10 Best East Coast Road Trips for Fall Colors

Looking to plan a Fall Road Trip?

Consider one of these East Coast Road Trips for Fall Colors!

Whether you have a whole week to explore or just a long weekend, the changing leaves, crisp air, and fewer crowds make the East Coast the ideal destination for a road trip.

The East Coast, a treasure trove of scenic drives, historic sites, outdoor adventures, and cultural festivals, awaits your exploration.

Best East Coast Road Trips in the Fall: A Week-Long Journey

For a week-long trip, start in Boston and drive down the coast to Cape Cod, then head inland to the White Mountains in New Hampshire, and finally end in the charming town of Bar Harbor, Maine.

This route, spanning approximately 500 miles, promises diverse landscapes and attractions to satisfy your adventurous spirit. You can read more about the places listed above below!

Graphic showing pages to a Free 'Boredom Buster' Ebook - Tips for Turning Long Drives into Fun, Engaging Journeys.

New England Road Trip: The Ultimate Fall Foliage Destinations

The East Coast, a canvas of North America's most spectacular fall scenery, is a haven for leaf-peepers and road trip enthusiasts.

From the vibrant small towns of New England to the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains, the autumn months transform the landscape into a breathtaking masterpiece, inspiring awe and wonder.

Embark on an adventure to New Hampshire's White Mountains, a top destination for fall foliage. The Kancamagus Highway, a popular scenic drive, offers a thrilling journey with its breathtaking views of the fall colors.

The Blue Ridge Parkway, running through North Carolina and Virginia, is another must-see spot for fall foliage. If you're seeking coastal views, Cape Cod and the barrier islands of South Carolina are popular destinations.

For those craving the great outdoors, Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are the perfect starting points for fall colors.

This guide will outline the best East Coast road trips to experience the vibrant hues of the fall season, complete with recommended stops, attractions, and insider tips.

If you want to explore areas beyond the East Coast check out some Midwest Fall Color road trip ideas!

A picturesque autumnal scene of a curving highway surrounded by dense forests showcasing a vibrant display of fall foliage in shades of orange, yellow, and red. The road stretches into the distance, bordered by guardrails, with a small vehicle visible on the road, enhancing the scenic beauty of the rural landscape.

Best East Coast Road Trips in the Fall

Kancamagus Highway, White Mountains, New Hampshire

The Kancamagus Highway, located in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, is a must-see scenic byway that winds through the breathtaking White Mountain National Forest. 

This highway is renowned for its stunning vistas and vibrant fall foliage, making it a favorite destination for autumn travelers.

The best time to visit for peak foliage is from late September to mid-October when the trees are ablaze with brilliant shades of red, orange, and yellow. 

Some of the best spots to visit along this route include:

  • Sabbaday Falls is a picturesque waterfall perfect for a short hike
  • Rocky Gorge Scenic Area, where you can enjoy a serene walk and beautiful river views
  • Mount Washington Auto Road offers an exhilarating drive up the highest peak in the Northeastern United States
A scenic view of the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire during fall. The road is flanked by trees in full autumn colors, with leaves turning shades of orange, yellow, and red. The overcast sky adds a moody atmosphere to the vibrant foliage.

Mohawk Trail, Western Massachusetts

Western Massachusetts is home to the Mohawk Trail. This historic route winds through the stunning Berkshire Mountains, offering a journey rich in natural beauty and cultural charm. 

This scenic drive is perfect for those who appreciate picturesque small towns and quaint villages, each with unique attractions and an inviting atmosphere.

Some of the popular destinations to visit along this route include:

  • Shelburne Falls, known for its charming shops and eateries, 
  • Bridge of Flowers, a seasonal garden that spans the Deerfield River. 
  • Mohawk Trail State Forest provides an opportunity to immerse yourself in the region's lush woodlands, with plenty of hiking trails and scenic spots to enjoy
A historic bridge covered with lush greenery crosses a calm river, with a backdrop of rolling hills adorned in fall foliage. The scene is set under a bright blue sky with scattered clouds, enhancing the beauty of the autumn landscape.
Bridge of Flowers” by ToddC4176 (talk) is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor, Maine

Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor in Maine offer a perfect blend of coastal scenery and stunning fall foliage, making them prime destinations for autumn road trips. 

