Fall Foliage Driving Trips

Glamping, IthacaA fall foliage road trip is more than a mere drive. It also includes apple picking, tasting cider and hot doughnuts, and perhaps most importantly, leaving your vehicle behind to take a much-needed scenic walk to a lonely waterfall, where autumn’s colors reflect off the water. Despite big marketing campaigns from states like Vermont, fall foliage is not restricted to the borders of New England. At Shenandoah National Park, orange beech trees and scarlet dogwoods provide the majestic color. Add fall harvest at vineyards and the annual fall round-up of bison at Custer State Park in South Dakota and you have more than enough reasons to hit the road.

This week, we’re discussing our favorite picks for September/October driving trips. If interested in any of these routes, please let ActiveTravels know and we’ll design an itinerary that takes into account the latest travel restrictions and lodging where you feel comfortable:

Fall Biking, Leelanau Peninsula, MichiganRoute 54A, Keuka Lake, New York

Autumn in the Finger Lakes of western New York State is the time of year when leaves on the maples turn a tad crimson and the grapes on the vines are ready to be harvested for their award-winning Rieslings. Start on the northern tip of Keuka Lake in the town of Penn Yan. Head south on Route 54A and just outside of town, you’ll see signs for Apple Barrel Orchards, a third-generation U-pick apple orchard that makes homemade cider on the premises. Continue south along the shores of the 20-mile long lake to reach Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery. Founded in 1962 and now run by Dr. Frank’s grandson, Fred, Dr. Frank put the Finger Lakes on the wine lovers’ map with his award-winning dry and semi-dry Rieslings. Nearby in Ithaca, Firelight Camps, offers the ideal glamping opportunity.


Sleeping Bear Dunes. MichiganLeelanau Peninsula, Michigan

One of the prettiest fall drives in Michigan travels north of Traverse City on M 22 to the northern tip of Leelanau Peninsula. Slow down and explore the region on this 75-mile loop and you’ll find diverse terrain, from the rolling countryside to historic lighthouses on Lake Michigan to the steep dunes of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The quaint village of Sutton’s Bay is home to Bahle’s, a department store from 1876, and a slew of galleries specializing in local artists and local scenes. Then it’s on to the circa-1858 Grand Traverse Lighthouse at the tip of the peninsula, a white brick lighthouse that looks absurdly small compared to the great expanse of water that surrounds it. Stay at one of the 11 house rentals or more than 80 condos at the lakefront Homestead Resort.


bison round-up, Custer State Park, South DakotaHighway 385, Rapid City, South Dakota

The fall foliage road trip was designed with places like South Dakota in mind. Venture to Rapid City and you’ll have the chance to cruise with relatively little traffic up and down the pine forests and granite passes of the Black Hills. Highway 385 will lead you to Vanocker Canyon and Spearfish Canyon National Scenic Byway, home to waterfalls and golden aspens. Also in the Black Hills is the 68-mile Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway (a 4-hour drive) that travels through six rock tunnels, past towering pinnacles and over pine-clad peaks, only to arrive at the most famous sculpture in the country, Mount Rushmore. As if that wasn’t enough incentive, the 55th annual fall round-up of bison takes place September 25th at nearby Custer State Park. Watch the cowboys and cowgirls drive the herd of some 1,300 buffalo, some of whom will be sold at auction in November. For lodging, it’s hard to top the convenience of the Roosevelt Inn in Keystone, located next to Mount Rushmore.


Fruit Loop, OregonFruit Loop, Hood River, Oregon

Autumn colors are not usually associated with the Northwest, the land of conifers. Yet, outside of Hood River, the 35-mile Fruit Loop feels like a quintessential fall drive back east. That is, until you look up and see the lofty snowcapped peak of Mount Hood towering above 11,000 feet. The route is lined with pear orchards, fields of lavender, alpaca farms, farm stands, wineries, and an emerging hard cider scene. Sample the wares at Fox-Tail Cider or Hood Valley Hard Cider, and you’ll be surprised to find that the drink is crisp, refreshing, and can easily be paired with the Chinook salmon and steelhead trout the region is known for. Quaff down a cider at the picnic tables behind Solera Brewery in Parkdale and you’ll be mesmerized by the spectacular view of Mount Hood. Make the wise choice of spending the evening at the Columbia Cliff Villas in Hood River and you’ll wake up to a sunrise over the Columbia River Gorge.