Doing a road trip to many parts of the United States in autumn is a fantastic way to go out and explore regional colors in the country. Driving different regions from the east coast, the central states to even the west coast of the USA, you will find fantastic places to experience fall time in that region. Check out what these travel bloggers are sharing below for their favorite fall season in USA travel experiences and hopefully you’ll get a chance to visit many of these wonderful places in the USA.
Here’s where to drive around the USA for Fall colors
Mount St. Helens
I’ve been fascinated by volcanoes my entire life. My first ‘research project’ in grade 4 was about volcanoes and whenever I’m in a country where I can find (or climb) a volcano, it goes on my itinerary.
And so, as our USA road trip drew to a close, we went to Mount St. Helens in mid-October. First, we visited the Mt. St. Helens Visitor Center where we learned more about the eruption, how it dramatically changed the shape of the mountain and how it affected the ecosystems around Mt. St. Helens.
Subsequently we drove to the east side of the park (via Randle and the NF-99) to Windy Ridge. The leaves were starting to change color, making the already beautiful park of Mount St. Helens even prettier!
At Windy Ridge there is a beautiful viewpoint up a nearby hill, it’s a bit of a climb (368-steps) but worth the effort! Another easy but lovely trail leading down to Spirit Lake is the (1 mile single way) Harmony trail.
Visiting Crater Lake had been on my bucket list for a long time. And I mean a looooooong time. Having super high expectations, I was a bit worried I might be disappointed. After all, sometimes places seem so perfect on google or ‘the gram’ and when you get there, it’s actually not what you had hoped.
Not with Crater Lake though! Crater Lake was as beautiful, or even more beautiful than I had imagined. We visited on a lovely day in early October, the sky was blue and there was barely any wind. There were barely any people either!
Travel advice: definitely visit Crater Lake in shoulder season, it gets very busy in Summer!
We spent the whole day exploring Crater Lake (though you could easily spend more time there), this were the highlights:
The Sinnott Memorial Overlook
The Sun Notch Phantom Ship
The Cloudcap Overlook
The Pumich Castle
You can stay at the Crater Lake Lodge or on one of the campsites recommended by the NPS.
Check out Lotte’s blog at Phenomenal Globe
Fall drives at the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota
For anyone within striking distance–and that includes folks from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Manitoba, and Ontario–it’s worth remembering how easy it is to take a mini-vacation along Lake Superior’s north shore in Minnesota.
From the Twin Cities, it’s about two and a quarter hours to Duluth, one of the largest ports in the United States, and then two more hours up legendary Highway 61 to picturesque Grand Marais. From there, it’s about 45 minutes to Grand Portage on the Canadian border.
The drive is punctuated by several Minnesota State parks extending up the steep rocky shore to the west and down to the vast water of Superior to the east. The entire shoreline in late fall is lined with the deep reds of the maples, the golds of the aspens, and the evergreens of the firs. It’s a stunning site, though, any time of year.
Magney State Park features Devil’s Kettle Falls on the Brule River. Devil’s Kettle, a big pool at the base of the booming waterfall is mysterious in that no one has ever figured out where all that water goes.
From Shovel Point in Tettegouche State Park, you can revel in overlooks of the rocky juts into Lake Superior.
And, not far from Duluth is the iconic Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. Besides learning about the history of the lighthouse itself it’s fun to consider the history of the scenic drive.
Check out Tom’s post on things to do in Minneapolis – Saint Paul
Great River Road in Louisiana
A drive from New Orleans along the Great River Road in Louisiana lives up to the grandiose nature of the name. From the birthplace of jazz, past the bayou and into plantation country, it’s a mix of beautiful landscapes with ugly stories behind them.
The most famous stop involves Oak Alley Plantation: a 19th century house with a stunning grand entrance avenue flanked by 28 live oaks. Tours take place with guides in southern belle costumes and a new exhibition examines the effects of the American Civil war and the reality of daily life for the enslaved people who lived here.
That’s an approach that’s common along the grand planation houses that border the Mississippi. But it’s flipped around at the Whitney, where the story focuses on the enslaved people first, the owners second. It tells their story through sculptures, allowing for a different level of understanding and a different type of photography.
It’s easy to hire a car and drive from New Orleans or to join one of a number of day trips that take in the Great River Road. But for maximum atmosphere (and photo ops,) arrange to stay overnight on the grounds of the Oak Alley Plantation.