The Park Loop Road provides access to some of the most breathtaking panoramic views, especially from the summit of Cadillac Mountain, where you can witness the first sunrise in the United States. 

Beyond the park's natural beauty, the nearby town of Bar Harbor is a charming place to explore. It offers a delightful mix of local shops, galleries, and seafood restaurants.

If you enjoy seafood, you can savor the freshest local seafood while enjoying the quaint coastal ambiance.

Here is a 3-day Maine National Park Itinerary if you want some ideas!

This image captures a serene sunrise in Acadia National Park, with the sun's soft light piercing through misty clouds over a landscape rich with evergreens and the early signs of autumn. The rugged, rocky foreground leads to a panoramic view of rolling hills and a tranquil lake, reflecting the dawn's early glow, highlighting the park's diverse and stunning ecosystem.

Lake Champlain Scenic Byway, Vermont, and Upstate New York

The Lake Champlain Scenic Byway, stretching through Vermont and Upstate New York, offers a picturesque drive along the shores of the stunning Lake Champlain. 

This scenic route provides breathtaking views of the lake and the surrounding landscapes, making it an ideal journey for fall foliage enthusiasts. 

As you drive, you can explore the majestic Adirondack Mountains and the charming town of Lake Placid, known for its Olympic history and outdoor activities.

Along the way, there are numerous historic sites, farms, and quaint villages to visit, each offering a glimpse into the region's rich heritage and vibrant community life. 

Notable stops include:

  • Shelburne Museum, which houses an impressive collection of art and Americana
  • Burlington Waterfront is perfect for a relaxing stroll with beautiful lake views
  • Ausable Chasm is often called the “Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks,” where you can enjoy thrilling hikes and scenic vistas. 

This scenic byway promises a memorable road trip filled with natural beauty, cultural experiences, and historic charm. If you visit Lake Placid, visit the Lake Placid Olympic Museum!

A young girl with long blonde hair stands on a wooden viewing platform, looking through a coin-operated binocular towards a distant waterfall and a tall iron bridge spanning a lush, forested gorge. The scene captures the beauty of nature and the curiosity of exploration.
Sightseeing – Rainbow Falls – Ausable Chasm” by vwcampin is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina

The Blue Ridge Parkway, spanning Virginia and North Carolina, is one of the most iconic scenic drives in the United States. 

This picturesque route winds through the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, offering travelers stunning vistas, lush forests, and a serene escape into nature.

During the fall, the weather can be quite variable, with temperatures ranging from cool to mild and occasional rain showers. Packing layers and being prepared for changing weather conditions is a good idea. 

Along the parkway, there are several popular spots to explore:

  • Mabry Mill, one of the most photographed spots on the parkway, provides a glimpse into the region's rural history with its historic gristmill and blacksmith shop. 
  • The Peaks of Otter area offers hiking trails, a serene lake, and breathtaking mountain views, making it a perfect spot for a relaxing break. 
  • Further south, Linville Falls showcases the beauty of cascading waterfalls and rugged landscapes, accessible via scenic hiking trails. 

Whether seeking panoramic mountain views or exploring charming historical sites, the Blue Ridge Parkway delivers an unforgettable fall road trip experience.

A stunning view of a vast, mountainous landscape under a dramatic sky, with rays of sunlight breaking through the clouds and illuminating the ridges and valleys below. The foreground features autumn foliage, adding a touch of color to the serene scene.
Pisgah Inn Sun Rays (Blue Ridge Parkway)” by @CarShowShooter is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park in Virginia is a popular destination for a fall road trip. It is renowned for its breathtaking vistas and outdoor adventures. 

Driving along Skyline Drive, which runs the length of the park, offers stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, incredibly vibrant with fall foliage. 

If you enjoy hiking, a portion of the iconic Appalachian Trail passes through the park, providing access to beautiful overlooks and serene forest paths. 

Beyond the natural beauty, nearby historic towns like Luray and Charlottesville add cultural and historical depth to the trip. 

