September 2009BOOK EXCERPT
Scenic Highways & Byways: Best Fall Foliage
Photo: Acadia National Park
Autumn leaves sparkle in Acadia National Park in Maine, New England.
From the book National Geographic Guide to Scenic Highways & Byways
Photo by George Burba/

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Scenic Highways & Byways: Best Fall Foliage

1. Acadia Byway, Maine
2. Three Rivers Scenic Drive, New Hampshire
3. Mohawk Trail Drive, Massachusetts
4. Rhode Island 77, Rhode Island
5. Canaan Valley Byway, Virginia & West Virginia
6. Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia & North Carolina
7. Wetlands and Wildlife Scenic Byway, Kansas
8. Talimena Scenic Drive, Oklahoma & Arkansas
9. Beartooth Highway, Wyoming
10. Avenue of the Giants, California

Acadia Byway, Maine

Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island. 27 miles (20-mile loop, plus 7-mile round-trip up Cadillac Mountain); 2 hours; Spring through fall. Expect traffic in July, August, and late September (for foliage). Not maintained in winter.

The Park Loop Road of Acadia National Park is a gently graded, two-lane blacktop winding through dense woodland and along rocky shoreline to the top of 1,530-foot Cadillac Mountain, with 360-degree views of the Atlantic Ocean and Maine coast. If you're an early riser, drive to the summit before dawn for a spectacular sunrise.

Three Rivers Scenic Drive, New Hampshire

Wentworth Location to Glen on New Hampshire 16. 74 miles; 2 hours; All year. Especially beautiful in fall. Driving north to south offers most dramatic views of mountains and valleys. This is moose country, so watch out for the huge beasts on the road.

This drive follows the Androscoggin, Peabody, and Ellis Rivers, the water highway of the old-time log drivers who shuttled timber to the mills at Berlin. South of Berlin, the route winds along the floor of Pinkham Notch, in the shadow of mighty Mount Washington.

Mohawk Trail Drive, Massachusetts

Greenfield to Williamstown on Massachusetts 2. 41 miles; 1 hour; Late spring to mid-fall. Massachusetts 2 can be very busy in summer and at peak fall foliage season (early to mid-October), but fall colors are magnificent and worth braving traffic.

Named after a route followed by Mohawk Indians traveling between what are now Massachusetts and New York State, the Mohawk Trail Drive has been a favorite scenic byway since it was first opened to automobile traffic in 1914.

Rhode Island 77, Rhode Island

Tiverton to Sakonnet Point. 14 miles; 1/2 hour; Late spring to mid-fall. Harvest season from late summer to early autumn is especially recommended, when roadside stands sell local produce.

Rhode Island's easternmost corner is separated from the rest of the state by Narragansett Bay and the Sakonnet River and by the fall river area of Massachusetts. Worlds away from busy Newport and Providence, this often overlooked part of “little Rhody” offers tranquil vistas of farmlands, vineyards, and the sea.

Canaan Valley Byway, Virginia & West Virginia

Blackwater Falls State Park to Virginia state line on West Virginia 32. 99 miles; 3 hours; Spring through fall. Fall foliage peaks in mid-October. Watch for fast-moving trucks.

This scenic byway will take you from beautiful Blackwater Falls to Seneca Rocks, through parts of both the Monongahela and the George Washington National Forests. Cruise past wineries and through farmlands before winding up a steep grade to a mountain crest.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia & North Carolina

Rockfish Gap, Virginia, to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina. 469 miles; 2 days; Spring through fall. Fine fall foliage and spring bloom. Higher elevations occasionally close in winter. Distances designated by mileposts.

Showcasing the age-old beauty of the southern Appalachians, the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of America's most popular scenic drives. Connecting Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks, the two-lane drive rides the crest of the Blue Ridge and other ranges, occasionally dipping into the hollows or climbing above timberline to heights more than 6,000 feet.

Wetlands and Wildlife Scenic Byway, Kansas

From US 281 near Hoisington to US 281 near St. John on Kansas 4, NE 100 Avenue, Kansas 156, NE 30 Road, RS 980, RS 1484, RS 554, RS 506, and RS 636. 77 miles; 3 hours; Spring and fall are best for bird-watching. Watch for slow-moving farm vehicles in harvest season.

The rolling hills of rural central Kansas are home to some of the most important wetlands in the Midwest, vitally important to tens of thousands of resident and migratory birds. This route offers excellent opportunities to experience the best of the area's wildlife viewing.

Talimena Scenic Drive, Oklahoma & Arkansas

Talihina, Oklahoma, to Mena, Arkansas, on Oklahoma 1 and Arkansas 88. 54 miles; 2 hours; Spring through fall. Spring bloom occurs in April and May. Fall foliage peaks from mid-October to early November.

Built in the late 1960s expressly for grand views, this two-lane highway ripples over the gentle Ouachita Mountains along the border of Oklahoma and Arkansas. Evergreen and deciduous trees shoulder the road, the latter making for gorgeous floral displays in spring and brilliant color in autumn.

Beartooth Highway, Wyoming

Red Lodge to Yellowstone National Park on US 212 via Wyoming. 68.7 miles; 2 to 3 hours; Late spring to fall. Aspens glorious in late September. Generally closed mid-October to Memorial Day. Major switchbacks.

From the rarified heights of Montana's alpine tundra to the thirsty soils of Wyoming's High Plains desert, this spectacular drive winds through some of the most beautiful and varied landscapes in the Yellowstone region.

Avenue of the Giants, California

Phillipsville to Pepperwood on California 254. 31 miles; 1 ½ hours; All year. Autumn colors are vibrant.

For visitors to 53,000-acre Humboldt Redwoods State Park, this is a quiet alternative to US 101, which it more or less parallels. You'll see ancient redwoods soaring from the alluvial flats of the Eel River and enjoy miles of hiking trails. Interspersed are woodsy hamlets, as well as tourist bait.

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