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10 Scenic Road Trips In The U.S. To Take In The Fall (And 10 In The Winter)

There's hardly anything more quintessentially awesome than a good old-fashioned road trip. Every summer, hordes of tourists take to our nation's most scenic roads to soak in the sites passing by our windows at 55 miles per hour. The New York Times reported this year that while they've become much shorter than they used to be (three or four days compared with the two-week trips of the past) road tripping is actually more popular than ever. In fact, 39 percent of vacations that Americans took in 2016 were road trips.

The extraordinary number of cars on the road during summer holidays, however, is simply discouraging. Why fight the traffic anyway when the sites are arguably prettier and the roads undoubtedly quieter during the offseason? During the fall, for instance, the changing leaves set New England routes ablaze. You can even forage for your own apples and pumpkins along the way! During the winter, too, unbearably hot destinations in the desert become cool and blanketed with a layer of crisp, white snow. You won't find us hitting the road in the heat of summer anymore; we'll opt for cruising beneath a canopy of autumn leaves in October from now on. Here are 10 U.S. road trips you shouldn't miss in the fall, and 10 to try in the winter, too.

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20 Fall: Blue Ridge Parkway

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The National Parks Service calls this route "America's favorite drive," and there's no better time to embark on the Blue Ridge Parkway than during the fall. This parkway is not actually a national park itself, but it does, however, connect two national parks together: Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina. More people drive this 469-mile stretch than visit the Grand Canyon each year, Roadtrippers says. The road winds through rugged mountainscapes, above sweeping valleys that come to life with fiery oranges, reds, and yellows as the foliage changes color in the fall.

19 Fall: Skyline Drive

nps.gov

Once you arrive in Shenandoah National Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway, you won't want to miss the Skyline Drive, stunning at all times of the year but especially during autumn. There are about 70 lookouts along this 105-mile drive, offering panoramic views of the Shenandoah Valley and Piedmont, the National Parks Service says. This Virginia forest reserve is brimming with wildlife that you're sure to see along the way: black bears, deer, wild turkeys, and more. The National Parks Service says to dedicate at least three hours to travel the full length of Skyline Drive, and plenty more if you factor in picture-taking time to flood your Instagram feed.

18 Winter: Pacific Coast Highway

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This West Coast route — also known as the PCH or Highway 1 — is one of the most iconic road trip destinations in the U.S., but during the summer months, it is one hot, clogged-up mess. Everyone wants to spend their summer holidays on the beaches of California — Malibu, Monterey, and Santa Cruz — but the famous Pacific Coast Highway is simply not designed for the thousands who flock here this time of year. The PCH is full of prominent landmarks such as Big Sur, the Danish village of Solvang, Pigeon Point Lighthouse, Hearst Castle, and more, but if you want to avoid the crowds, come when it's quieter in the wintertime.

17 Winter: Mount Hood Scenic Byway

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It would be impossible not to feel warm and fuzzy on a road trip route that's absolutely bursting with holiday spirit. This loop rolls through the "Christmas Tree Capital of the World," Outside Magazine says, and even features a "Christmas Fantasy Trail," a 1,000-foot-long hiking trail where, leading up to Christmas, you'll find festive light displays and bonfires. The Mount Hood Scenic Byway runs 1.5 hours from Portland to the 3,690-foot Mount Hood (fun fact: it's actually a volcano), where cozy lodges offer roaring fireplaces and marshmallow-topped hot cocoa. Those making a return trip to Portland should take Oregon 99E through Oregon City for a change in scenery.

16 Fall: Finger Lakes

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New York's Finger Lakes is as much of a wine paradise as California if you can believe it. Every year in September, the region hosts the Harvest Celebration of Food and Wine, offering the best of fresh Finger Lakes vino and seasonal cuisine. And what better way to enjoy a bottle of red than while sitting outside in the crisp autumn air overlooking the lakes and flamboyant foliage? Roadtrippers recommends driving the 75 miles from Syracuse to Rochester, stopping along Ovid, Romulus, Seneca Falls, Geneva, and Himrod. You're going to need a designated driver for this route because you won't be going far without stopping to taste the local sauce.