Check out Abigail King’s post on the Great River road drive.
Estes Park, CO
Known as the mile-high state, Colorado is home to the breathtaking Estes Park. Year after year, tourists, hikers, explorers, and even soon-to-be newlyweds flock to this magnificent park to savor the scenic views its wonder. And what’s even more alluring is that in the fall, the park transforms into a land that looks like a snippet from Monet’s most impressionable paintings.
Surrounded by the Rocky Mountain National Park and Roosevelt National Forest, there’s so much to see and do at Estes Park. From outdoor adventures, wildlife watching, kids and family activities, tours, and scenic drives, you will capture many memorable fall travel photographs. However, for the ultimate photo opportunity, the Fern Lake Trailhead offers arguably the best views of aspens. With a larger-than-life view of the Big Thompson River acting as a unique juxtaposition/element that adds depth and character to your images.
Tip: Please note that your furry babies are not allowed on trails in the national parks.
Contributed by Louisa from Africa Wanderlust
Fall in the Napa Valley is a spectacular time to visit the famous wine region of California. Lush green vineyards begin to glow in shades of gold and orange as the summer turns to fall and in my opinion, it Is the best time to explore winery by winery all the delights that the Napa Valley holds. The most convenient way to get around Napa is to hire a car and drive, but of course, that can limit your wine drinking ability, so tours can also be a good option if you’re planning on doing a lot of tasting.
My favourite wineries to visit include Artesa Wines and Maroon Wines which both have incredible views of the vineyards and Auburn James for a relaxed and delicious wine tasting. After finishing the day at Auburn James, I’d recommend stopping off in Yountville for some amazing paddock to plate fare paired with local wines for dinner and then stay at the quirky El Bonita Motor Inn. Buy a bottle of local wine and enjoy drinking it by the open fire before finally heading off to sleep.
Emma with Emma Jane Explores
San Francisco getaway in fall
Believe it or not, the best time to visit San Francisco is during fall time when most of the tourists leave town and kids are back to school. Indian summer in San Francisco really hits stride with lovely hot and sunny days to explore the city with out the typical fog of summer time. With less crowds you can visit all the popular attraction without waiting in long lines and you can also check out these unique and cool places in San Francisco for those one of a kind experiences. If your into road trips, just driving around the coastal areas of the city, headlands and directly into Marine county or down the coast gets you into open areas that harken to California like the olden days with all these wonderfully preserved open areas to enjoy and explore. Check out this post on doing road trips just outside of San Francisco for more inspiration and places to visit in Northern California
Noel with Travel Photo Discovery
Fall season in West Virginia
For a lesser-known hidden gem in the US this autumn, take a weekend getaway in West Virginia. You will not only see the spectacle of fall colors as you drive around but also get to experience the adventurous mountainous “country roads” so aptly made popular by John Denver. For the best photo ops make sure to drive through the Highland Scenic Highway and stop by the vista points along the way.
In the northern section of the State, you should visit Monongahela National Forest area or check out the Blackwater Falls State Park. While you are in this area do not miss the Green Bank Observatory which is the United State’s National Radio Astronomy Observatory. You can take a tour of the observatory to learn more about their on-going projects to explore our universe as well as see all the giant telescopes located on-premise.
In the southern end of West Virginia, you must visit the New River Gorge Bridge. This part of the State is also very famous for its white water rafting especially in fall when the dam opens and you can get some class V rapids. In October every year, West Virginia celebrates Bridge day where they have a weekend full of activities and festivities lined up. There is so much to explore in West Virginia and fall is one of the best times to visit, you will not regret this trip.
Richa with My Tickle Feet
Hudson Valley in the fall
Hudson Valley, New York, is foliage photographer’s wonderland. The region boasts some of the most picturesque natural and historical sites in the country. Visit a quaint town such as New Paltz or one of the many sites such as the Storm King Arts Center to admire foliage in the perfect setting. The expansive views to the nearby Catksill Mountains to the West or Berkshire Mountains to the East will create a beautiful backdrop of fall colors and is a treat for any shutterbugs.
In addition, Hudson Valley is the home to many historic sites. You can walk the historic 1.8 mile trail between the former home of Franklin D. Roosevelt and that of his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt. Along the way, you’ll be take in the rolling hills and foliage that once inspired the renowned former President and the first lady. The views from the nearby Vanderbilt Home over the Hudson River and with its great foliage are some of the best in the entire state. The timeless images around Hudson Valley were also the scenic sources of the revered painter Edward Hopper’s vintage realist paintings, and many photographers frequent Edward Hopper House Art Center in Nyack, New York, for the same artistic inspiration.
