The Best Autumn Weekend Road Trips

Get out for a weekend on the open road and experience autumn in all of its colorful glory

Nature puts on one of its most spectacular shows during the fall months, which makes this a perfect time to plan a weekend road trip. Whether you’re traveling along the interstates, byways, back roads or city streets, you’ll discover a world full of color. Get on the road to adventure and experience the stunning beauty of the outdoors with our top picks for fall weekend road trips.

Beauty on Both Sides of the Columbia River Road Trip – 440 miles

  Watch migratory birds like Canadian geese soar over the Columbia River during the chilly autumn afternoons in Kennewick.

DAY 1 – 213 miles. Discover the majesty of the Columbia River Gorge in autumn from historic highways that straddle the famous river on both the Washington and Oregon side. Start your road trip in the weird and wonderful city of Portland—which sits at the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers. An early sweet treat to-go from the famous Voodoo Donuts (in either Old Town or the Davis neighborhood) is a great way to kick things off. Or, stop by for your morning meal favorites at either the classic Cadillac Café, or the Gateway Breakfast House for all the standard breakfast fare. Afterward, take either I-5 or I-205 across the Columbia River into Washington and connect with Route 14 E. Your first stop is for a short yet beautiful riverside hike along the Cape Horn Trail to the Lookout and Cape Horn Falls. Then, it’s onward to Beacon Rock State Park. Stop by the Beacon Rock Headquarters and take a hike down either Riddle Lake Trail for perfect photo-op views of the 848-foot-tall basalt monolith, or the Beacon Rock Trail (if you’re feeling adventurous). Next, visit WA State Historical Marker #19 where you’ll find some truly “heavenly” views of the iconic Bridge of the Gods. Take advantage of a toll-free crossing on foot, or continue on the Evergreen Highway into Stevenson.

After an informative tour at the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum, take a detour on Cook-Underwood Road to the Columbia River Gorge Viewpoint for some sweeping autumn-color views of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Lunch at Everybody’s Brewing in nearby White Salmon will keep you energized for the next leg of the trip. First, it’s a short after-lunch walk/hike down Syncline Trail East Trailhead (Old Highway 8) to see Rowland Lake Falls. Next, stop by the Stonehenge WWI Memorial in Maryhill, or continue through Plymouth from Route 14 onto I-82 into Kennewick. Traveling with kids? Take them to the Gesa Carousel of Dreams on your way into town to ride the nearly 110-year-old restored Charles Carmel hand-carved wooden carousel. Check into your Kennewick hotel and wrap up your day by chowing down on BBQ favorites at the simple, counter serve Porter’s Real Barbecue. Top sit-down options include the fun Foodies Brick & Mortar and the brew-centric Proof Gastropub.

  Get an Instagram worthy shot of downtown Portland and all the autumn colors in-between from high up in glorious Washington Park.

DAY 2 – 227 miles. Start early with breakfast at Just Joel’s. After fueling up for the day, cross the Ed Hendler Bridge into Pasco and connect with US-12; then, hop on US-730 at Wallula Junction and head back into Oregon. Your first stop is in Umatilla for a morning hike through the McNary Wildlife Nature Area. Then, it’s a quick stop in Arlington for a photo-op at the Columbia River – Jones Canyon Viewpoint. Or, continue onward into the Deschutes River State Recreation Area. Stop here to stretch your legs and see the mouth of the Deschutes River where it empties into the Columbia River. Next, on your way into The Dalles & Chenoweth, check out Pulpit Rock and the Anderson Homestead at the southwest side of town for a couple of quick photo-ops. Then, it’s time for a tour of the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum—the official interpretive center for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, with exhibits highlighting the heritage, geologic history and natural beauty of the region. Afterward, take the Historic Columbia River Highway (US-30) out of town to Rowena Crest Viewpoint for arguably the best views in the Columbia River Gorge area, followed by a quick hike up to Mosier Falls nearby. Once in Hood River, enjoy lunch at the famous and family run Bette’s Place (you simply must try the cinnamon rolls). Or, order up a Mediterranean fair and a brew with a view at Ferment Brewing Company.