15 Fall: The Berkshires

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The Berkshires of Western Massachusetts is a mountainous region dotted with quaint villages, all offering an abundance of outdoor adventures and a bustling farm-to-table scene. The Berkshires tourism website features several different road trip routes to drive in October, but one of them is a scenic ride on Route 8, which winds its way to the top of Massachusetts' highest peak, Mount Greylock, ablaze in fall colors this time of year. From the top, visitors can even jaunt through the vibrant wilderness on a section of the Appalachian Trail, the 2,200-mile hike that goes from Georgia to Maine.

14 Winter: The Gulf Coast

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Route 98 runs from western Mississippi to southern Florida, highlighting the best of the sunny Gulf Coast. Since its scorching in the summer, this route is best explored with the windows down during the cooler months. Don't worry, it's still warm enough down south to sunbathe on these pristine beaches. Route 98 is the Gulf Coast's version of the Pacific Coast's Highway 1. Hugging the shore the entire way, this 60-mile road trip route features old Florida towns, national forests, protected marshlands, notoriously delectable seafood, white-sand beaches, and other gems of the so-called "Forgotten Coast."

13 Winter: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

visitmysmokies.com

Pass through a canopy of snow-coated tree limbs in the Great Smoky Mountains, America's most visited national park. There's a reason why more people visit here than the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Yellowstone: it's home to endless ridges, ancient mountains, green forests, and that good old-fashioned, banjo-plucking mountain culture you can only find in Appalachia. Most of the millions of visitors who flood into Great Smoky Mountains National Park each year see its scenery by driving the mountain-skimming highway that runs through the park, National Geographic says. There are 385 miles of mountain roads to explore, and while many of them are packed with snow several months of the year, you can always hop out and discover this winter wonderland on foot.

12 Fall: Michigan's Gold Coast

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If it's a coastal drive you seek, start at Traverse City and drive along the Grand Traverse Bay, 100 miles along the coast of Lake Michigan's northeastern shore, which is dotted with picturesque fishing towns, lighthouses, and unique coves. Here, you'll find lush, green pines, firs, and spruce trees in contrast with the bright changing leaves of maple and oak trees, Travel and Leisure says. Don't get so distracted by the vibrant leaves, however, that you forget to stop by Northport to pick a few of Kilcherman's Christmas Cove Farm's 250-some varieties of apples.

11 Fall: Vermont's Route 100

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Most consider New England to have the best fall foliage in the country, and of the many places to leaf peep here, Vermont reigns. The 146-mile Scenic Route 100 Byway runs along the edge of the Green Mountains, which, during autumn, aren't really all that green. The route runs from Waterbury to Stowe along rivers, state parks, and state forests (not to mention the Ben & Jerry's ice cream factory). Many travel the road during winter as it's home to some of the East Coast's best skiing, but the mountains are much more colorful in the fall.

10 Winter: Arches National Park

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A sea of red rock spires and porticos in the vast desert, Utah's famous arches are straight up otherworldly. In the summer, however, driving the 36-mile (round-trip) road through the park can be road-rage inducing and is always, always sweaty. It's better to see these mysterious desert formations in the winter anyway, under a postcard-perfect dusting of white snow. There is barely a more beautiful sight than the fiery sandstone features and green desert flora peeking out from the fresh powder. With better views, cooler temps, cheaper lodging, and fewer cars on the road, visiting Arches National Park during the low season is the way to go. In the words of Utah.com, "basically, winter in Arches wins."

9 Winter: Lake Tahoe

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Each winter, snow bunnies from around the country flock to the border of Nevada and California to hit the world-class slopes of Lake Tahoe. The renowned ski destination is home to a gaggle of resorts, each with its own personality and aesthetic, Forbes says. Even if you don't come for the snow, the lake itself is something worth marveling at. The water here is not only strikingly blue, it's also so deep you could fully immerse the Empire State Building in it. A drive along Lake Tahoe during winter will reveal the legendary Bonsai Rock potentially cloaked with snow, scenic lookouts over wintery wonderlands, and quiet caves and coves, Roadtrippers says.

