I’ve always heard that Maine is the best place to visit to see fall foliage, and though I hope to make it up that way someday, it’s hard to believe that the fall foliage could get any better than some of the places I’ve visited right here in the South. The South offers some of the most breathtaking landscapes and beautiful mosaics of warm fall colors. You just have to know where to look.
6 Must-See Fall Foliage Road Trip Stops in the South:
1. Branson, Missouri
It’s hard to beat fall in the Ozarks, and Branson, Missouri and the surrounding area offer amazing views of fall foliage by car, boat, or train. Take the driving tour around Table Rock Lake or take a fall foliage cruise on Lake Taneycomo. You can also take the Boston Scenic Railway on a 40-mile round-trip ride that offers beautiful views of the spectacular fall colors of the Ozarks.
2. Fayetteville, Arkansas
Just a little south of Branson, you’ll find Fayetteville, Arkansas. This small college town boasts some of the most beautiful fall foliage in all of Arkansas. Plus, it’s just a short car drive from the Boston Mountains’ Scenic Loop and the beautiful Devil’s Den State Park to the South. You can also see Buffalo National Park and the spectacular overlook at Hawksbill Crag (arguably the most beautiful overlook in all of Arkansas) to the east.
3. The Natchez Trace Parkway // Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee
Make your way from Arkansas to Mississippi and take the Natchez Trace Parkway from Natchez, Mississippi, through the Northwest corner of Alabama and all the way to Nashville. This 444-mile scenic drive offers great views of Southern fall foliage. Check out Jeff Busby Park in Mississippi, the Freedom Hills Overlook in Alabama, and the view of the Double-Arch Bridge and surrounding foliage at the Birdsong Hollow Overlook in Tennessee. Of course, these are just a few of the many sites and overlooks along the way. It’s a lovely, peaceful drive that offers some of the best fall foliage of all three states.
4. Gatlinburg, Tennessee
From Nashville you’ll head east to Gatlinburg, and, really, you can’t talk about fall foliage in the South and leave out the Great Smoky Mountains, with its breathtaking overlooks and scenic hikes. Consider taking the aerial tramway or the chairlift in Gatlinburg to get an awe-inspiring view of the Great Smokies from up above. Cades Cove Loop Road also offers a scenic drive through a beautiful valley in the park, and if you drive up Clingmans Dome Road you can view the highest peak in Tennessee, which is also the highest peak along the Appalachian Trail. If you want to see the best the South has to offer in terms of fall foliage, visiting Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains should be at the top of your list.
5. Asheville, North Carolina
Take the scenic route from Gatlinburg to Asheville by following TN 73 to U.S. 23/70. This will take you through some amazing fall scenery as well as through the cute little town of Hot Springs, NC. In Asheville, you’ll want to take at least a half-day to visit the Biltmore Estate, which looks all the more lovely surrounded by some of the region’s oldest and most gorgeous trees in all their fall glory. Take time to check out the Biltmore Estate’s gardens and grounds – either by car, or if you’re more adventurous, you can take a horseback or Segway tour.
6. Roanoke, Virginia
After you’ve explored Asheville and thereabouts, take the Blue Ride Parkway all the way from Asheville to Roanoke, Virginia. Consider detouring to see Linville Falls or to pick apples in Waynesville, North Carolina. Be sure to check out the Mabry Mill, at milepost 176.2, where you can get a glimpse of early pioneer life and see the picturesque sawmill surrounded by gorgeous red and yellow fall foliage. When you finally make it to Roanoke, you’ll want to drive up the Roanoke Star & Overlook on Mill Mountain to see the stunning view of the valley and surrounding mountains or head to nearby McAfee Knob to see one of the most photographed spots on the entire Appalachian Trail with its beautiful view of the Catawba Valley.
Keep in mind that the primetime for viewing fall foliage can vary from one place to the next, so plan accordingly. When you know those fall leaves are bursting in color, then jump in your car for a fall foliage road trip!
Image Source: BigStock