7 scenic drives across the US for fall 2022

(CNN) — The United States is a car-obsessed nation, and a road trip feels like a natural right to many.

With gas prices slipping from their dizzying early summer highs and other people wary of taking their chances with the air travel system, the road trip opportunities are looking pretty darn good this fall.

In no particular order, here are seven amazing scenic drives scattered across the continental United States where you can enjoy the fall colors and more. Some are known; others are a bit under the radar.

Blue Ridge Parkway: Virginia and North Carolina

This magnificent winding road meanders through the Blue Ridge Mountains. It begins in Virginia and continues southwest into North Carolina, and the total length is 469 miles (755 kilometers).

• Admission is free and open 24 hours a day, except when parts are closed due to weather or landslides.

• It is devoid of any commercial clutter – no billboards or shops in sight. Just cars, the road and nature.

• You don’t have to do the whole thing unless you want a really big trip; just carve out a portion and go with it.

A lookout on the Blue Ridge Parkway offers scenic fall views near Asheville, North Carolina.

A lookout on the Blue Ridge Parkway offers scenic fall views near Asheville, North Carolina.

Craig Zerbe/Adobe Stock

Peak to Peak Scenic Byway: Colorado

In the high altitudes of the Centennial State, it’s hard to go wrong with breathtaking scenery. It has 26 scenic byways, half of which have a national designation.
However, you can only take one at a time. Why not start with Peak to Peak Scenic Byway? Its 55-mile (89-kilometer) road offers unforgettable views of the Continental Divide, and it’s all less than an hour from urban hubs Denver or Boulder.

And at a number of natural sites along the way, you may spend more time out of your vehicle than in it:

• Rocky Mountain National Park: Enjoy meadows, lakes and more on 300 miles of hiking trails – and maybe spot a moose or bear in the distance.

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Covered Bridges Scenic Byway: Iowa

America’s heartland is sometimes overlooked, but it also has its fair share of beautiful drives.

Made famous by the 1992 novel The Bridges of Madison County and the subsequent 1995 film, its 82-mile route focuses not only on covered bridges, but also scenic natural, historical and cultural sites, said O’Riley.

Get out of the car and stretch your legs? In Winterset there is a birthplace and museum dedicated to Marion Robert Morrison – that’s the actor John Wayne for you and me pilgrims.

Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway: Oregon

In central Oregon, the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway “offers a unique vista of iridescent red vine maples alongside black lava,” according to Allison Keeney, manager of global communications at Travel Oregon.

Its 66 miles (106 kilometers) pass by several lakes in the central Cascade Mountains.

“This route is known not only for the scenery it offers, but for the sheer number of adventures to be found along the way,” said Kenney.

“Those who want to get up close and personal with the trees as their leaves turn from green to yellow and orange should hop out of the car and enjoy the views of Sparks Lake or the hiking opportunities in the Three Sisters Wilderness.”

She said colors are at their most vibrant there in mid-October, but because of the hot, dry summer, they could peak earlier this year.

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Natchez Trace Parkway: Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee

Tennessee Highway 96 as seen from the Double Arch Bridge on the Natchez Trace Parkway near the town of Franklin.

Tennessee Highway 96 as seen from the Double Arch Bridge on the Natchez Trace Parkway near the town of Franklin.

marekuliasz/iStockphoto/Getty Images

Spanning 444 miles (715 kilometers) and three states, the Natchez Trace Parkway roughly follows the “Old Natchez Trace,” a historic travel corridor used by Native Americans and later European settlers.

Take the entire Parkway and enjoy two very different cities at the start and end points. Little Natchez, Mississippi is known for its historic homes overlooking the Mississippi River. The metropolitan city of Nashville has evolved from a country music haven into a diverse entertainment destination.

In Between: An absolutely beautiful drive that transitions from the coastal plains of the Deep South to much hillier terrain. Lace color appears earliest in Tennessee (usually late October to early November). But the southernmost parts of the trail in Mississippi can peak well into late November.
Do you like cycling? The Parkway is popular with cyclists in the fall. Click here for advice before you pedal.

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Hocking Hills Scenic Byway: Ohio

Hey oh great Ohio for your 25 miles (40 kilometers) beautiful road southeast of Columbus.

The Hocking Hills Scenic Byway is another AAA-certified route for people who want to see fall foliage and have a nice, relaxing afternoon drive.
There are seven major trails ranging from easy to difficult. The Whispering Cave Trail features the “swinging” Hemlock Bridge and the region’s second largest cave with a 105-foot seasonal waterfall.
About 30 miles away is the small town of Athens, which hosts a farmers’ market and an art market every Saturday, as well as numerous special events this fall.

Rangeley Lakes Scenic Byway: Maine

The Rangeley Lake Scenic Byway is an excellent fall Maine drive with lots of pretty spots.

The Rangeley Lake Scenic Byway is an excellent fall Maine drive with lots of pretty spots.

Dilip Patel/Adobe Stock

AAA gives a warm endorsement to this approximately 50-mile (80-kilometer) route in inland Maine—near the New Hampshire/Canada border.

The elevation of land on Route 17 “is the focal point of the route,” according to Explore Maine, “with breathtaking views” of lakes and mountains. The website also touts the excellent view of the fall foliage on the side road. Generally, peak color in this part of Maine comes between October 6th and 13th.
AAA also likes the nearby Saddleback Ski Area, where activities like mountain biking can be enjoyed before the ski season begins.

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