For others in the Prairie states or the Southwest, planning a weekend trip specifically to “leaf peep” may be the only answer.
For state-specific reports, the U.S. Forest Service offers a toll-free number — (800) 354-4595 — to assist color-craving travelers with local information. The automated line provides recorded, weekly color conditions and highlights the best travel routes for viewing the changing leaves that week.
Foliage quality varies by the time of year, weather conditions and the previous summer’s conditions. But the following destinations consistently produce enormous orange-, yellow-, bronze- and red-blotched umbrellas worth capturing on film.
- October 1-8
- Fall foliage hot line: (800) VERMONT
Ask any Vermont native about the best scenic routes in autumn, and
Route 100 generally makes the cut. It’s important to note two factors
about Vermont’s varying peak seasons: The trees first peak in the north
and then head south, and they peak at higher elevations before heading
to lower terrain.
For a peak week in early October, take Route 100 from the Rutland-Killington area to Ludlow. This takes you through the Green Mountains,
where maples reveal the brightest reds and oranges, and you end up in
Ludlow’s valley with crystal-clear lakes and quaint B&Bs.
- Peak viewing: early October
Massachusetts’ Mohawk Trail is a windy, hilly road that
traverses through the Berkshire Mountains. Admirers of New England’s
leaves take the byway, formally known as Route 2, from Millers Falls to
Williamstown for about a 60-mile stretch, and stop to climb one
of the observation towers next to the road. From the top of the deck, a
three-state view helps you soak in the gorgeous pigments. During the
first two weeks of October, sugar maples reveal vibrant reds and
yellows that are postcard pretty.
- Peak viewing: Late September, early October
With its high elevation and some of the brightest colors in the East, the drive along the Highland Scenic Highway in Pocahontas County during peak season rivals — dare we say it — the colors in New England.
Pick up the scenic road known as Route 150 just north of Marlinton from 219 and head all the way to Richwood.
The route is about 45 miles long, and takes you through the Monongahela National Forest, the falls of Hill Creek and the Cranberry Nature Center — all deserving a stop of at least a few minutes. Expect ashes, locusts, hemlock, red spruces, sugar maples and a full forest of other types along this route.
- Peak viewing: October
Make artsy, offbeat Asheville your home base, then catch the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway
and head south to Mount Pisgah. Head north on U.S. 276 and meander
through Pisgah National Forest, then take U.S. 23 north and U.S.
19/23/74 east back to the city.
- Peak viewing: October 10-20
Two fairly hilly destinations stick out for Ohio foliage. A 65-mile stretch of Route 33 from Columbus to Marietta takes autumn-lovers through Hocking Hills State Park, and a 100-mile stretch of Route 23 from Columbus to Portsmouth winds you through the Appalachian foothills of central Ohio.
Maples, buckeyes and oaks on both Route 33 and Route 23 reveal mostly golden yellows and bright red pigments.
- Peak viewing: early October
The debate about Michigan’s best scenic drive is as split as the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. Northerners cruise for a drive through the Porcupine Mountains on the western side of the peninsula, ending up near the scenic Lake of the Clouds. To get there, travel to the west end of M-107. For trips in the Lower Peninsula, a drive along Lake Michigan’s shoreline offers plenty of golden-hued foliage and classic landmarks.
On the western side of the state, the Warren Dunes State Park offers a 240-foot vertical drop and scenic view of both the lake and the trees. Consider yourself warned: From this height, an occasional hang glider may obstruct your foliage view. Other landmarks include the Big Sable Point Lighthouse and Manistee National Forest.
- Peak viewing: mid-October
For a quick, mid-October drive, a stretch of Highway 100 between Herman and Washington offers a 30-mile mix of maples, ashes, oaks and hickories. If the hilly, hairpin turns on this two-lane road wear you out, pull into the nearby Katy Trail State Park for a picnic, or make reservations for dinner at Hermann’s Vintage Restaurant at Stone Hill Winery or Washington’s American Bounty.
The down-home staff and food at both restaurants provides a different kind of local color.
- Peak viewing: October 7-21
For a lush drive through the mountainous Pacific Northwest, pick up Highway 126 just east of Eugene and drive for an hour and a half along the McKenzie River to the crest of the Cascade Mountains.
This route takes you through the McKenzie River Valley, where
lava fields add a unique natural element to the bright hues of Oregon’s
canopy. Near the end of the route, you pass through a small town called
For a good night’s rest or warm meal, stop in at the Log Cabin Inn.
Related Orbitz resources:
- Portland hotels
- Boston hotels
- Kansas City hotels
- Charlotte hotels
- Rental cars
- Fall foliage & colors map