Alene is about 30 miles in length, with some 115 miles of shoreline edged by forest and mountains. And the scenic byway that runs along it is one of the best ways to experience the deep, vibrant colors of Fall Foliage here. The road begins at the junction of Interstate 90 and Idaho 97 and follows Idaho 97 south and east along Lake Coeur d’Alene to Idaho 3. On the way, you’ll pass lakes, mountains, wide-open spaces and interesting villages dotting the landscape, only 90 miles from the Canadian border. The byway is also home to a variety of wildlife, including moose, deer, elk, bear and several bird species, and the lake is home to bald eagles and the largest population of nesting osprey in the Western states. Take a break and stretch your legs on the Mineral Ridge Trail, which offers panoramic views of the lake. The route continues through gentle hills and dense forests to the charming town of Harrison. At the northern end of the lake, and convenient to the scenic byway, is the town of Coeur d’Alene, with red-brick sidewalks, interesting shops and restaurants with flower boxes outside, and beautiful old Pacific Northwest/Victorian homes. Here you’ll find my favorite place to stay in the Inland Pacific Northwest, the Coeur d’Alene Resort, with eye-popping views of lake and mountains, several excellent restaurants, cool shops and pubs, a lake-cruise boat, the world’s only floating golf green, and the opportunity to take off and land in the lake in the resort’s own flight-seeing plane.
Well, there you have my favorite Fall Foliage drives. Let us know yours!