By Catherine Gregory
Autumn is here, which means it’s time for dazzling displays of colorful fall foliage. You can always settle for sights in the city, but September and October are great months for a leaf-peeping road trip along gorgeous scenic routes. Here are some of the country’s best two-lane vistas for soaking in the season’s changing palette of fall colors.
The Berkshires, Massachusetts
Northeast urbanites consider the easily accessible Berkshires in Western Massachusetts an essential back-to-nature escape. Winding mountain roads with world-class foliage viewing connect mountain hamlets chock-full of art and culture. Spend the weekend at a spa, or go antiquing or gallery hopping amidst a glorious forested backdrop. Check out http://www.bywayswestmass.com for seven state-designated scenic byways offering endless miles of breathtaking fall color.
When to go: The Berkshires begin to brighten up in late September, peaking during Columbus Day weekend in mid-October.
The Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina
With 469 miles traversing five major mountain ranges through Virginia and North Carolina, and more than a hundred species of trees, you can’t go wrong with a drive along any section of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Designated a National Byway, this iconic drive explodes in flames of color from late September through the month of October.
When to go: Leaves at higher elevations peak earlier, and the timing varies year to year, depending on seasonal weather patterns. Check out http://www.blueridgeparkway.org/v.php?pg=286 to plan the best time and destination for your Blue Ridge Parkway road trip.
Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, New Mexico
This 83-mile loop out of Taos showcases aspen and cottonwood trees in flaming hues among the pines, providing a colorful backdrop for the arid southwestern mountain vistas. Winding through mountain valleys, mesas and national forest, the scenic byway encircles 13,161-foot Wheeler Peak, New Mexico’s highest point. The loop passes through three ski areas and Eagle’s Nest State Park, a 2,400-acre lake that offers trout and kokanee salmon fishing, and a chance at spotting wildlife including eagles, elk, deer and bear.
When to go: At higher elevations, aspen and cottonwoods start to turn as early as mid-September. Weather plays a pivotal role in determining how vibrant fall colors will be; so check ahead to make sure you find some gold in them there hills.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
The high-elevation 48-mile drive from Estes Park to Granby via Trail Ridge road is a gorgeous way to experience the majestic Colorado Rockies and Continental Divide before the snow closes the road for the winter season. Beginning in September, this Rocky Mountain National Park byway becomes jaw-dropping postcard material, with its golden aspens popping against the blue sky, alpine forests and snow-capped peaks.
When to go: Seasonal weather patterns impact when aspens will peak; so call the park office before planning your trip: 970-586-1206. While there, check out the colorful views along Old Fall River Road and Bear Lake Road too. Park entrance fee is required.
Upper Peninsula, Michigan
With 20 forested state parks and 7 million acres of hardwood forests, including ash, aspen, beech, birch, maple, oak, sycamore and tamarack, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is a spectacular fall getaway not to miss. The pristine shores of the Great Lakes, picturesque historic lighthouses, mirror-calm inland lakes and roaring waterfalls enhance the explosion of fall colors across the U.P. Choose from ten designated fall tour routes here: http://www.uptravel.com/fall-color-routes-55.
When to go: The peak fall color season is typically the last week of September and the first two weeks of October.
Mt. Hood Scenic Loop, Oregon
Though the Northwest is known for its evergreens, the abundant firs, ferns and waterfalls provide a lush setting for a stunning show of color from deciduous trees found along the Mt. Hood Scenic Loop. The 146-mile drive combines Mt. Hood Scenic Byway with the historic Columbia River Highway scenic area and has huge stands of oak, red alder, maple, cottonwood and the coniferous western larch.
When to go: Trees peak in color from late September to mid-October.