Fall brings that bite in the weather, that crisp clarity in the air; it's also a reminder that the long dark days of winter are almost upon us. But before then, we get a bright and glorious -- albeit short -- spurt of color: trees topped in fiery shades of red, yellow and orange. But you better move fast, or else you'll miss out on this season's brilliant array of color. Here are six of the best places to view fall's color palette -- and don't let the brisk breeze deter you; all of these leafy escapes can be enjoyed from the warmth and safety of your car. So, don your hoodies, grab your thermos of hot cocoa and get in your car and drive.
[See a photo recap of the Best Fall Drives]
Route: Wilmington, Vermont to Mt. Mansfield, Vermont
Total Miles: About 152
This northeastern state is known for several reasons, notably its cheese and its leaves. This scenic route takes drivers through foliage heaven in Vermont. Start your engines in the quaint town of Wilmington -- which lies on the eastern edge of the Green Mountain National Park -- and meander along Rt. 100 until you reach the charming town of Stowe. From there, hop on northbound Rt. 108 to Mt. Mansfield State Park, where the leafy panorama is reportedly dazzling this time of year. Amongst the hues in your rear view mirror are yellow alder, red maple, orange oaks and evergreen spruce. Along the way, you can stop in little towns like Weston or Plymouth Notch, each complete with country shops, restaurants and, of course, their fair share of turning trees. Near the end of your Vermont tour, you might want to pause in Moss Glen Falls, where a short leaf-canopied hike will lead you to a 125-foot waterfall.
Route: I-87 to I-86
Total Miles: About 306 (one way)
New Yorkers wanting to trade in their gray skyscrapers for tree trunks spilling with eye-popping reds, oranges and yellows can head to Lake Placid in the Adirondack High Peaks. From the Big City, drivers can head straight up I-87 until they reach Lake Placid. From there, drivers should take I-86 northeast and prepare for a breathtaking scene: maple, beech and birch trees saturated in color. This is a long drive -- you're closer to Montreal than Manhattan -- so you might want to stay overnight in one of Lake Placid's inns, cottages or chalets. For a foliage tour that's closer to the City That Never Sleeps, the Catskills area also provides some decent eye candy.
Route: Crested Butte, Colorado through Gunnison National Forest, and back again
Total Miles: About 62
In Colorado, it's all about the gold -- gold trees, that is. In autumn, the sky-high aspens turn a rich sunny color, and one of the best ways to view them is on the gravel road known as Kebler Pass. From resort town, Crested Butte, travel west on Kebler Pass (also called Country Road 12) through the Gunnison National Forest: You'll be surrounded on all sides by waifish aspens wearing bright tawny plumes. Drive until you reach the intersection of Rt. 133; and while you can travel northward and up through Paonia State Park, we suggest you turn around and enjoy Kebler Pass again. After the drive, spend some time in Crested Butte, a quaint town with cozy hotels, restaurants and shops.
Route: Bessemer, Mich. to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park (the long way around)
Total Miles: About 131 (174 back to Bessemer)
Yellow aspens and red maples line the roadways of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. And according to Western UP, about 90 percent of this area is forest covered -- so your eyes will be in for quite a feast. Another great thing about driving these roads are the solace you'll find: Toto, you're not in the million-people-per-square-inch East Coast -- you're in northern Michigan. From Bessemer, Mich., take Rt. 2 east to Watersmeet Township, then travel north on Rt. 45 to Ontonagon, where you'll drive along the coast of the magnificent Lake Superior to reach Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park on State Hwy 64. Once inside, a riot of color awaits, hovering above bluffs, floating down into waterfalls and skirting the roadways. To get the full Michigan experience, and indulge in a glass of local cider.
Route: Shenandoah National Park, Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina
Total Miles: About 469
Leaf Peak: Check the Weather Channel's Fall Foliage map.
As you journey along the 75-year-old Blue Ridge Parkway, you'll be communing with nature's kaleidoscope of colors. And if you drive the entire thing, you'll also reach the East Coast's peak at mile marker 455. Head southwest along the gently curving parkway to North Carolina's Mount Mitchell State Park, and along the way, view the reds, golds and oranges of the morphing oak trees. When the mood strikes, flick on your turn signal and pull off at one of the parkway's overlooks. At some places, you'll ascend altitudes of 4,000, 5,000 and even 6,000 feet. But that's not all: You'll also enjoy idyllic views of rolling hills, velvet meadows and quaint towns like Ashville, N.C. and Charlottesville, Va., which also make for good overnight stops. The entire 469-mile parkway runs from the edge of the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. To plot out your own individualized trip, you can visit the Blue Ridge Parkway's website.
Route: Portland, Ore., along the Columbia River, through Mount Hood National Forest, and back
Total Miles: About 161
The maple and cottonwood trees blaze along the Historic Columbia River Highway in Oregon. But the fiery trees aren't the only reason to buckle up and drive: This highway runs alongside the Columbia River where it knifes through the Cascade Range. Through your windshield, you'll see a gushing river, steep cliffs, tumbling waterfalls, not to mention some jaw-dropping foliage. From Portland, Ore., take I-84 to Troutdale. From there, you'll hop on the Columbia River Highway until it intersects State Rt. 35. Enjoy a leisurely drive through the Mount Hood National Forest -- home to hundreds of hiking trails -- and head back to Portland on Rt. 26 (also known as the Mt. Hood Highway). After a long day of driving enjoy craft beers, a local coffee shop or two or a good book at the famous Powell's City of Books before luxuriating in a peaceful night's sleep in one of Portland's many hotels.
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