There are more waterfalls per-square-mile along the next stretch of highway between Hood River and Troutdale than anywhere else in the country—and most of them are just a short hike away! Starting at Starvation Creek State Park, you’ll find three, easily-accessible waterfalls. If you have the time, hike a little further and see Warren Creek Falls and Lancaster Falls. You’ll also find hike-worthy falls in Lindsey Creek State Park, Wyeth State Park, Cascade Locks and Bonneville. Take the Historic Columbia River Highway from Dodson to Troutdale and be sure to at least make time to stop by Benson State Recreation Area (home of the famous Multnomah Falls) and Bridal Veil Falls just east of Latourell Falls State Park. In Corbet, stop by the Vista House to say farewell to the Columbia River Gorge.

Depending on when you arrive back in Portland, you may only have time for one or two attractions. If so, make it the best view in the city at Washington Park (home of the world-famous Portland Japanese Garden and International Rose Test Garden). After checking into your Portland hotel, it’s time to find out what makes the city such a foodie mecca. Dine at Paley's Place Bistro & Bar—famous local haunt serving locally sourced fare in an elegant setting near downtown. Or, stop by The Observatory for American classics and craft cocktails. And if food truck fare is more your style, Kee’s #Loaded Kitchen at 3625 NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd serves up some of the best soul food in the city, with the menu changing on the owner’s whim. Or, visit Fatsquatch PDX at 5240 NE 42nd Ave for tasty vegan food in a funky outdoor setting.

Colorful Adventures in the Land of Enchantment Road Trip – 450 miles

  Designed to resemble the Zia sun symbol when viewed from above, the New Mexico State Capitol holds the distinction as the only round capitol building in the United States.

DAY 1 – 295 miles. Discover high desert landscapes, forests bursting with autumn colors, and a world of hidden wonders while on the road through north central New Mexico. Begin your adventures on the road with a house-roasted cup of java and a quick bite to eat from Java Joe’s near downtown. Or, enjoy diner-style breakfast on Route 66 in Old Town at Central Grill and Coffee House. Then, take a 5 to 10-minute, or 15 to 30-minute hike on the looping trails to see the petroglyphs at Boca Negra Canyon (hikes here are far shorter compared to those in Petroglyph National Monument). Circle back to the Petroglyph National Monument Visitor Center, or just continue on Unseer Blvd out of town and connect to US-550 to NM-4 N out of San Ysidro. In Jemez, stop for a photo-op at the Soda Dam Historical Marker and take a short hike up to Battleship Rock or Spence Hot Springs. See some spectacular geological sights from atop the Valle Grande Overlook in the Valles Caldera National Preserve, and then continue on NM-4 E to NM-502 E into Los Alamos. After an early lunch at the quirky Blue Window Bistro, visit the Manhattan Project National Historical Park to learn all about this town’s atomic past.

Swing north on NM-30 via NM-502 E out of Los Alamos to see the unforgettable Puye Cliff Dwellings. Start at the Welcome Center, and then take Puye Road (follow the signs) to the cliff dwellings for a short hike and photo-ops galore. Afterward, head back the way you came and connect with NM-502 E again to US-84 out of Pojoaque into Santa Fe—your final stop for the day. Be sure to swing by the New Mexico State Capitol for a tour (or at least a photo-op). Then, make time to visit either the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, the New Mexico Museum of Art, or the Palace of the Governors. It’s also worth visiting The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi and the Santa Fe Railyard. But all that exploring is sure to work up an appetite. So, check into your Santa Fe hotel and have your end-of-day meal at Coyote Cafe & Rooftop Cantina, with its awesome views, elegant interior, and tasty southwest cuisine. Or, enjoy inventive diner eats inside a refurbished circa-1938 Texaco Station at Range Cafe Downtown. Want to eat where the locals do? Check out The Shed—serving up southwestern fare in a circa-1692 hacienda.

  Autumn is hot air balloon season in Albuquerque—especially in early October when the city hosts the International Balloon Fiesta. It's the biggest hot air balloon festival in the world!

