5 November 2013

Five Great Fall Color Drives (That Aren’t in New England)

Fall is a great time of year to get out and drive your classic car, especially in the northern parts of the country, where the treetop canopy transforms from a monolith of green to a vibrant pallete with bursts of red, gold and orange.

New England perhaps is best known for its spectacular color displays, but there are other parts of the country that offer just as much splendor. Better still, some of these alternatives start their color change a bit later in the season, inviting one more drive before the cold fist of winter drops down.

Here are five great fall drives that will delight all the senses without stepping foot in New England.

The Rolling Hills of Brown County, Ind.: 72 miles, ~2 hours

Less than an hour south of Indianapolis, just outside of Bloomington, Ind., sits Brown County State Park. Despite the Hoosier State’s reputation for being board-flat, the topography here takes on a different look. The land in and around the park rolls gently, and the typical Midwestern grid pattern of roadways yields to natural features. The drive is a combination of open, flat sections stitched together with enough blind hills and curves to let you exercise your abilities, and the car’s.

Start in Bloomington and head east on Highway 46. Take Highway 135 south through the eastern edge of the park. Pick up Highway 58 to head west along the park’s southern edge, and then connect at Highway 446 to continue the loop north across Lake Monroe and back to 46.

If you’ve had some fun and have some time to spare, pick up Highway 37 on the outskirts of Bloomington and head up to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a trip to the museum.

Appalachian Orchards in West Virginia: 100 miles, ~2.5 hours

This is about as close to a New England fall drive as you can get without going north of the Mason-Dixon Line. The back-country roads of rural Maryland and West Virginia are some of the most beautiful – and least traveled – in the eastern part of the country.

Starting in Cumberland, Md., head southeast on Highway 51. When you cross the Potomac River, you’ll be in West Virginia, where the road is designated Highway 9. Follow 9 as it meanders south initially, and then back north along the Capacon River toward Berkeley Springs. Continue on toward Hedgesville and turn right onto Back Creek Valley Road (CR 7) and enjoy the smell of apple orchards at harvest time. Head east briefly on Highway 45, and then pick up Highway 51 and head south.

When you arrive in Charles Town, perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to catch some racing at nearby Summit Point Raceway, which hosts driving events through November.

Kettle Moraines of Wisconsin: 110 miles, ~3 hours

Wisconsin’s geography is unique among Midwestern states, characterized by mounded, rocky deposits (moraines) and low-lying ponds and lakes (kettles). Carved by ancient glaciers, this kettle-moraine landscape provides the perfect foundation on which to build entertaining driving roads, and the fall color change makes them all the more spectacular.

Start out in the scenic lakeside getaway of Lake Geneva and head north on Highway 120. You’ll pick up Interstate 43 north briefly, before exiting at Highway 83, where you’ll be back in scenic splendor in no time. In Hartford, take a quick jog east on Highway 60 and connect to Highway 144 north. In West Bend, take US 41 north to County Highway G. Enjoy Wisconsin’s “alphabet soup” of county roads as you continue north, taking County G to County T to County A, which also becomes County P. Confused? That’s okay, you’ll enjoy the drive.

Just outside the village of Elkhart Lake, where A and P split up, you’ll actually be driving on the original Elkhart Lake road race course used from 1950 to 1953. Follow the historic markers that denote the old course, and head into town for lunch at the Lake Street Café, or have a beer where all the legends have drank at Siebken’s Bar.

Tennessee Gold: 165 miles, ~3.5 hours

Between Interstates 75 and 65 just south of the Kentucky-Tennessee border is a serpentine ribbon of asphalt that would make the famous dragon at Deals Gap tuck its tail. The road is Highway 52, and it takes you through canyons and forests that will command your attention. It also connects remote villages with evocative names like Red Boiling Springs and Rugby.

From I-75, you’ll need to exit at Pioneer and head west on Highway 63. When you reach Highway 27, head south for a couple of miles and make a right to pick up Highway 52. Enjoy this unspoiled and lightly trafficked southern backroad for nearly a 150 miles of its winding allure before reaching I-65 in Portland.

From here, you can either take the Interstate south a half-hour and be in Nashville if you’re a fan of music, or head north to Bowling Green, Ky., for a stop at the National Corvette Museum. That is, if you still have anything in you after the drive.

