7 Incredible Places to See Fall Foliage Close to Home

Wendy Worrall Redal by Wendy Worrall Redal | October 16th, 2008 | 24 Comments
topic: Eco Travel, Green Living

Autumn Leaves“In the great silence of my favorite month, October (the red of maples, the bronze of oaks, a clear-yellow leaf here and there on birches), I celebrated the standstill of time.”

– Czeslaw Milosz

Ahhh, October. I think of this month, the height of autumn, as an interlude where nature gifts us with a last, dazzling blast of color before winter’s monochrome prevails.

It’s also a perfect time to enjoy the bounty of nature’s gifts close to home — so you can enjoy an incredible, eco-friendly fall-break trip that saves gas, money and carbon emissions.

In some regions, like northern New England or the Rocky Mountain high country, autumn’s palette peaks by late September. But elsewhere there is still plenty of foliage on brilliant display even into November. The key is to go lower in altitude and latitude as the season progresses. While New England is renowned, other regions also offer an immersion in fall’s finery.

Here are seven scenic byways around the country that promise an exuberant burst of color into the latter half of October or beyond. Pack a picnic basket, camera and your hiking boots, for full enjoyment of these lesser-known leaf routes.

1. Arizona: Sedona-Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Road

Autumn reflections near Sedona. Photo courtesy of AZJerome.com

Autumn reflections near Sedona. Photo courtesy of AZJerome.com.

Arizona’s Grand Canyon is more famous, but Oak Creek Canyon offers an intimate encounter with nature within its narrow walls. A red and pink sandstone gorge running between Sedona and Flagstaff, the canyon in fall is aflame with russet oaks set against dark-green pinon and juniper. Hwy.

89A winds 28 miles between the two towns, with a trailhead for the most beautiful hike in the canyon, the West Fork of Oak Creek, about 10 miles north of Sedona.This easy 3-mile walk inside the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness takes hikers into a secluded landscape of eroded rock formations, cliffs and sheer overhangs. The rim high above is cool and verdant, with plentiful wildlife, including elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, javelina, coyote, rabbit, mountain lion and black bear.

Afterward, replenish your strength and well-being with a visit to Sedona’s energy vortexes, part of the town’s appeal to the many spiritual seekers and healing practitioners who are drawn here.

2. Alabama: Appalachian Highlands Scenic Byway

View from Pulpit Rock, Cheaha State Park

View from Pulpit Rock, Cheaha State Park

Northeast Alabama’s dramatic landscape of sheer rock cliffs, waterfalls and dense, deciduous forest is at its most impressive in late autumn, when summer’s variegated green gives way to a vibrant mix of yellow poplars, scarlet dogwoods, orange maples, rusty oaks and golden hickories.

One of the best fall color trails follows the Appalachian Highlands Scenic Byway, a circuit that encompasses Lookout Mountain Parkway, DeSoto State Park, Little River Canyon — the deepest east of the Mississippi, Talladega Scenic Drive, and Alabama’s highest point, 2,407-foot Cheaha Mountain. Stop along the way for hikes, including 100-foot-high DeSoto Falls, and vistas from Bald Rock and Pulpit Rock within Cheaha State Park. Get driving details here.

3. Indiana: Ohio River Scenic Byway

An autumn walk along the Ohio River. © 1999 Jim Keith, courtesy of National Scenic Byways Program

An autumn walk along the Ohio River. Photo © 1999 Jim Keith, courtesy of National Scenic Byways Program.

This 300-mile drive traverses the autumn patchwork of rolling hills and farmland along Indiana’s southern boundary where the Ohio River divides it from Kentucky. Views of the river and bluffs, bursts of red and yellow foliage, and encounters with the past abound at every turn along this route where the histories of Native Americans, explorers and westward-bound settlers converge.

Stop at Falls of the Ohio State Park at Clarksville, where the 400-million-year-old Devonian fossil beds comprise the only natural obstruction of the Ohio River. Here, Meriwether Lewis met up with William Clark on October 26, 1803, with a group of men from Kentucky and Indiana Territory that would become the nucleus of the Corps of Discovery, which set out down the Ohio River to eventually reach the Pacific. The Lewis and Clark Festival happens in Clarksville Oct. 26-28, with a reenactment of the meeting, recruitment, enlistments, and the departure of the expedition, including 1803 period demonstrations and food.