And if you happen to be visiting Hudson Valley on a Saturday morning, you might catch the Troy Waterfront Farmers’ Market where dozens of local growers, bakers, chefs, and artisans display their produce. The lively scene of the market on a Saturday morning is a must-see for those looking to capture the unique taste and style of upstate New York in the Fall. Nothing goes better with fall foliage than warm apple cider and some cider donuts.
Kurosh with Road Goat
Fall drives around Chattanooga, Tennessee
Chattanooga, Tennessee is one of my favorite places to visit in the USA during fall. The city lies in the mountains, so the scenic views and photo-op locations are almost endless. The highlight of the entire area is Rock City Gardens on Lookout Mountain. It’s just a five-minute-drive from downtown Chattanooga and feels like stepping inside another world hidden away at the top of a mountain. Paths carved through gigantic boulders will lead you on an adventure through pretty gardens, across a swinging bridge, and ultimately to a 90-foot waterfall.
There’s a platform jutting out from the side of the mountain where you can take unobstructed photos of either the valley below or the High Falls Waterfall. The latter looks especially beautiful clothed in the golden colors of fall. Another photo opportunity lies at the top of the falls, where you can see seven US states from a viewing platform when the weather is clear and nice. There’s even a nearby tunnel that has been fitted with colored glass so that a rainbow effect appears when sunlight streams in through the windows. Once you’ve taken photos of all the pretty sights, you can participate in special fall festivities that the mountain hosts during this time of the year. There’s pumpkin painting, storytelling for kids, live music, food, and dancing. For free fall events, Downtown Chattanooga also offers the oldest and largest annual Oktoberfest in the city.
(Check out local hotels in the area)
Jillian with Adventure Dragon
Yellowstone National Park in Autumn
Yellowstone National Park is probably one of the best national parks in the US to visit during fall. Leaves are starting to change color, animals are starting to prepare for the dreadful winter, and tourists are starting to dwindle away.
Many accommodations that were completely booked out in the summer are starting to get quieter. The prices are starting to drop for these hotels as demand drop as well. This is the perfect time to book a hotel inside Yellowstone National Park, something that is nearly impossible in the high season.
When you visit, make sure you check out Mammoth Hot Springs, Grand Prismatic Spring, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and Calcite Springs Overlook. These spots completely blew my mind and that is exactly what your experience at Yellowstone National Park should be like.
Insider Tip: To get the best view of Grand Prismatic Spring, there is a viewpoint on the Fairy Falls trail. If you arrive at the actual Grand Prismatic Spring, you will encounter many tourists as well as a different view of the Grand Prismatic Spring.
Sean Lau with Living Out Lau
Chicago in the Fall Season
Chicago is one of the most photogenic cities in the world. With the amazing skyline, huge lakefront, and river cutting through the heart of it, Chicago is beautiful from any angle.
Autumn is the perfect time to visit Chicago — the mobs of tourists have dropped off and the hot summer temperatures give way to perfect fall days and crisp nights. The best months to visit in fall are September and October. November can still be okay, but the weather can start to be more unpredictable and you could encounter the rare snow day, which for many is actually a welcome surprise.
There are so many wonderful outdoor activities in Chicago. If visiting Chicago for the first time, of course you must head to Millennium Park (pictured here) with its famous “Bean” sculpture (actually called Cloud Gate by British sculpture Anish Kapoor), wonderful Pritzker Pavilion with stunning Frank Gehry design above the stage, and the Crown Fountain with larger than life video screens.
I also highly recommend taking a river boat cruise with the Chicago Architecture Center. You will learn a ton about the city’s history and world-renowned architecture on this 90-minute boat tour which goes up and down the north and south branches of the Chicago River.
Also, make sure to take a stroll or bike ride on Chicago’s famous lakefront. The Lakefront trail runs for nearly 20 miles north and south of downtown, with great photo op spots at every turn. Some Insta-worthy locations include the Buckingham Fountain, on the Lakefront trail between the Adler Planetarium and Shedd Aquarium, and at North Avenue Beach.