Almost Heaven Indeed: 288 miles, ~6 hours

If you have the time for a long drive, the trip from Charleston, W.V., to Danville, Va., is one you won’t soon forget. It will take you the better part of a day, but will live on in your memory as virtually unmatched by anything else you drive afterward. This drive crosses the peak of the Appalachian Mountains, rising to spectacular heights that overlook majestic river valleys below, and then descending in to verdant valleys that look almost Alpine in their bucolic perfection.

From Charleston, find Highway 60 and start driving south. You’ll be following the Kanawha River almost turn-for-turn. By the time you reach White Sulphur Springs, you’ll probably need a rest, and the legendary Greenbrier is the place to do it. Backtrack east to Highway 219, which you’ll take south into Virginia at Narrows. Pick up Highway 460 and head east. A brief jog west on I-81 will find you at Highway 8, which you’ll take south to continue on your way. Highway 8 ends at Highway 58, also known as the Jeb Stuart Highway. Take this east for the remainder of your drive to Danville.

Once you arrive, pay a visit to one of America’s longest – and most charming – race tracks, Virginia International Raceway. Chances are if it’s the weekend, there’s something happening at VIR.

25 Reader Comments

  • 1
    David West Portland, Or. November 6, 2013 at 14:37
    Toooooooooo Badddddddd you guys don't know anything West of the Mississippi. The Northwest ( Washington, Oregon, and Northern Ca.) have some of the BEST fall drives in the country. You guys need to spread your wings a little instead of spending all your time on the east coast.
  • 2
    Dale Payne Brighton, MI November 6, 2013 at 14:46
    You may have wanted to include Skyline Drive and/or the Blue Ridge Parkway. just a thought. Dale
  • 3
    alan United States November 6, 2013 at 15:32
    Nice black Alfa Romeo in the picture, almost looks like mine.
  • 4
    Mike Schultz Clarksville, TN November 6, 2013 at 16:00
    Highway 52 is a very good road, but wouldn't even make the Dragon twinge. Sorry.
  • 5
    Gerald Ellison Fayetteville, NC November 6, 2013 at 16:06
    This past August 2013 - as part of my Car Club (Cariolina Jaguar Club) 's Annual August Road Trip - we drove the "Appalachian Orchards in West Virginia" route mentioned above. As part of the "Washington Heritage By-way" in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia - it is everyrthing you have said -AND MORE !! This is a "Must Do" drive that is well worth the time & effort to get there. Several years ago our August Road Trip included a substantial part of the "Almost Heaven " West Virginia routes which you describe and was also a memorable Trip - and not for the "Faint -of-Heart' -but perfect for beautiful scenery & a Sport Car, and for those without a schedule to keep. Next August we will be doing our Annual Road Trip in Tennessee and maybe we will be luckly enough to travel on at least part of the "Tennessee Gold" Route you describe above.
  • 6
    Ron St. Paul, MN November 6, 2013 at 16:34
    I wish we had the info in late August or September - I would have done the Wisconsin drive. Other wise excellent article - keep up the good work. Thank you
  • 7
    Jim Monreal Ft. Lauderdale, FL November 6, 2013 at 16:47
    You forgot to mention the Alfa Romeo Spider you are driving, as shown in the picture.
  • 8
    kenneth blanke claremore,ok74017 November 6, 2013 at 17:30
    On highway 166 off 66, the back way to the port area has a drive that is beautiful. It may about 5 miles or less but is very nice. Another drive on 44 in Mo. , you will see the Mark Twain Forest , either spring or fall it is very nice . Never drive this at night, it is pitch black.
  • 9
    dennis craig canada November 6, 2013 at 18:43
    too bad canada doesn't show up on your radar. . .we have many beautiful routes right here in southern ontario
  • 10
    ray koffman greensburg pa. November 6, 2013 at 19:50
    dont forget coopers rock state forest near morgantown wv. and linn run state park near ligonier pa.
  • 11
    P.Johnson Rochester Hills Mi. November 6, 2013 at 21:58
    I have to agree, M-22 is one of the best year round and in a convertible its heaven. Nothing like a cruise under the canopy of trees, and then a stop at the Legg's Inn. My driveway is also excellent this time of the year, almost makes you want to live here.
