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Fall is upon us. Gather your favorite road trip tunes, pack your camera, and consider one of these majestic drives to behold the dazzling shades of fall foliage from deep crimson to electric yellow. 

If you’re not ready to travel until the pandemic wanes, file these away for your “things to look forward to” list.

U.S. 129, The Dragon in Robbinsville, North Carolina

This 11-mile famed stretch of Tapoco Road (U.S. 129) is known as The Dragon. (Credit: Visit North Carolina)

Rev up your engines for the 318 curves you’ll cruise over on this 11-mile famed stretch of Tapoco Road (U.S. 129), known as The Dragon. It’s particularly popular for motorcyclists and sports car enthusiasts and with good reason: The leaf peeping is, simply put, unreal. Vibrant pops of red and orange fight for your attention with the curves and cambers of the road. One of the best Smoky Mountain gems along the way? A jaunt to Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort to see the Tree of Shame, a shrine made entirely of motorcycle parts.

The best time to see fall foliage in the foothills of the Smokies is approximately mid-October to mid-November.

Independence Pass in Lake and Pitkin Counties, Colorado 

This part of Colorado’s Top of the Rockies scenic drive on Colorado 82 is unbeatable in fall. (Credit: Dan and Zora Avila)

From Aspen to Twin Lakes, this part of Colorado’s Top of the Rockies scenic drive on Colorado 82 is pretty unbeatable come fall. You’ll steer your way through epic mountains, breathtaking high alpine lakes, and Aspen groves, all under the bright blue canvas of a wide open sky and an abundance of reds, yellows and oranges on the cornucopia of trees you’ll encounter.

Highland Scenic Highway in Nicholas, Webster, and Pocahontas counties in West Virginia

Peak color on the Highland Scenic Highway is typically in early October.  (West Virginia Department of Tourism)

You’re in for a treat on the Highland Scenic Highway. The Monongahela National Forest are ripe with autumnal glory with shades of burnt orange, golden browns, verdant greens, bold reds and more. A tip: You’ll want to stop often along the way to check out waterfalls, botanical areas, and accessible scenic overlooks (Williams River, Big Spruce, Little Laurel, and Red Lick) to hop out of your car for a breath of fresh air and a reminder of how tiny we all are in the face of nature’s splendors. 

Peak color on the Highland Scenic Highway is typically in early October. 

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Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway (SC HWY 11) in Greenville County, South Carolina

The best time to see fall foliage in South Carolina is mid-October through mid-November.  (DiscoverSouthCarolina.com)

Waterfalls, picturesque mountain towns and plenty of scenic overlooks make this byway unbeatable when fall shows off its striking yellow, orange, and amber-red hues. 

On your drive, be sure to check out the Poinsett Bridge, South Carolina’s oldest surviving bridge (1820), which dates back to 1820 and historians believe it was designed by the same architect who was behind the Washington Monument, Robert Mills. From there, journey towards Caesars Head State Park, with spectacular views that go as far as North Carolina and Georgia from an easily-accessible overlook. If you’re up for a hike, our vote is the 420-foot Raven Cliff Falls.

If you can handle a bumpy 10-mile ride up the side of a mountain, go to the overlook at Jumping Off Rock, offering some of the best views of the Jocassee Gorges, Lake Jocassee and surrounding mountains.

The best time to see fall foliage in South Carolina is mid-October through mid-November. 

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Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, Great Basin National Park in Baker, Nevada

Visitors to the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive travel 12 miles through rolling sagebrush flats and into diverse ecosystems. (Sydney Martinez/Travel Nevada)

No autumnal adventure to the Sagebrush State is complete without cruising along this scenic byway. Here, visitors travel 12 miles through rolling sagebrush flats and into diverse ecosystems, gaining elevation up to 10,000 feet. Along with signature sagebrush, you’ll see Pinyon Pines, Curlleaf Mountain Mahogany and more before ascending to the storied, ancient Bristlecone Pines. Be sure to stop at Mather Overlook and scope out resident wildlife. Bring binoculars.

The best time to take a spin for fall color is late September through mid-to-late October.

U.S. Bike Route 23 in Hart County, Kentucky

Depending on the weather, the second and third weeks of October are typically the best times for fall color in Hart County. (Credit: Horse Cave/Hart County Tourism)

Whether you’re traveling by bike, car or horseback, this country road trip really shines in the fall. Some highlights of the route include low-traffic rural roads, trees bursting with fall color, inviting small towns, and Mammoth Cave National Park. Roads for this route were selected based on light vehicle traffic and scenic panoramas. If you’re taking on the region via bike, it’s a fairly easy ride, without any major elevation changes. 

Depending on the weather, the second and third weeks of October are typically the best times for fall color in Hart County.

Scenic Byway 12 in Garfield County, Utah

The best time for peak color is the end of September through the first three weeks of October.  (Garfield County Office of Tourism)

This route travels from West to East through Garfield County starting at U.S. Highway 89, and meanders for over 120 postcard-worthy miles to the charming tiny town of Torrey. Named an All-American byway for its sprawling views of Utah’s mountain scenery, standout experiences include driving under red rock arches of Red Canyon and Dixie National Forest, passing the evergreen Ponderosa pines, and seeing the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park with hints of yellow aspens poking through. Count this: one national park, one national forest, one national monument and two state parks will be checked off your must-see list if you complete the full drive.

The best time for peak color is the end of September through the first three weeks of October. 

Routes 31 and 80 (East or West Lake Roads, respectively) in Cooperstown, New York

The ideal time to visit for peak fall colors is late September to mid-October. (Cooperstown Getaway)

Ah, New York in the fall. Here, as you drive along the shoulder of Otsego lake, marvel at the seasonal display of golden, orange, and fire engine red leaves in “America’s Most Perfect Village.” You’ve got sparkling water, rolling hills, and the hard-to-miss Sleeping Lion Mountain (it looks like what the name implies). On the West Side, the trees make room for panoramic views of Lake Otsego, which changes color daily based on climatic conditions.

The ideal time to visit for peak fall colors is late September to mid-October.

Brockway Mountain Drive in Copper Harbor, Michigan

Peak color is between the last two weeks of Sept and the first two weeks of October.  (Keweenaw Convention & Visitors Bureau)

Take a tour along this 9.5-mile historic scenic route at the top of Michigan’s remote Keweenaw Peninsula, an annual draw for thousands who flock here to glimpse fall foliage. Erected during the Great Depression, this road is the highest paved point between the Rockies and the Alleghenies. 

Guests will be rewarded with the jaw-dropping landscapes of Lake Superior and the Keweenaw’s craggy ruggedness. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula can certainly be savored from the car, but there are also plenty of hiking and biking trails nearby for those interested in chasing some outdoor thrills.

Peak color is between the last two weeks of September and the first two weeks of October. The county’s weather is moderated by Lake Superior, so it is typically the last place in the Upper Peninsula to change over, despite being the most northern part of The Wolverine State.

Around the Peaks Loop in Flagstaff, Arizona

Peak times to see colors are October through early November. (Arizona Office of Tourism/Discover Flagstaff)

Arizona has some pretty epic topography. The Around the Peaks Loop — a 44-mile scenic drive taking visitors around Arizona’s highest mountains, The San Francisco Peaks — in Coconino National Forest is no exception. Here, you’ll soak up kaleidoscopic fall color as you wind your way along forest service roads, around the mountain, and through aspen groves. Before your ride concludes, make a pit stop to take in Lockett Meadow, which leads to the middle of an ancient volcano. 

Peak times to see colors are October through early November.

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