You can explore the famous Luray Caverns in Luray, while Charlottesville offers a rich history and charming streets. It is home to the University of Virginia and Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's historic estate. 

Combining scenic drives, outdoor activities, and historical exploration, Shenandoah National Park is a perfect fall getaway.

A panoramic view of a serene prairie landscape during sunset, featuring a clear sky with a gradient from light to dark blue. The fields are painted in warm autumn colors, and a few deer can be seen grazing in the foreground, adding a touch of wildlife
Morning at Big Meadows, Shenandoah National Park” by andrew c mace is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, and North Carolina

Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers a picturesque fall road trip with diverse landscapes and rich natural beauty. 

Driving through the park on the Newfound Gap Road provides stunning views of the Smoky Mountains, especially spectacular during the fall foliage season. 

Cades Cove and the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail are two must-see areas within the park for beautiful colors. Cades Cove is a lush valley surrounded by mountains, known for its wildlife viewing, historic buildings, and scenic loop road.

The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail offers a more intimate experience with its winding path through dense forests, past waterfalls, and rushing streams.

For a blend of nature and entertainment, consider stopping in the nearby towns of Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge. Check out this 3-day Gatlinburg Itinerary for some ideas for your trip!

Gatlinburg is a charming mountain town with a variety of shops, restaurants, and attractions, including the Gatlinburg SkyLift Park and the Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies. 

Pigeon Forge, just a short drive away, is home to Dollywood, a famous theme park with numerous entertainment venues, dining options, and family-friendly activities. 

These destinations create a perfect combination of scenic beauty, outdoor adventure, and local entertainment for an unforgettable fall road trip. Be sure to consider a few of the scenic drives through the Smoky Mountains!

A forested landscape at sunset, with layers of mountains fading into the distance. The foreground features trees adorned in the vibrant oranges and reds typical of a fall foliage display.
Smoky Mountain Sunset” by suswar is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Other Notable Fall Foliage Road Trips

Hudson Valley, New York

The Hudson Valley in New York is an ideal destination for a fall road trip. Located about 2 hours north of New York City, it offers scenic drives, historic sites, and charming towns. 

As you drive along the Hudson River, you'll be treated to amazing views of the river and vibrant fall foliage. The landscape is a sea of reds, oranges, and yellows. 

The region is rich in history and has numerous historic sites to explore. We loved the Vanderbilt Mansion and Franklin D. Roosevelt's home. You can also consider visiting the iconic West Point Military Academy.

As you journey through this picturesque region, you'll encounter charming towns like Rhinebeck and Woodstock, each brimming with unique shops, galleries, and eateries.

Rhinebeck is known for its historic architecture and vibrant arts scene, while Woodstock offers a bohemian atmosphere and a rich musical heritage.

In addition to the delightful towns, the Hudson Valley provides ample opportunities for outdoor exploration. The nearby Catskill Mountains are perfect for hiking, leaf-peeping, and enjoying the crisp autumn air. 

For a taste of local flavors, the Shawangunk Wine Trail features a collection of wineries and vineyards where you can sample various wines surrounded by beautiful fall scenery.

Combining scenic drives, historic sites, quaint towns, and outdoor adventures, the Hudson Valley promises a memorable and enriching fall road trip experience.

A scenic view of a river winding through a lush, green landscape, surrounded by rolling hills and trees showing hints of autumn colors. The sky is clear with a soft blue hue, enhancing the tranquil and picturesque nature of the scene.
Bear Mountain NY – Hudson River Valley” by Daniel Mennerich is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is a perfect place for a fall road trip. The area offers a unique blend of coastal scenery and vibrant fall colors.

As you drive through this picturesque peninsula, you'll be treated to stunning ocean views and the beautiful hues of autumn foliage.

Cape Cod is famous for its historic lighthouses, pristine beaches, and charming coastal towns.

A visit to Provincetown at the northern tip is a must. This lively town boasts a rich arts scene, diverse dining options, and the iconic Pilgrim Monument.

Chatham, located on the “elbow” of the Cape, offers a quaint downtown area with boutique shops, cozy cafes, and the picturesque Chatham Lighthouse. 