DAY 2 – 191 miles. Wake up in Santa Fe to a cheery morning meal at Dolina Bakery & Café. Or, grab a fresh pastry and your favorite cup of joe at the hip 35˚ North Coffee and Pastelaria in downtown. Take it slow on US-84 N to the High Road to the Taos Scenic Byway via Pojoaque. Follow the Enchanted Circle Drive signs. This popular trek is rich in autumn colors and you’ll see some of the oldest rocks in the southwest (two-billion-year-old quartz and feldspar, to be exact). Stop for lunch about halfway on the loop in Eagles Nest at either Among Friends or the Eagles Nest Café. At the end of the loop, you’ll find yourself back in Taos. Stroll through the historic downtown district or visit the Couse-Sharp Historic Site. Take State Route 68 south out of Taos to Embudo and make a quick stop at the unique Classical Gas Museum. Then, follow the roads through Santa Fe onto I-25 back into Albuquerque. If you have the time, visit either the Albuquerque Museum or the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. Finally, check into your Albuquerque hotel and step out for a bite at Antiquity—a rustic steakhouse with an intimate setting. If counter-serve is more your speed, check out Frontier Restaurant—a local favorite serving homestyle southwestern food since 1971. Or, dine in a retro spot with whimsical décor and traditional diner eats at 66 Diner.


Pro Tip: Your adventures in the Land of Enchantment don’t necessarily have to end after dinner. Consider taking a haunted history tour of Old Town Albuquerque with #AbqTours. It’s a mildly spooky, family-friendly outing that makes for the perfect end to your New Mexico road trip.


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Eastern Ridges & Lowlands of Wisconsin Road Trip – 488 miles

  A drive through Door County, Wisonconsin, near Green Bay feels like a journey through a wonnderous storybook setting.

DAY 1 – 275 miles. Wisconsin offers seasonal sights that rival even the best autumn colors of New England—from the shores of Lake Michigan to Lake Geneva, and all the towns in-between. Start your Midwest autumn road trip in Milwaukee. Check out Uncle Wolfie’s Breakfast Tavern for your morning meal just north of downtown. Or, head up to Maxfield’s Pancake House for your favorite breakfast creations. Then, hop on WI-42 N through downtown toward Two Rivers. Stop for a photo-op at the Two Rivers Lighthouse Historical Landmark, and then check out the Point Beach Visitor Center and see the Rawley Point Lighthouse in . Drive past the World’s Tallest Grandfather Clock in Kewaunee on your way into Door County. Take WI-42 to WI-57 north into Northport; then WI-42 south through Sister Bay and Ephraim. These winding country highways take you through the region of Wisconsin known as the New England of the Midwest. Visit any of the small towns along the route to see historical Cape Cod-style architecture set against a gorgeous backdrop of autumn colors. Stop for lunch on the way into Sister Bay at Boathouse on the Bay. And be sure to drive the iconic Door County Curvy Highway through a dense, wooded area bursting with autumn colors both on your way in and out of Northport.

Once you’re done soaking in the fall sights of Door County, drive south toward Green Bay. Stop and explore the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary. Visit the Nature Center and hike the Sanctuary Trailhead. If you have the time, stop by the Neville Public Museum to discover exhibits showcasing Northeastern Wisconsin art, science and history. Or, pay a visit to the Green Bay Botanical Garden and take a walk through a vast array of colors along the garden’s many trails. By now, you’re probably ready to sit back and enjoy your end-of-day meal before calling it a day at your Green Bay hotel. Why not grab a classic burger and shake to-go from the old-school, no-frills Al’s Hamburger—an area favorite since 1934! Or, head downtown and stop by Copper State Brewing Co. for a local brew and bite.

  Watch the waves of Lake Michigan crash against the breakwater in Lakeshore State Park near downtown. Just be sure to bundle up! The lake winds are some of the coldest in the country.

DAY 2 – 213 miles. On your second day, you’ll leave Green Bay early and take a detour (via Lost Dauphin Road) down the Fox River to visit The River Coffee and Cream in tiny Wrightstown. Here you can sip your morning coffee and enjoy some small bites with stunning river and bridge views. Afterward, take the back roads to WI-55 and connect with US-10 W into Appleton/Menasha. Find your way into Neenah (just south of Appleton) and take a morning stroll through gorgeous Kimberly Point Park. Then, pay a visit to the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass—or, skip it and follow Park Ave south to Commercial St. Connect with US-45 S along the shores of Lake Winnebago through Oshkosh and drive into Fond du Lac. Tour the beautiful Gottfried Prairie & Arboretum, or head straight into the Lowlands via WI-175 S and County Road P to the WI-16 Bypass E. Follow the WI-67 Bypass S into Oconomowoc. Then, take WI-67 S into Eagle to visit the Old World Wisconsin historic site and museum to see life as it was on a 19th-century farmstead.

