Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans have rediscovered the fulfillment of the scenic road trips in their backyard. One of the best times in the United States to pack up the car and hit the highway is the fall due to the incredible foliage that dots the landscape. Residents in the Washington D.C. area are centrally located to drive north or south for unbelievable scenery reachable within a day’s drive.
Whether you plan to venture towards New England, the American South, or find a trip closer to home, fall is the best time for a D.C. road trip. Drive through national parks, hike in the mountains, or visit adorable towns with unbeatable hospitality. The freedom of exploring the open road and admiring nature’s beauty is an American pastime, and the East Coast is packed with breathtaking fall trips.
Let’s take a closer look at five of the best road trips from Washington D.C. to take your loved ones this fall.
Rockfish Gap, Virginia to Swain County, North Carolina
Distance From Metro DC Area = 469 miles
Coursing through the beautiful foliage of Virginia and North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a convenient road trip from Washington D.C. The drive is maintained by the National Park System and praised as one of the most scenic journeys east of the Mississippi River. Although it ranks among the most popular All-American Roads in the country, the near 500 miles give you unlimited chances to social distance with your loved ones.
Your trip starts just south of Shenandoah National Park and takes you to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. As you drive along the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains, notice their distinct bluish tent while the clouds linger above the mountaintops. The signature foliage starts to form in late September but reaches unspeakable natural beauty by October.
The route reaches high elevations, and it’s imperative to prepare for all types of weather when you leave your car. You’ll pass several national forests and have ample opportunity to find wildlife living in the area. Don’t miss the breathtaking overlooks that give you stunning vantages of the valleys in each state.
Cumberland, Maryland to Keysers Ridge, Maryland
Distance From Metro DC Area = 193 miles
For a road trip right on Washington D.C.’s doorstep, Western Maryland is a largely unexplored region amongst East Coast travelers. The thin strip of land wedged between Pennsylvania and West Virginia lets you explore the rugged Allegheny Mountains and offers countless outdoor activities.
Spend your days hiking through dense forests, rafting down wild rivers, or go trout fishing along the region’s waterways. Western Maryland’s foliage comes to life during fall, and it’s one of the best areas in the state for leaf peepers. Deep Creek Lake is a must-see for its piercing, amber-colored woodlands surrounding the water. There are beautiful hiking trails by the shoreline and equipment rentals available to cruise the lake.
The nearby Potomac-Garrett State Forest nurtures lots of wildlife and allows you to summit Backbone Mountain, Maryland’s tallest peak. After exploring the wilderness, continue your journey to visit some of the region’s historic sites. The 19th century C&O Canal served as one of the nation’s first transportation systems, and Cumberland Gap National Historic Park reveals the first gateway traveled by American pioneers.
Clarksburg, Massachusetts to Newport, Vermont
Distance From Metro DC Area = 216 miles
If fall foliage is what you’re after, then you can’t go wrong with a road trip through Vermont. The state might be New England’s most renowned for eye-popping fall colors, and it’s worth the drive from the Washington D.C. area. You’ll begin the road trip around the Massachusetts-Vermont state line and drive through Vermont towards the Canadian border.
The route hugs the Green Mountain Forest and passes many of Vermont’s quaint towns. As you wind through verdant forests, don’t be surprised to see farm stands selling local produce or hot cider. Many of Vermont’s popular ski resort towns rest along the roadway, and you’ll get a glimpse of the state’s beautiful mountains.
There are lots of recreational opportunities for active families such as hiking, mountain biking, and camping. Along the way, stop by local art galleries, breweries, eateries, and more to learn about Vermont’s rich culture.
Starting from Alton, New Hampshire
Distance From Metro DC Area = 81 - 97 miles
This scenic drive in New Hampshire is made for those who love chilling lakeside and exploring charming villages. Lake Winnipesaukee is New Hampshire’s largest lake and serves as the gateway to the state’s Lake Region. Alton Bay, the starting juncture of your trip, has enchanted visitors since the 19th century as one of the country’s earliest resorts.
Summer attracts the biggest crowds but fall offers sights of beautiful foliage around the lake, delicious local cuisine, and an abundance of recreational activities. The Ossipee Mountain Range borders the lake and provides numerous hiking trails to escape other fall leaf peepers visiting the area. For a nature-filled family picnic, head to Ellacoya State Park for a relaxing lunch.
When you reach Moultonborough, visit the Old Country Store & Museum to shop for all sorts of local treats. You’ll find maple syrups, jams, candies, cheeses, and other souvenirs for everyone in the family. The store’s history dates to the late-18th century and is one of the oldest surviving businesses in the United States. According to recent reviews, masks are required for all customers entering the building.
South Carolina Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway
Gaffney, South Carolina to Fair Play, South Carolina
Distance From Metro DC Area = 119 miles
Chase waterfalls and delve into Cherokee heritage on this majestic stretch of the southern Blue Ridge Mountains. Following the Upcountry of South Carolina, the byway is one of South Carolina’s best places to witness the changing of the leaves.
The route includes many side trip possibilities to gorgeous state parks that boast lots of enjoyable recreational activities. Caesars Head State Park features the 400-ft Raven Cliff Falls tumbling against the rocky cliffside. Visit Jones Gap State Park to trek through the colorful forest or paddle along the Upper Saluda River.
The ancient Cherokee Path is home to many historic sites and battlefields that forever shaped the United States. In addition to the Native Americans who inhabited these forests and rolling hills, European fur traders navigated the landscape hundreds of years ago. The Cherokee County History & Arts Museum showcases Native American life in the region, and the nearby Cowpens National Battlefield played a significant role in the American Revolution.
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