The 5 Best Fall Road Trips

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Cooler weather, crisp blue skies, and an explosion of orange, gold, and red foliage are what make fall such a perfect time for a road trip. Whether you have just a few hours or a week, you’ll find plenty of leaf-peeping opportunities. The premium fall foliage drives tend to be in New England, the Appalachians, and the Rockies, but you can find a scenic drive just about anywhere. Here are five of the best fall road trips to take this season.

The Cabot Trail, Canada

autumn colours on the winding roads of Cape Breton's Cabot Trail
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The U.S. is by no means the only place to enjoy autumn’s brilliant hues. Ranked among the top greatest drives in the world, the 185-mile Cabot Trail circles the northwestern area of Cape Breton Island. The Cabot Trail’s spectacular ocean and bay views interspersed with vibrant fall colors are what makes this trip particularly memorable. You can drive this hilly route that rises from the sea and clings to mountains from either direction, but driving it counterclockwise offers the most magnificent ocean views. Plan on at least eight hours or make it a multi-day trip and visit cultural heritage sites such as the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site and the Alexander Graham Bell Historic Site and Museum. If you have the time, book a whale-watching tour from Pleasant Bay Harbor. For a truly epic adventure, tour the Cabot Trail by motorcycle.

Christchurch to Queenstown, New Zealand

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If you can’t get away during September or October, head to New Zealand in April to catch autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. You won’t see the array of colors you see in North America and Europe, but you’ll relish the warm golds and yellows against New Zealand’s unparalleled natural beauty. You can pick up a rental car in Christchurch, the South Island’s major city, and drive the roughly 300-mile trip to Queenstown. Be sure to stop in Arrowtown for the Arrowtown Autumn Festival near the end of April. Arrowtown is the South Island’s crown jewel for fall foliage. If you have the time, take a side trip to Lake Wanaka, about 40 miles north of Queenstown. The route from Lake Wanaka to Queenstown takes you through the gorgeous Cardrona Valley.

Transfăgărășan Highway, Romania

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The Transfăgărășan Highway has earned nicknames such as “The Road to the Sky and “The Best Driving Road in the World” for its exquisite beauty. This 56-mile highway traverses across the Făgăraș Mountains through five tunnels, 831 small bridges, and 27 viaducts. One of the first sites you’ll see standing high on a cliff overlooking the Argeș River is the Poenari Fortress ruins. Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula character, used the Poenari as one of his main fortresses. You’d have to climb 1,462 steps to reach the ruins, but access is often restricted. Next, you’ll come to the Vidraru Dam, one of Europe’s largest hydroelectric dams, and enjoy impressive views of Vidraru Lake. At the highest part of the highway at about 6,700 feet, you’ll find Bâlea Lac, an iconic glacial lake with fantastic hiking trails.

The Kancamagus Highway, United States

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Known locally as “The Kanc,” this scenic 34-mile stretch wanders through the White Mountain National Forest and connects the two ski towns Lincoln and Conway. You can drive straight through or stop at one of many excellent hiking spots. From the Conway end (east side), you can stop at the Saco Ranger Station and pick up a map. The highlights you won’t want to miss are the Albany Covered Bridge and the Russell-Colbath Historic Homestead Site, a 19th-century farmhouse furnished with period pieces. If you’re a waterfall aficionado, get your fix at the Swift River Lower Falls, the Rocky Gorge Scenic Area, Champney Falls, and Sabbaday Falls.

Roman Via Regina, Italy

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Lake Como is crawling with visitors during the summer months, arriving to enjoy Italy’s best-known lake for swimming, boating, and dining. Skip the crowds and visit in fall instead to see dazzling red, orange, and gold foliage reflected in the lake’s surface. While you might be tempted to simply sit on a veranda overlooking gorgeous Lake Como, it’s well worth your time to explore the Via Regina, also known as the Strada Regina. Ancient Romans built this route, which runs along Lake Como’s western shore. Today the Via Regina is partially absorbed by modern road SS340, but still encompasses splendid historical sites such as the Palazzo Gallio and the Villa Olma. You can stretch your legs and walk along part of the original ancient cobblestone path between Menaggio and Rezzonico.

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