Trees across America have waited all year to show off their finest attire. Now, they’re calling all camera-carrying leaf-peepers to come have a look. But where will you get the best show? Here are five great American byways that offer spectacular panoramas of pigment.
Grand Mesa Scenic and Historic Byway, Colorado
There’s a gold rush going on in Colorado, and it’s got nothing to do with precious metals. Each year like clockwork the aspen trees turn from forest green to honey yellow in the Rocky Mountain high country, and the Grand Mesa Scenic and Historic Byway offers a perfect loop tour through the best of the region’s fall flair. The 63-mile route winds north from Cedaredge to the top of Grand Mesa (10,000 feet/3,050 meters), past Island Lake and into the narrow canyon of Plateau Creek. At “the alpine oasis in the sapphire sky,” you can experience the myriad colors of sunset all day long as you wiggle your way through the forest in this mountaintop retreat.
White Mountains Trail, New Hampshire
New England, more than any other corner of the United States, is at its best in the fall when a kaleidoscope of colorful leaves pop against pearly-white church steeples before gathering in piles below colonial homes and roadside stands, themselves piled high with crunchy apples and podgy pumpkins. The trip along the 100-mile White Mountains Trail, a national scenic byway, is undoubtedly one of the region's best, offering a loop tour through the forested hills past many of the area's most popular attractions. It also offers a chance to stand on top of New England at the summit of Mount Washington, the Northeastern United States' highest peak, with a height at 6,288 ft. (1,917m). From the writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne to the paintings of Thomas Cole, the White Mountains have captured the imagination of generations, and much of what they first admired remains unchanged to this day.
Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, New Mexico
The American Southwest isn’t all desert roads and tumbleweeds -- any trip along this verdant loop tour just north of Santa Fe, N.M., will prove that. Each autumn, visitors feast their eyes on amber aspens, purple cinquefoil and rusty-red cottonwoods while scanning the land for black bear, elk and eagles. Through meadow, mesa and mountaintop, this scenic byway circles New Mexico’s highest peak, looping around from Taos to Red River, Eagle Nest, Angel Fire and back again. Each tourist-friendly town along the way offers plenty of Wild West enthusiasm to keep you entertained for days.
Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia into North Carolina
The Blue Ridge Parkway connects two of the Eastern U.S.'s most fabled national parks: Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains. Widely regarded as one of the most scenic drives in America, this 469-mile (750km) stretch truly comes alive in October as the dogwoods, oak, birch and fir pop in shades of magenta, amber and tangerine. Though you'll encounter two regional hubs, Roanoke, Va., and Asheville, N.C., the vast majority of the route winds around rivers, above mountain gaps and through the dense forests of Appalachia. There's also no shortage of small-town American charm to be found in the tiny hamlets along the way.
Columbia River Highway, Oregon
Considered a modern marvel of engineering when completed in 1922, the Columbia River Highway was the first scenic drive to earn National Historic Landmark status. The route itself follows the last leg of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and was part of the early path along the Oregon Trail. The modern road was designed, in part, as a platform for viewing the natural beauty of the area, which boasts a tapestry of colors each fall that complement the region’s plunging waterfalls, deep gorges and perky wildflowers.