Lisa Lubin with LLworldtour.com
Great Smokey Mountains National Park
The most popular of the U.S. National Parks, Great Smoky Mountains National Park averages 9 million visitors each year. It’s located between Knoxville and Asheville, so it’s within a half-day’s drive from most of the major cities in the eastern US, offering a broad variety of wildlife, rich Appalachian culture, and stunning scenic beauty all year round.
The park encompasses 522,419 acres, around 95% of which are lush green forests bursting to the brim with flora and fauna. There are 10,000 different species of plants and animals, such as black bears, deer, birds, and much more. There are also 16 mountains in the park with summits of 6,000 feet or more; nearly 900 miles of hiking trails; and driving tours that provide picturesque photo opportunities at places like Cade’s Cove, Clingman’s Dome, and Newfound Gap Road.
Hiking, fishing, and camping are the park’s most popular tourist activities, and it’s also the starting point for road trips along the world-renowned Blue Ridge Parkway.
If you want to visit the park, autumn is the perfect season to do so. Not only because of smaller crowds of tourists, cooler weather, and more vivid colors in the leaves, but also because that’s when the famous Cataloochee Valley elk herd (which was reintroduced back in 2001) is in rut. –Bret Love & Mary Gabbett of Green Global Travel
Aspens turning color around the Maroon Bells in Aspen, Colorado
This hike to the most photographed mountains in North America is totally worth rising before sun-up if you’re looking for the best photo ops.
Drive all the way up Maroon Creek Road to the small parking lot well before 8 am – this lot fills fast, especially in the fall. Arrive as early as you can handle for an unforgettable sunrise and reflective photo shots of the Maroon Bells on Maroon Lake.*
Then, hike the moderate 3.6 round trip Crater Lake Trail up to Crater Lake* for more shots of aspens turning color along the trail and around the Bells. Pack a picnic brunch or lunch and feast your eyes on fall foliage surrounding the Maroon Bells. Crater Lake often dries up by mid-summer, but the hike is still worth it as you will be surrounded by aspens up close and far away.
The drive to Aspen is wonderful all by itself. Some drive southeast from Glenwood Springs, the well-known hot springs town that sits off Interstate 70. We prefer to plan our route coming west from Leadville over the exhilarating Independence Pass peaking at the Continental Divide.
To reach the Maroon Bells coming from Aspen, head west on Main Street. When you enter the roundabout stay in the left hand lane to take Maroon Creek Road up to the Maroon Bells.
Check out Tanya’s post in Aspen Snowmass, Colorado
Plan to Visit Philadelphia in the Fall
The fall is an excellent time to visit America’s most historic square mile in Old City Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. When the oppressive summer heat and humidity of a Philadelphia summer dissipate, so do the crowds flocking to visit the sites associated with the American colonies’ declaration of independence from Great Britain in 1776.
There is no charge to visit the most venerated sites, Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell Center, as they are part of Independence National Historic Park. While you are in the area, it is worth the price of admission to also visit the National Constitution Center and the relatively new Museum of the American Revolution. At the National Constitution Center, make sure to see Freedom Rising, a moving live theatrical performance, included in the museum general admission price.
Consider staying at the historic Hyatt at the Bellevue Stratford Hotel in Center City Philadelphia which will put you in the perfect position to walk to leafy Rittenhouse Square. If you time your visit for late October, you might even catch the old deciduous trees in their autumn colors.
From there, it is a short Uber or Lyft ride to the world class museums along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Look up the Parkway and you will see the august neoclassical home of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Make sure someone takes a video of you running up the art museum steps, channeling Philly’s most famous fictional son, Rocky Balboa.
Suzanne Fluhr of Boomeresque
Cleveland region in the Fall Season
The areas around Cleveland and the city itself is ablaze with fall colors. All the local parks and even the National Park close by at Cuyahoga National park is where you want to be to see autumn colors at their best. With over 32, 000 acres to explore, this national park is stunning in fall season and worth the drive from the city. But Cleveland itself is filled with fall colors and the string of parks around the city have so much opportunity to be outside and enjoy autumn around the city. Many of the parks have waterfalls, lakes, bike paths and plenty of nature trails to explore and with all the magnificent showcase of colorful trees in their autumn glory, everyone loves to be outdoors at this time of year. Check out my post on visiting Cleveland and the lovely string of metro parks in the city for more details and information on where to go for fall season around the city.
Noel at Travel Photo Discovery
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