Best Scenic Autumn Drive (2015)


The kids are back in school, temperatures are starting to drop and Mother Nature's gearing up for her annual spectacle of fall color. 'Tis the season for leaf-peeping, and USA TODAY 10Best readers have been busy voting for their favorite scenic autumn drives across the USA. After four weeks of voting, we have a winner!

  • M-22


    The M-22 route along Lake Michigan is one of America’s most beautiful tours, and it gets even better in the fall. This 116-mile road brings visitors through the peaceful countryside and along the shore, past small businesses, wineries, galleries and, of course, countless colorful trees. Visitors can stop and visit points of interest along the way and meet some locals, making this fall leaves trip a little bit wildlife and a little bit small town, all in one.
    Photo courtesy of Lindspetrol / Flickr

  • Upper Delaware Scenic Byway

    Upper Delaware Scenic Byway
    New York

    See the changing leaves on this 70-mile byway along the banks of the Delaware River. The Upper Delaware Scenic Byway (also called Route 97) passes breathtaking vistas and hiking trails, panoramic views, side roads to explore, fishing banks and the Elks Brox Memorial Park. On the way, visitors can stop in small towns and check out shops, museums and art galleries, and choose from local restaurants to grab a bite to eat. The Upper Delaware Scenic Byway is popular among motorcyclists and road bikers, as well as visitors in cars wanting a glimpse at the changing of seasons.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Kancamagus Scenic Byway

    Kancamagus Scenic Byway
    New Hampshire

    This highway may be hard to pronounce, but that doesn’t stop people from coming from all over to see its presentation of New Hampshire’s fall foliage. This scenic byway brings visitors deep into the remote, untouched White Mountain National Forest, where the brilliant visuals of fall are inescapable. “The Kanc” is nearly 35 miles long, climbs to about 3,000 feet in elevation and is a designated American Scenic Byway.
    Photo courtesy of White Mountains

  • Hocking Hills Scenic Byway

    Hocking Hills Scenic Byway

    The Hocking Hills Scenic Byway provides a glimpse at some of Ohio’s most beautiful sites in and around Hocking State Forest. Here, visitors can find curious caves and ancient remnants that appeal to both history buffs and nature-lovers. In the fall, the Hocking Hills region is speckled with a rainbow of bright autumn colors. Visitors can explore the area and see the trees from a different viewpoint on horseback, in a canoe or from above on a zip line or in a hot air balloon.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Olympic Peninsula Loop Drive

    Olympic Peninsula Loop Drive

    Seattle is the starting point for this 350-mile drive, which takes visitors from the lowlands, through forests, past lakes, rivers and the ocean, and up to Hurricane Ridge and Lake Crescent. With so many different backdrops and vantage points, it’s no surprise that leaf-lovers flock to the Olympic Peninsula every fall. The 320-plus-mile drive circling the Olympic National Park and forest takes a full eight hours if driven straight through, so it’s best to take a few days to take in the varying sites.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Blue Ridge Parkway

    Blue Ridge Parkway
    North Carolina & Virginia

    This relaxing, rolling and very iconic road will take you from 649 feet above sea level to more than 6,000 feet. Because of this variation, leaves change at different times throughout fall, but mid- to late-October is a good bet for leaf-peeping. Visitors can slowly drive through the Appalachian Highlands and look for wildlife as well during the big autumn show. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a whopping 469 miles long, so it covers a lot of ground. Visitors can stop and hike the back-country trails for a close-up view of the foliage. 
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • West Elk Loop

    West Elk Loop

    Colorado’s aspen trees are the highlight of leaf-peeping season, and the West Elk Loop Scenic and Historic Byway is a way to get right into the heart of nature, without getting out of your car. This 204-mile loop in western Colorado passes through the national forest, multiple wilderness areas and mining communities, and several mountain towns. The odd Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a must-see in Colorado, and the McClure Pass is a great pull-off for a panoramic view of green, yellow and red trees.  
    Photo courtesy of Dave Roberts

  • Skyline Drive

    Skyline Drive

    For exclusive leaf-peeping in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, take Skyline Drive; it’s the only public road in the park. Follow the markers along the side of the road to find various points of interest along the way, including 75 different overlooks of the valley and hills. In fall, the trees put on quite a show, but colors vary dramatically from different elevations and different areas of the park, so there’s no one single best time to drive it in fall. This scenic drive through the park is 100 miles long, across a wide span of elevation heights, and will take at least three hours.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway

    Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway
    South Dakota

    The Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway is a well known road for road-trippers. This South Dakota road weaves through the Black Hills National Forest and is lined by famous monuments, including Mount Rushmore and Cathedral Spires. But this 68-mile road is also famous for its fall colors, typically mid-September to late October. Along the way, visitors will pass aspen trees as they turn gold, birch, spruce and other trees, scattered in a blanket of ancient pines.
    Photo courtesy of Rapid City Convention & Visitors Bureau

  • Scenic Route 100 Byway

    Scenic Route 100 Byway

    Vermont Route 100 is considered one of the most scenic drives in New England, and it's easy to see why, especially in autumn. As with any scenic drive, the precise timing for the best views is hard to specify, but the first week in October is a good time to start heading out. Vermont Route 100, with ever-changing views, mixes its stunning scenery with historic, cultural and recreational activities. In the winter, it’s part of “Skiers Highway.” Beware: The route can get busy with tourists, and it’s not easy to find last-minute lodging in the fall.
    Photo courtesy of Mitch Moraski


According to our readers, the best stretch of road for fall leaf-peeping is Michigan's M-22, a 116-mile route along Lake Michigan that is absolutely breathtaking come autumn.

The top 10 winners in the category Best Scenic Autumn Drive are as follows:

  1. M-22 - Michigan
  2. Upper Delaware Scenic Byway - New York
  3. Kancamagus Scenic Byway - New Hampshire
  4. Hocking Hills Scenic Byway - Ohio
  5. Olympic Peninsula Loop Drive - Washington
  6. Blue Ridge Parkway - North Carolina & Virginia
  7. West Elk Loop - Colorado
  8. Skyline Drive - Virginia
  9. Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway - South Dakota
  10. Scenic Route 100 Byway - Vermont

Additional nominees for the category Best Scenic Autumn Drive were the Dutch Country Roads in Pennsylvania, Going-to-the-Sun Road in Montana, Historic Columbia River Highway in Oregon, Historic Route 1 in Maine, Jacob's Ladder Scenic Byway in Massachusetts, Middlebury Gap Road in Vermont, Mohawk Trail in Massachusetts, Pig Trail Scenic Byway in Arkansas, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail in North Carolina and Tennessee and Scenic 7 Byway in Arkansas.

10Best and USA TODAY extend their congratulations to all the winners.


License the 10Best Readers' Choice Award Logo



AlertThe Experts

Anna Hider

Anna Hider

Anna Hider

Larry Bleiberg

Larry Bleiberg

Larry Bleiberg

Lydia Schrandt

Lydia Schrandt

Lydia Schrandt