The crisp fall air triggers more than the need for an extra layer or a hot cider craving. It’s part of the chemical reaction that entices trees to let go of their green, revealing a bright flash of color before winter sets in. And it’s also a great excuse for a drive. The best leaf peeping trips take you on a tour of the most brilliant autumn displays set along quaint towns, scenic byways or high elevation passes.
If you have a choice of vehicle for your tour, pick one that allows an unobstructed view of the landscape for every passenger. A sporty convertible or a 4×4 with the top off will allow you to see the entire sky as you drive. For cooler temperatures, a vehicle with a panoramic sunroof lets in plenty of light while keeping you warm. At a minimum, make sure your leaf peeping ride has a robust defroster to keep your windows fog free.
Rocky Mountain Aspen
Aspen trees create one of the most brilliant displays each autumn and make for one of the best leaf peeping trips in all the country. Colors vary from golden to scarlet, and the bleached white bark adds a glow from underneath. At their peak, the aspen’s hues can be shockingly bright.
In the Rocky Mountains, aspens don’t typically grow below 5,000 feet, so you’ll need to travel to the high country. Rocky Mountain National Park is an easy day trip from the Denver metro area, supplementing the excursion with stunning views of Longs Peak and several lakes for a fall picnic.
For travelers farther north, Glacier National Park in Montana has large groups of aspens growing along the lowlands of the east side. Maples, mountain ash and black cottonwood can also be found here.
The Vivid Northeast
When mapping out the best leaf peeping trips, New England can’t be missed. The area is one of the most spectacular because the deciduous forests cover so much terrain and a variety of trees grow here. American beech, sugar maple and the tupelo tree are just a few of the species that form vivid globes of crimson and auburn throughout the region.
Start in Vermont’s Green Mountain Byway, where fall colors begin changing mid-September. The Catskills in New York are at their brightest through the middle of October. To see color a little later in the season, Litchfield County in Connecticut tends to peak towards later October or early November.
Pacific Coast Colors
If you’re looking for an unusual fall foliage drive, seek out the Western larch of the Pacific Northwest. This is one of the few conifers that sheds its needles each fall. Before the needles drop, they turn a gold bright enough to rival any aspen. The yellow larch against the dark green of neighboring conifers still stubbornly clinging to their needles makes for a striking contrast.
You can find western larch growing near Oregon’s Mount Hood and in other foothills along the Cascade Mountain Range. Nearby, the Columbia River Gorge also offers a scenic drive of autumn colors, complete with waterfalls scattered along the route. Oregon ash, bigleaf maple and cottonwood trees in this area typically reach peak color around the middle of October.
No matter where you live across the United States, with a little know how and planning you can view all of nature’s wonderful fall colors right from the cozy confines of your car.
Check out all the maintenance parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on the best leaf peeping trips, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
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As a freelance automotive writer, I create articles, how-to guides, web content and white papers for online magazine site and automotive companies. I passionately believe that cars and motorcycles should be appreciated for the works of art they are, and fantasize about owning a white Ducati 899 Panigale to display in my living room. I am currently the Corvette expert at About.com, cover alternatively-fueled vehicles and technology at HybridCars.com, and hold the imaginary title of Formula One test driver on the back roads surrounding my Oregon home.