There’s never a bad time of the year to head out on the wide open road for a trip in your car. Any season is perfectly fine, and only requires a different set of preparations and adjustments to make to ensure the trip goes smoothly and enjoyably. But if had to pick one time of year that’s the most beautiful, then autumn is definitely it. The leaves are changing color, there’s a smoky crispness to the air, and cities and towns really put forth extra effort in making their places look nice. Although the possibilities of where to go are endless in this vast country, we’ve narrowed things down to find the top three road trips for you to take.
Coastal New England
This road trip is one of the most gorgeous you can take, with stately trees that have leaves changing into fiery reds, glowing oranges, and vivid yellows. People from all over the world travel to New England in the fall to take in the breathtaking scenery that looks like a painting come to life each year. But instead of driving down just to look at the leaves, spread out your trip a bit and really explore the New England towns and cities.
Boston should definitely be on your agenda, as the campuses of Harvard and MIT (technically in Cambridge, but they’re just on the other side of the Charles River), as their statuesque buildings look gorgeous covered in ivy and fall foliage. College students are just returning for a new semester, so the town will really have a spark and excitement to it. After that, drive down to Gloucester, Mass. and take in one of New England’s oldest towns. It’s a mixture of artistic and historic sites, such as the Gloucester Maritime Heritage Center and Rock Neck Art Colony.
Next, head on down to New Haven, Connecticut where Yale is. You’ll get a chance to enjoy the manmade beauty of another Ivy League school, situated in a leafy paradise that’ll make your jaw drop. It’s also a great place to fill up on freshly caught seafood, but save room in your stomach for old-world pub grub in Newport, Rhode Island. Finally, cap off your trip in Mystic, Connecticut, making sure to book a hotel with a prime view of the wharf from your window.
Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway, South Carolina
At about 130 miles, not including side trips, this road trip can be as compact or extended as you want. However, once you see the gorgeous fall foliage, thundering waterfalls, and rocky Appalachians, it’ll be almost impossible to tear yourself away and go back home. Start your trip off at the intersection just off Interstate 85 in southern Oconee County, which is less than a mile away from the Georgia and South Carolina borders, and wind your way northeast.
As you drive on Highway 11, which roughly parallels I-85, you’ll be leisurely curving around orchards and historic battlefields, plus countless forests and lakes. But the best part is the more than 50 waterfalls you’ll pass on your route. You don’t have to stop at all of them, but make a point to at least visit Raven Cliff Falls. At 400 feet with water that rushes through a narrow gorge, it belongs to a small group of waterfalls that are among the east region’s tallest.
No trip would be complete without packing a lunch for any of the state parks you’ll cross, such as Devils Fork, Keowee-Toxaway Park, Table Park, and Caesar State Parks. Just make sure you’ve packed enough water, and go exploring on any of the dozens of hiking trails available.
National Parks of Utah
There are five national parks in Utah, which seems like it’s an easy to-do list for your next road trip. But the seemingly small number in no way describes the majestic natural beauty you’ll encounter when you head to points west. The five parks measure about 400 miles for a single trip, but you’ll definitely want to spread it out longer than that.
Your best bet is to start in Zion National Park in mid to late October while the weather is still pleasant, and a hike through The Narrows along the Virgin River’s north fork is a great opener. Once you’ve explored every nook and cranny there, the next stop is only 77 miles — and 4,000 feet up — in Bryce Canyon National Park. There, you’ll see incredibly tall and skinny trees, flanked by sherbet-colored rock.
Capitol Reef and Canyondlands National Parks offer great hiking trails and beautiful wilderness, but it’s Arches National Park that’ll really cap off your road trip in a fantastic way. By far, the most iconic landmark is Delicate Arch, which is featured on almost every bit of tourist info printed for Utah, making it the unofficial state symbol. But you’ll also want to make time to visit Dead Horse Point State Park, and re-enact Thelma and Louise’s famous trip down 2,000 feet into the Colorado River.