It’s that time of the year again—the air gets cooler, the sweaters get chunkier, and everything is covered in pumpkin spice.
Autumn in the United States may get a bad rap as a “basic” fascination, but the season is the furthest thing from it.
Bright colors splash across the canopy of trees; down below, a bounty of fruits and vegetables are offered up from the earth. The misty atmosphere inspires humans to huddle closer together, sharing the warmth of their homes with friends and strangers alike—whether to dish out tricks and treats or to offer their heartfelt thanks.
And for those who unabashedly love this time of year, there may be no better place to honor it than the roads of America.
From September through November, the country’s highways get streaked with late-afternoon light filtered in through the rainbow clouds of half-covered treetops, while towns that run along them are festooned in full fall regalia and filled with places to share in the harvest before the cold of winter seeps the warmth from the air.
Last year, we wrote about the 5 best New England roads to capture the season, but autumnal beauty is certainly not bound to one geographic location.
Below, you’ll find a whole new crop of drives to enjoy the best of the season, featuring some of the finest foliage that can be found across the country.
Skyline Drive, Virginia
The highway represents the lone public road stretching through Shenandoah National Park, but it’s the only byway you’ll need to soak in all the fall tidings of the area.
Skyline Drive runs just over 100 miles through the thick of the heavily forested preserve. The route climbs up past the clouds and dips down into the valleys of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are covered with all manner of colors from September through November.
Along the way, the highway passes at least 75 different overlooks to take in the astounding views, where you could also see such wildlife as deer, wild turkey, and even black bears. Those in need of a longer stretch outside the car can take advantage of the park’s 500 miles worth of trails—which not only offer a great place to exercise, but plenty of opportunities to crunch some extra crispy leaves.
Hocking Hills Scenic Byway, Ohio
The Midwestern state may not be the first that comes to mind when thinking of fall, but the idyllic drive certainly makes a lasting impression on those seeking out autumnal scenes.
The 26.4-mile byway runs a bit more than a marathon through Ohio’s Hocking State Forest. Considered one of the state’s most precious natural gems, the region is also well known for its hiking, horseback riding, and rock-climbing outposts and is famous for its pastoral expanses and deep forests.
Traversing over gentle hills and valleys, the road also passes by a number of historical sites—including the former home of some state prisoners, adding a seasonally-appropriate spooky twist to an autumn drive.
Tahquamenon Scenic Byway, Michigan
This 63-mile highway snakes through the state’s Eastern Upper Peninsula—an area renowned for its untouched natural beauty.
The Tahquamenon runs through the ancient forests of the north, which paint the fall air with every hue of yellow, red, and deep purple, especially in October. Along the way, restless travelers can stop in the nearby towns of Newberry and Paradise, which are nearly as well known for their beauty as the area itself.
And those who want plenty of fresh fall air to accompany their ride will be pleased with where the road leads. At its terminus, the byway reaches Tahquamenon Falls State Park, home not only to one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi River, but also more than 40 miles of hiking trails, 13 inland lakes, and over 20 miles of river to explore.
Million Dollar Highway, Colorado
It certainly looks like a million bucks.
The aptly named highway stretches just 25 miles through Colorful Colorado, but drivers looking for fall inspiration will certainly get their money’s worth. The twisting terrain offers stunning views of the state’s San Juan Mountains, which illuminate with autumnal hues that would take a whole paint box to recreate. And those seeking to escape the chilly fall air can take advantage of the natural hot springs that line the northern stretch of the road.
The soaring highway has also been named one of the most scenic drives in America, but motorists should be mindful while making the trek. The road is filled with tricky hairpin turns and can be susceptible to harsh weather and high winds. The highway also often butts up against the very edge of the mountains and climbs as high as 11,018 feet.
Still, those able to stomach the heights will be rewarded with a bounty of autumnal beauty.
North Cascades Scenic Byway, Washington
This 140-mile journey is just one small section of the Evergreen State’s epic Cascade Loop, but the truncated route doesn’t skip out on the area’s rugged vistas.
The byway runs through North Cascades National Park, a venerable alpine wonderland where travelers can be treated to views of waterfalls, valleys, jagged peaks, and more than 300 glaciers.
But just because the locales are snowy doesn’t mean the drive is a sea of white. Areas like the park’s Ross and Diablo Lakes burst will fall colors when the time of year is right, and the alpine meadows dotting the drive overflow with wildflowers and seasonal hues.
And fall enthusiasts can take in plenty of treetop views from the park’s elevation of 9,000 feet—marking the perfect place to take in all the natural highs of the season. With a cup of pumpkin spice coffee in hand, it may be the most basically perfect way to celebrate autumn.