Your Lowlands adventure continues in the incomparable town of Lake Geneva. Take a scenic drive on any of the rustic roads and visit any of the beaches along the lake—the autumn colors here are considered some of the best in the country. Enjoy lunch at the historic lakefront Oakfire bistro; and then, visit the Geneva Lake Museum if you have the time. Turn northwest and finish out your day in Milwaukee. If you arrive early enough, you can take a tour of the Original Cheesehead Factory—a Milwaukee must-do. Then, head into the historic Third Ward to visit Lakeshore State Park for awesome views and the Milwaukee Pierhead Lighthouse. Round out your adventure with a tasty meal from a New American menu that changes daily in a rustic setting (plus local beers and elevated cocktails) at Morel. Or, head to Harbor House—an upscale seafood restaurant with city skyline and Lake Michigan views before turning in for the night at your Milwaukee hotel.

Historic Highways, Byways & Trails of Massachusetts Road Trip – 140 miles

  Stop and rest for a spell at Laurel Lake, which straddles the town line between Lee and Lenox and offers a truly beautiful (and peaceful) autumn respite.

DAY 1 – 140 miles. Experience spectacular autumn colors and sites rich with American history along the Massachusetts back roads and byways. You’ll begin in Boston. After an early start, stop for breakfast at The Breakfast Club near Harvard Business School, or The Diner at 11 North Beacon on your way out of Boston via US-20 (the scenic route without tolls). Take a short detour on Boston Post Road to drive through the Weston Historic District. Stopping at either the Weston Historical Museum or Golden Ball Tavern Museum is optional, but worth it! Continue on into Sturbridge, but be sure to stop by the lovely Wayside Inn Grist Mill for a photo-op (or a quick demo tour) of the historic working flour mill—it’s stunning in autumn. Next, visit the Old Sturbridge Village—an open-air museum with costumed staff and family-friendly activities in the 1830s settlement recreation. Then, head into Springfield and stop by the Springfield Museums District in downtown to check out the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden. Grab lunch at 141 Main Street in Agawam (just southwest of Springfield). Or, stop by the family-friendly Little George’s Restaurant on US-20.

Just outside of Woronoco, US-20 turns into the famous Jacob’s Ladder Scenic Byway. It’s a picturesque drive through some of the state’s (and country’s) best autumn sights, as well as several nifty attractions and stops to make along the way. Take a short hike on Newman Tail in the Chester Blanford State Forest, check out the Chester Railway Station & Museum, or experience the beauty of the Keystone Arch Bridges via the Keystone Arches Trailhead. The final stretch of the scenic byway crosses the Appalachian Trail at Greenwater Pond in Becket into the town of Lee. Visit The Mount, Edith Warton’s Home by Laurel Lake just north of town before checking into your Lee area hotel. Then, enjoy farm-to-table, seasonally inspired meals with a changing menu at Nudel Restaurant in nearby Lenox. Or, stick to town and have dinner at 51 Park Restaurant & Tavern instead.

  Minute Man National Historical Park in Concord is set near the same spot where the first shots of the American Revolutionary War were fired in 1775.

DAY 2 – 175 miles. Grab a coffee and a crepe (or a vegan breakfast offering) from Starving Artist Creperie and Cafe. Or, take a detour up to Dalton near the southeastern corner of Pittsfield to Stacie’s Corner Café for some real breakfast delights. Connect with the Mount Greylock Scenic Byway via Lanesborough and take the 16-mile byway up and around the state’s highest peak in the Berkshires. Only open until November 1 each year due to snow, the Mount Greylock State Reservation became the state’s first wilderness park in 1898. Now, it’s offers one of the state’s prettiest drives. Stop by the Mount Greylock Visitor Center and check out the War Memorial tower near the summit. Next, leave one scenic byway for another in North Adams. The Mohawk Trail Scenic Byway runs all the way to Orange, just outside Westminster. Along the way, visit the Hail to the Sunrise Park, check out the Bissell Covered Bridge, and see the “glacial potholes” at Shelburne Falls. Once in Westminster, stop for lunch at the family-run 1761 Old Mill restaurant housed in a circa-1761 rustic mill.