4. New Mexico: High Road to Taos Byway

Picuris Pueblo. Photo courtesy New Mexico Tourism Department.

Picuris Pueblo. Photo courtesy New Mexico Tourism Department.

The High Road winds 67 miles from Espanola, just north of Santa Fe, to historic Taos. It travels past small farms, mountain villages and traditional adobe chapels for a unique scenic and cultural encounter with vestiges of colonial New Mexico. Brilliant gold aspen and cottonwood flare into color among the pinon and juniper, and the crisp autumn air is often tinged with the scent of roasting chilies.

At Chimayo, a village famed for its weavers, visit the famous Sanctuario, a legendary church believed to have miraculous healing powers. The route continues through the artist community of Cordova and on to Truchas, a Spanish colonial outpost with glorious views of the Rio Grande Valley. Next, visit Picuris Pueblo, where you can purchase beadwork and pottery crafted by local Native American artists. At Ranchos de Taos, where the road ends, don’t miss the impactful adobe church of San Francisco de Asis, an inspiration for many of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings.

5. Oregon: Historic Columbia River Highway

Multnomah Falls. © 2004 P. van der Storm. Courtesy National Scenic Byways Program.

Multnomah Falls. © 2004 P. van der Storm. Courtesy National Scenic Byways Program.

Constructed from 1913 to 1922 east of Portland, the oldest scenic highway in the U.S. hugs sheer cliffs and dips through lush old-growth forest as it penetrates the dramatic Columbia River Gorge.

Don’t miss the sweeping vista from Crown Point, high above the river. During the fall rains, the size and volume of the many waterfalls in the gorge increase impressively.

Most famous is Multnomah Falls, well worth a side-trip hike. The woods are dense with broadleaf and vine maples that turn fiery shades of yellow, orange and crimson among the evergreens.

If you continue east across the crest of the Cascades, the landscape becomes drier and grassier, the autumn palette warmer, as the oaks between Hood River and The Dalles turn red and brown.

A loop-trip option is to cross the river and return on the Washington side.

6. Pennsylvania: Laurel Highlands Scenic Byway

Youghiogheny River Gorge. Photo courtesy Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau.

Youghiogheny River Gorge. Photo courtesy Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau.

The forests, rivers and rocky outcrops of southwestern Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands offer fabulous outdoor adventures, and never more enticingly than during the brilliance of the fall foliage season.

Ohiopyle State Park and the Youghiogheny River, natural treasures on this route, are renowned for hiking, mountain biking and whitewater rafting. A classic autumn ramble is the 2.1-mile Beech Trail, which passes through a grove of towering yellow American beech trees and connects to the Great Gorge Trail.

You’ll also find a manmade wonder on Route 381, Frank Lloyd Wright’s dramatic “Fallingwater.” Entrusted to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in 1963, Fallingwater is the only remaining Wright house with its original furnishings and artwork intact. Its heavily wooded setting is breathtaking at the peak of autumn color. Reservations are required to visit, and guided tours are available.

7. Wisconsin: Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive

Autumn color on Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive

Autumn color on Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive

This fascinating drive is an immersion into a geological relic: the landscape left behind when glaciers receded after the last Ice Age over 10,000 years ago. The route follows a ridge in southern Wisconsin where two massive glaciers intersected and then melted, leaving behind a moraine filled with large holes in the bedrock, called “kettles,” and odd-shaped hills and sand and gravel deposits.

The 115-mile drive from Whitewater to Elkhart Lake travels through extensive hardwood forest, ablaze with color in late October. The varied terrain includes ridges, hills, lakes and wetlands, dotted with farms and bucolic vistas. Along the way, stop at the Henry S. Reuss Ice Age Visitor Center, watch wildlife from the boardwalk trail at Spruce Lake Bog State Natural Area north of Dundee, and get a close-up view of glacial geology on the 3-mile Butler Lake Loop hike, which shares a portion of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.