  • 12
    Ed Riordan W Bloomfield, MI November 6, 2013 at 12:37
    Don't forget M-119, north of Harbor Springs MI and, of course, no list would be complete without M-22!
  • 13
    Gustavo Vazquez United States November 7, 2013 at 15:15
    Look's like Mr. Joslin never drove the Blue Ridge Parkway from Asheville to Waynesboro at the peak of autumn leaf season....
  • 14
    Francis Herbert United States November 7, 2013 at 07:47
    And if you ever go to a top ten list you can add Skyline Drive between Front Royal, Va. and Waynesboro with very many overlooks and hiking trails.
  • 15
    Mark DePue Leipsic, OH November 7, 2013 at 09:03
    Don't forget the Traverse City, MI area in general. When I was with an MG group in Lansing we used to make a trip to TC every fall. Living there maybe you are numb to the beauty around you! :-)
  • 16
    Jac Smittle Central Ohio November 7, 2013 at 12:37
    Those living in Central Ohio shold travel to the Hocking Hills area around Logan, Ohio for beautiful rolling hills of color.
  • 17
    David Fort Defiance Virginia November 8, 2013 at 20:55
    Amen, Roger. We are blessed.
  • 18
    Roger North Mississippi November 8, 2013 at 09:12
    Thanks for such a nice article. We have very distinct seasons here and are experiencing a beautiful fall. I also enjoyed all the comments from around the country. Bottom line, arent we blessed to live in such a beautiful country.
  • 19
    Len Beloit,WI November 9, 2013 at 21:42
    I work as an Independant Damage Appraiser and in doing field assignments for roughly 30 different insurance carriers, I drive about 85,000 miles a year anywhere between Milwaukee,WI and Dubuque,IA. The daily changes of scenery, whether it be from the Kettle Moraines area of Wisconsin or the the "I can see forever-never ending views" from the Ulyssess S. Grant Highway (IL20) around the Hawks View area of Galena, IL. They are all part of what makes my job of travelling so enjoyable in our great part of the midwest.
  • 20
    Ron Centennial, Colorado November 10, 2013 at 17:38
    You guys need to get west of the plains! US 550 between Durango, CO and Ouray,CO (otherwise known as the "Million Dollar Highway") is an unforgetable drive any time of the year with 3 mountain passes over 10,000 feet and lots of twisty roads, hair pin curves and sheer drop-offs. Red Mountain pass just south of Ouray is by far the most spectacular. The aspen trees and gamble oaks in fall (late Sept.) make it even better. If your lucky there may be fresh snow on the 13,000 and 14,000 foot peaks.
  • 21
    Michael Rubin Napa Valley, CA November 11, 2013 at 16:38
    State Highway 49 through California's Gold Country offers colors, history, wineries and lovely driving. Also, Highway 128 from Cloverdale to Mendocino on the Northern California Coast through the Anderson Valley is special. A picnic lunch at Hendy Woods State Park near Philo is a great stop for a picnic lunch.
  • 22
    Mike Waal Chestertown, MD November 11, 2013 at 10:10
    I highly recommend Route 14 from Watkins Glen to Geneva, NY along Seneca Lake, awesome vistas, and you get to do some wine tasting at the 25 or so wineries along the way. And don't forget, while in Watkins Glen to do a lap of the original 6.6 mile road course of the 1948 thru 1952 US Grand Prix held there. Also, Vermont, Route 7 from Bennington to Burlington, you won't be disappointed here either.
  • 23
    Juergen Cotopaxi/CO November 13, 2013 at 20:57
    I have chime in with Ron, Colorado in the fall is spectacular. Green meadows, snow capped peaks and Aspen Gold. Come and join us for an unforgettable M.O.A.B. trip [Motoring over Americas Back roads] , it is an annual event that will take you to Mesa Verde in the south west corner of Colorado, Sept. 2014. You can contact us at MGCCRMC.org
  • 24
    Paul Chonich Long Lake,Michigan November 21, 2013 at 19:17
    Back in the early 60's I drag raced Catalina's and GTO 's with the 389 eng. and tri power. Pontiac was always such a beautiful car. I miss Pontiac and still own a 1986 GT Fiero.
  • 25
    marty Columbus Ohio September 28, 2015 at 10:50
    Route 30 from Ligoner, PA to Breezewood PA rides the ridge and is one of the most colorful and historic rides in the Eastern USA. Lots of colonial homes and great little towns.

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