America's Top 7 Scenic Fall Road Trips Under $500

Admire brilliant fall foliage displays and striking landscapes on a shoestring budget.

By Liz Weiss, Staff WriterSept. 1, 2016
By Liz Weiss, Staff WriterSept. 1, 2016, at 12:46 p.m.
U.S. News & World Report

America's Top 7 Scenic Fall Road Trips Under $500

The Berkshires region of Massachusetts with Mt Greylock in the background.

The Berkshires in Massachusetts offer a quintessential autumn drive for road-trippers.(Getty Images)

With crisp temperatures, few crowds and beautiful amber and gold leaves draping parks and small towns across the country, finding a reason to plan a fall drive is easy. But with a wide range of iconic routes to pick from, choosing where to take your epic drive can be a challenge. From leaf-peeping along Virginia's unspoiled backcountry roads to crisscrossing the vineyard- and orchard-strewn Hood River County Fruit Loop in Oregon, there are plenty of little-known yet spectacular drives featuring stunning seasonal displays. For a memorable road trip that packs plenty of scenery at a low cost, enjoy these legendary drives.

Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia(Getty Images)

If you want to catch sight of changing leaves, hop on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, says Rebecca Warren, Lonely Planet's eastern U.S. destination editor. Start your journey at Front Royal, Virginia, the entryway to the Shenandoah Valley. Along the way, you'll take in striking scenery, "with a 105-mile road tracing the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains," Warren explains. Plus, there are a wealth of marked trails that are ideal for admiring the "rich jewel-toned leaves during peak season," she adds. Even better, the park offers plenty of lodging options, Warren adds, making it easy to plan a relaxed and affordable getaway. Andrew Young, Travelzoo's editorial director, North America, points to the Mark Addy Inn, which sits just off Skyline Drive, as an ideal lodging choice for price-sensitive visitors, with two-night stays starting at $199.

Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Portsmouth, New Hampshire(Getty Images)

Driving on the 18-mile route (accessible from Route 101 off Interstate 95), you'll pass through Hampton Beach at Route 1A and cruise by picturesque Odiorne Point State Park before continuing on to Route 1B, which takes you along New Hampshire's scenic coastline to Portsmouth. In downtown Portsmouth, expect a mix of cobblestone streets and colonial buildings, along with "must-sees like the John Paul Jones House, the preserved colonial buildings at Strawbery Banke and the exceptional RiverRun bookstore," says Robert Firpo-Cappiello, editor-in-chief of Budget Travel. When it comes to accommodations, Firpo-Cappiello recommends the Port Inn, which offers rooms for less than $250 nightly in September and less than $200 in October. You'll also find a variety of budget chains, including Holiday Inn and Courtyard by Marriott.

Route 100, Vermont

Green Mountains, Vermont
(Getty Images)

As the fall leaves start to turn and Mother Nature puts on a dazzling display, Route 100's picturesque byway is a sight to behold, with the gorgeous Green Mountains, meandering hills and clear lakes punctuating its landscape. Wrapping through 20 towns and covering 138 miles, the route offers ample opportunity for recreational pursuits such as boating, fishing, biking and hiking. Breaks along the way can include hitting the links, checking out Vermont's vibrant towns, such as Stowe and Weston, or exploring Gifford Woods State Park. Plus, "this autumn, leaf peepers can take in panoramic mountaintop views from Okemo Mountain Resort," Young says, noting that Travelzoo.com currently lists stays for $99 this fall, making this New England getaway easy for price-conscious road-trippers.

Natchez Trace Parkway, Tennessee and Mississippi

Natchez Trace Parkway(Getty Images)

Steeped in history and Southern charm, the Natchez Trail Parkway comes alive in the fall. The road starts roughly 17 miles southwest of Nashville, Tennessee, at Tennessee Highway 100 and spans 444 miles to Natchez, Mississippi. And "with bucolic views and zero commercialism," Warren says the Natchez Trace Parkway offers a chance to leisurely take in the gorgeous surroundings and enjoy some time in the great outdoors. "There are a wealth of interesting stops along the way, from trails through cypress swamps to local craft markets to Civil War sites," she adds. Plus, eating and lodging options in communities near the parkway are inexpensive and low-key, she adds. You can find plenty of affordable places in Nashville, with hotel deal site goSeek.com showing three-and-a-half-star properties for $180 in October.

The Berkshires, Massachusetts

(Getty Images)

New England has long been synonymous with gorgeous fall foliage and romantic cottages, and this year it's easy to plan a road trip through the region without leaving a dent in your wallet. For an unforgettable drive, hop on U.S. Route 7 for a 57-mile trip that weaves through Great Barrington and extends all the way to Lenox and Williamstown, Massachusetts. Travelzoo.com is featuring a promotion at the 1862 Seasons on Main Bed & Breakfast in Stockbridge for $229 for a two-night stay that includes free gourmet breakfast and high tea or wine in the afternoon, Young explains. Plus, the inn sits just over 2 miles east of the Norman Rockwell Museum, which showcases the world's largest original collection of Rockwell works. "New England has earned the reputation as the best region in the U.S. for leaf peeping with good reason," Warren says. "The vast swathes of pristine forests and idyllic country roads, complete with rustic covered bridges, are hard to beat," she adds. For Warren, the Berkshires are a personal favorite: "walking around the quaint shops of Great Barrington provides all of the autumnal delights that I crave after long, hot, humid summers – crisp, clean air, impossibly blue skies, the smell of roasting nuts and a cup of apple cider to warm your hands."

Harbor Country, Michigan

Harbor Country, Michigan(Getty Images)

A quick and convenient escape from the Windy City, Harbor Country in southwestern Michigan appeals to urbanites, Firpo-Cappiello says. Known for its white-sand beaches, picturesque views overlooking Lake Michigan, spectacular fall foliage and charming inns, Harbor Country's vibrant communities beckon to nearby Midwesterners, he adds. Points of interest along the 90-mile route along Interstate 94 and Route 12 (also known as the Red Arrow Highway) include Warren Dunes State Park, trendy art galleries and notable wineries like Tabor Hill. Firpo-Cappiello points to the Lakeside Inn for affordable accommodations, with rooms available for under $200 a night.

Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

Columbia River Gorge, Oregon(Getty Images)

If you're yearning for a quick and affordable escape from Portland, Oregon, head about 20 miles east to the Columbia River Gorge. Start on the west side of the gorge, accessible from Interstate 84, and wind your way past inspiring lookouts until you reach Hood River. Standout spots include Vista House at Crown Point, which offers a dramatic view of the Columbia River, and the 611-foot Multnomah Falls. "Taking a drive on the whimsically named Fruit Loop steers you through 35 miles of orchards, vineyards, forests and farmland," Firpo-Cappiello explains. As you snake along this route in Hood River, stopping at fresh farm stands and wineries along the way, you'll catch sight of majestic Mount Hood and Mount Adams in the backdrop, Firpo-Cappiello adds. And with an abundance of budget-friendly bed-and-breakfasts to pick from, it's easy to pull off an inexpensive trip. He points to Seven Oaks Bed & Breakfast in Hood River as an enticing lodging choice, with rooms available for $145 a night.

Liz Weiss, Staff Writer

Liz Weiss is a senior editor at U.S. News & World Report. With more than six years of ...  Read more

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