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  1. 7 Incredible Places to See Fall Colors | Deliggit.com…

    \r\nHere are seven lesser-known scenic byways around the country that promise an exube…

  2. Wow.. i would love to see it at: 2. Alabama: Appalachian Highlands Scenic Byway

    Kevin | October 18th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  3. This list is totally meaningless, it doesn’t even include Skyline Drive in the George Washington Nation forrest. It runs the entire length of the Shenandoah Valley of VA. It’s a beautiful area all year round, but it peaks in the early fall when the leaves change colors. The drive is along the top of the Blue Ridge mountains and crosses the Shenandoah River (northern flow) a couple of times, perhaps you may have even heard a song about the beauty of the river alone. Combine that with lots of farms, Civil War history, and Thomas Jefferson’s home (Monticello), Wodrow Wilson’s Birthpalce and Library (Staunton), Battle of New Market (VMI Cadets). All of these things combine to make this area at the very least one of the top 7 most incredible fall areas.

    starwarz | October 18th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  4. Let’s not forget the beautiful and rugged Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The mix of hardwoods and evergreens makes for a photo opportunity everywhere you look from late September to early November.

    Matt | October 18th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  5. [...] 7 incredible places to see fall colors close to home [...]

  6. @Starwarz I totally agree. I started to read this article and said to myself, “Skyline Drive better be on this list.” Being a native Virginian all my life, it’s one of the yearly traditions I hold dear to make that drive.

    Austin A | October 18th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  7. Hey starwarz, this list wasn’t a “top” or “best of” list. It’s a list that mentions 7 LESSER KNOWN places to see fall colors. Read through next time, instead of going off for no reason.

    riomx | October 18th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  8. #5 looks amazing!

    Miss Geek | October 18th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  9. aspen trees in turning colorado should be on this list, entire mountainsides are one organism, and change colors in moments

    cdoy | October 18th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  10. #0: Highway 61 on the North Shore of Lake Superior, Minnesota.

    Ruggy | October 18th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  11. I expected at least one in CA, but disappointed. Still these are great places to visit and be with Mother Nature.

    pilogui | October 18th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  12. That’s one of the few things I don’t like about San Francisco — very few deciduous trees.

    design | October 18th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  13. riomx, If you look at the title at the top of the page “7 incredible places to see fall colors close to home”, “lesser know”, is not included in the title.

    starwarz | October 18th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  14. What, no Maine? Then this list is bust.

    Zak | October 18th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  15. Some nice locations, but I bet the best spots are kept secret! I know most of the entire midwest (except the open plain areas) are usually stellar for fall leaf viewing.

    boreal boy | October 18th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  16. I guess you forgot to put New York. Drive on the palisade or 9W will give you a beautiful view for fall foliage. You can drive uphill on exit 19 and view the panoramic view from the light house.

    Samuel | October 18th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  17. You know, i was gonna be like…wheres KY, were the best til I saw the ohio river drive in indiana. Almost as awesome as here in KY, but, not quite

    Morgan | October 18th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  18. Great to get readers’ feedback… FYI, since this post didn’t go up till mid-October, I was trying to focus on a few destinations that still have good color now or yet to come — while Colorado’s aspens are glorious, and Maine and the Sierras also have striking foliage, as readers have noted, those locales are pretty much over by now in terms of color — but do think of them for next year. And yes, I was trying to feature a few places that aren’t likely to be as crowded as more popular leaf-viewing routes such as Skyline Drive. That said, I just drove a portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway through Virginia today, and while there were plenty of fellow travelers doing likewise on this gorgeous, crisp, blue-sky day, it didn’t impede the spectacle of the colors which are really starting to pop about now.

    Wendy Redal | October 19th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  19. starwarz,

    Again, the title doesn’t say that any of these places are better than those you mentioned. It just says “Incredible Places,” implying that these are great places to see.

    Also, the title doesn’t make a post. It’s the content that does. In the introductory paragraphs, it says “Pack a picnic basket, camera and your hiking boots, for full enjoyment of these ***lesser-known*** leaf routes.”

    riomx | October 20th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  20. Oregon is a beautiful place, I grew up there and have been to the Columbia river gorge many times, though now I live in New York and it is gorgeous here too!

    Liz | October 20th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  21. [...] | gaiam Más noticias sobre: América, Destinos, Guías y Lugares, Visitas y Paseos Tags: Guías y [...]

  22. One of the great things about living in Michigan, besides all the water, is the color this time of year.

    Reese | March 17th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  23. We do the Kettle Moraine drive every year on our motorcycle. It truly is a beautiful area. It is mandatory to stop at Holy Hill in Hubertus. The view is spectacular, especially on a clear day.

    mary kovars | August 9th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
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    Vania | November 24th, 2014 | Comment Permalink

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