Besides pumpkin spice lattes, there’s arguably no more celebrated part of autumn than the changing leaves. To enjoy them best, harken back to the carefree road trips of summer, and hit the road to wind through mountains and by lakes for the best foliage the season has to offer. Be prepared to ooh and ah around every curve, and let yourself get lost in the fiery reds, oranges, and yellows that hallmark this time of year.
Laurentian Mountains, Quebec
An autumn drive through Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains is a singular study in color. Maples, both sugar and red, American beech, and yellow birch trees form a symphony of every shade from sunshine yellow to deepest maroon. Travel 90 miles south and you’ll hit Montreal to add a side of city sophistication to your jaunt through nature.
Upper Peninsula, MI
Who says the coast is just for summertime? In Michigan, the seaside really comes alive in the fall, when the brilliant colors of the over 20 forested state parks in the Upper Peninsula put on a show. Backdropped against and reflected by the azure waters, this study in contrasts is a quintessential display of autumn’s magic.
Great Smoky Mountains, NC & TN
Once given the moniker of “the land of blue mist” by the Cherokees, this range has an enchantment all its own. Enter the park through the remote Cataloochee Valley, reached via a winding mountain road off I-40, for the most rewarding views of the 6,000-foot peaks and a glimpse into the park’s peaceful history. With over 100 species of native trees, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more multifaceted display of autumn’s glory in all its shades.
Appalachian Range Route, New Brunswick
Over 172 miles of jaw-dropping tree-covered mountains and valleys are tucked into New Brunswick away from the tourist hordes. For the most arresting views, get out of the car and summit Mount Carleton on foot where the 360-degree panorama is sure to leave you breathless. Cap off your drive with a stop at the farmers’ market (through September) in Perth-Andover to fuel up again on local treats.
Lake of the Ozarks, MO
Though you might associate the lake with summertime boat rides, it becomes even more enchanting when the leaves erupt in reds and yellows come fall. There are still plenty of autumnal outdoor activities to enjoy on stretch breaks, from hiking to biking to wine tasting, if you’re taking the definition of outdoor activities a little more broadly. If you just don’t want to leave when you’re done driving, pick from the over 200 campsites in Lake of the Ozarks State Park (Missouri’s biggest) and get comfortable.