Meanwhile, Sandwich, one of the oldest towns in the United States, provides a glimpse into colonial history with its historic homes, museums, and the serene Sandwich Boardwalk.

Exploring Cape Cod in the fall allows you to enjoy its natural beauty without the summer crowds. It's a perfect time to visit lighthouses, stroll along uncrowded beaches, and soak in the charm of its quaint towns.

Whether admiring the coastal views or discovering local history, Cape Cod offers a relaxing and scenic fall getaway.

A vibrant autumn scene with a marshland displaying rich orange and golden hues. The water meanders through the marsh, reflecting the surrounding fall foliage. Trees in the background are adorned with various shades of red, orange, and yellow, under a cloudy blue sky.
Cape Cod Fall foliage” by slack12 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Covered Bridges of New Hampshire and Vermont

Exploring the covered bridges of New Hampshire and Vermont offers a picturesque and historic fall road trip experience.

These charming structures, often surrounded by vibrant autumn foliage, provide a glimpse into the region's past and are perfect for a scenic drive.

Start your journey along routes that showcase the best of these historic covered bridges.

In New Hampshire, the Kancamagus Highway is a must-see! The road winds through the White Mountain National Forest and offers stunning views of fall colors along with several notable bridges.

As you continue, visit the Cornish-Windsor Covered Bridge. This bridge is the longest wooden covered bridge in the United States. It spans the Connecticut River between New Hampshire and Vermont.

While exploring the covered bridges, visit the small towns and state parks along the way. Each town has its unique charm, with local shops, cafes, and historical sites.

State parks offer opportunities for hiking, picnicking, and enjoying the natural beauty of the region.

Whether photographing the bridges, wandering through quaint towns, or taking in the fall scenery, the covered bridges of New Hampshire and Vermont provide a memorable and scenic road trip experience.

A historic wooden covered bridge marked "Swiftwater 1849" with "One Lane Bridge" signage, surrounded by autumn foliage. The structure, nestled in a forested area, spans over a road with a nearby sign indicating a weight limit of 3 tons for passenger cars only.

Frequently Asked Questions: Best East Coast Road Trips in the Fall

When is the peak time to experience fall colors on the East Coast?

Generally, the peak time for fall foliage is in late September through October. Remember that the timing can be affected by temperature, rainfall, and elevation.

Which New England states offer the most picturesque fall road trips?

All New England states offer beautiful fall road trips, but some of the most picturesque routes are in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. These states are known for their stunning fall foliage and charming small towns, making them perfect for a scenic road trip.

Autumn's palette is on full display at Acadia National Park, with a glassy body of water reflecting the vibrant foliage and soft sky. The surrounding forest transitions from deep greens to warm yellows, oranges, and reds, providing a natural gradient that leads to the distant rounded mountains under a serene sky. This peaceful scene captures the serene beauty of Maine in the fall.

Can you suggest a 5-day itinerary for a fall road trip in New England?

A great itinerary might include driving through Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.

Start in Burlington, Vermont, and drive through the Green Mountains on Route 100. Then, head to New Hampshire and drive the Kancamagus Highway.

Finally, end your trip to Maine and explore Acadia National Park and the charming coastal towns.

What are the best destinations for couples taking an East Coast road trip in the fall?

If you're planning a romantic fall road trip on the East Coast, many destinations are perfect for couples.

Some of the best options include Cape Cod in Massachusetts, the Finger Lakes in New York, and the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.

These areas offer beautiful scenery, charming towns, and plenty of opportunities for cozying up with your significant other.

A vibrant forest in peak fall colors, showcasing an array of red, orange, and yellow foliage. The misty background adds a serene and picturesque atmosphere to the autumn landscape.
Finger Lakes Fall Colors” by visit~fingerlakes is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Final Thoughts: Best East Coast Road Trips in the Fall

Fall is the perfect time for an East Coast road trip. The vibrant foliage is at its peak, and the comfortable weather makes driving a pleasure.

Plus, with fewer tourists, you can take your time and enjoy the sights at your own pace. So pack your bags and get ready for an unforgettable fall vacation.

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