After your midday meal, connect to the Union Turnpike (MA-111) and then take Barretts Mill Road at the roundabout onto the Battle Road Scenic Byway. You’ll find dozens of historical stops on this byway (via Massachusetts Ave) through Concord, Lexington and Arlington. In Concord, you can tour the Ralph Waldo Emerson House, visit the Bloody Angle - 1775, and see the Paul Revere Capture Site. But if you only have time for one stop, make it the Minute Man National Historical Park. Stay on Massachusetts Ave to drive through historic Harvard University, then continue your autumn splendor history tour at any of Boston’s top historical attractions, like Boston National Historical Park, the USS Constitution Museum, and both the Old State House and Old South Meeting House. Finally, it’s time to check into your Boston hotel; and then, finish out your day with a meal at Yvonne’s. This hidden supper club offers handsome décor and refined eats. Or, you can check out the Libertine. It’s just a short walk from the Paul Revere House and serves up a fun spin on American classics.

Autumn Wonders Above, Below & In-Between Road Trip – 394 miles

  The parts of Mammoth Cave that you can see make up only a fraction of what is considered to be the longest network of caves in the world.

DAY 1 – 105 miles. On our final autumn weekend road trip, you’ll witness the glory of the season in the national forests, caverns, lakes and cities of northwestern Tennessee and southwestern Kentucky. Wake up to breakfast at Monell’s in downtown Nashville. Or, grab a kolache and a coffee from Yeast Nashville in the Maxwell Neighborhood across the Cumberland River. Hit the road and make your first stop in Park City to take a vacay photo of the Bells Tavern historical landmark. Then, it’s straight into Mammoth Cave National Park for a full day of exploring. Start at the Visitor Center, then take a tour of the cave. Tour schedules vary by the season and can be as long as three hours. Reservations are recommended, as is bundling up—it can get really chilly down there! You can grab lunch in the park at either Green River Grill or Spelunker’s Café & Ice Cream Parlor at the Lodge. Then, head into Cave City to check out Dinosaur World—it’s great for kids. Stop by the Onyx Cave Rock Shop, or visit the Mammoth Cave Wildlife Museum to see dozens of rare taxidermized animal and insect exhibits. Finally, check into your Cave City hotel, and then head out for dinner at either Bucky Bees BBQ or Sahara Steak House.


Pro Tip: There’s far more to see and explore in Mammoth Cave National Park and nearby Cave City than what can fit into just one long afternoon. Consider extending your weekend road trip by an extra day to fully experience this incredible national park and all the wonders above (and below) it.


  Want to get a full dose of autumn color? Take a stroll through any of Nashville's historic neighborhoods.

DAY 2 – 289 miles. Your second day is more about the drive than the actual stops. Wake up in Cave City and skip town early to take KY-70 N through Brownsville onto KY-259 into tiny Bee Spring. Have your morning meal at the adorable Bee Spring Restaurant. Then, take KY-238 W from Bee Spring to KY-185 N into Caneyville, where you’ll hop on the Western Kentucky Parkway (or, US-62 for the more scenic route) west into Grand Rivers. Stop by Lighthouse Landing historical landmark for a photo-op. Then, grab a bite for lunch at Lite Side Café for homemade goodness and a cozy atmosphere. Or, check out Patti’s 1880’s Settlement. Next, cross the bridge over the Barkley Canal onto the Woodlands Trace National Scenic Byway into the gorgeous Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area.

You’ll experience an autumn feast for the eyes along this stretch of road. Start with a short stop at the North Welcome Station. Then, drive the Elk & Bison Prairie loop. Visit the Golden Pond Visitor Center and Planetarium, and then take a hike along the Central Hardwoods Scenic Trail for autumn colors up close. Cross into Tennessee and stop by the Homeplace 1850s Working Farm. You can also stop by the South Welcome Station (or skip it if you already visited the North station) on your way out. Take US-79 E through Clarksville and connect to KY-12 S to follow the Cumberland River into Nashville. While here, take a walk through Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park, snap a photo of the Tennessee State Capitol, and visit Arts District & Downtown. There you’ll find the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum and the world-famous Ryman Auditorium. Before checking into your Nashville hotel, stop by the Skulls Rainbow Room for American fare served in 1948-speakeasy-style digs. If small plates and craft cocktails is more your style, check out Black Rabbit. After dinner, take an evening walk down the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge for beautiful city views—the perfect way to round out your autumn weekend road trip.

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