8 Fall: Lake Superior Circle Route

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The Gold Coast isn't the only place to catch the leaves changing in Michigan. Trees along the Lake Superior Circle Route in the Western Upper Peninsula hit their peak of fall color as early as late September. The Black River Scenic Byway will spit you out beneath spectacular waterfalls framed by vibrant foliage, while Highway 519 will lead you to Porcupine Mountains State Park, where you can marvel at the colors along lush nature trails. Midwest Living calls the 1,200-mile Lake Superior Circle Route "one of the world's greatest drives" and recommends that every road tripper carve out at least five days for it.

7 Fall: Rocky Mountain National Park

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Anyone would agree that the Rocky Mountains are breathtaking at any time of the year; the road that winds through this alpine desert runs along the tops of Colorado's most majestic peaks, past patches of ice and snow (even in the summertime) and high-country lakes, and crossing paths with wild elks, moose, mountain goats, and marmots. With much of it sitting above 9,000 feet, this 82-mile route runs right through the country's highest-elevation city of Leadville. One Colorado tourism site recommends starting the journey at Copper Mountain and ending it in Aspen, where your eyes will feast on the vivid canary-colored trees.

6 Winter: Glenn Highway

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If you're looking for the most remote, extreme, and northernmost winter road trip possible, Alaska's Glenn Highway is one that "will make you feel like an Ice Road Trucker," Outside Magazine says. This 226-mile route will take you through tiny towns with populations that hover just over 1,000, Nordic ski destinations, bear trails, and the village that inspired Northern Exposure, all in the shadow of North America's highest peak, Denali. Along the way, you could stop for a scenic flight over snow-covered peaks or strap into some snowshoes and explore with your feet. This Alaskan adventure takes at least three days.

5 Winter: New York City & Beyond

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Every American has gazed — either through a television screen or in real life — at the gigantic, elaborate Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center, always with cheerful folks festively ice skating around its base. There's something just plain magical about the Big Apple during the holidays. Outside Magazine recommends road tripping 348 miles from Manhattan northwest through the Norman Rockwell countryside to Bradford. Along the route, road trippers will run into the largest private ski resort in all of North America, HoliMont, not to mention plenty of frozen-over lakes to skate on and cozy fireplaces to curl up next to on this seven-day drive.

4 Fall: Rangeley Lakes Scenic Byway

visitmaine.com

One of the shorter drives on this list, the 35-mile Rangeley Lakes Scenic Byway can easily be done in a day. This Western Maine route wraps around Rangeley Lake, which is the center of the popular Rangeley Lakes region consisting of six major lakes. You'll watch the orange and auburn trees dance in the lake's reflection like a painting come to life. You'll swoon over the quaint New England villages along the way, beckoning travelers to step back in time. With only two and a half hours of driving time required, you can take your time to picnic at the Height of Land lookout point or rent a canoe and take it out on Mooselookmeguntic Lake.

3 Fall: The Last Green Valley Scenic Byway

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Don't let its name deceive you. During autumn, Connecticut's Last Green Valley transforms from green to deep red hues. Located in the eastern part of the state, Route 169 is a coveted fall foliage touring route that not only highlights the fall colors that New England is so well known for, but also passes by old stone walls, historic homesteads, and picturesque meeting houses, Connecticut Living says. The iconic route runs through the 26,477-acre Pachaug State Forest (Connecticut's largest!) and the Natchaug State Forest, where road trip-goers can enjoy a riverfront picnic amidst the crisp autumn leaves.

2 Winter: Route 84

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Do you know the way to Santa Fe? You will after you navigate Route 84, an iconic road tripping route that takes you through the heart of the Southwest. The 152-mile drive runs between Wolf Creek Ski Area (which gets 430 inches of snow per year) and Santa Fe, because, yes, desert dwellers get into the spirit of winter, too. During this four-day road trip, you'll run across snow-dotted peaks like the 9,862-foot Corro Pedernal mesa and ample hot springs to warm your shivering bones on a cold winter's day.

1 Winter: Zion National Park

utah.com

Much like Arches National Park, Utah's Zion National Park just down the road is another desert oasis that is scorching hot (and flooded with tourists) during the summer, but quiet, peaceful, and sometimes even snowy during the winter. The park's particularly low elevation means that winter temps here are mild and entirely tolerable. According to Utah.com, snow rarely reaches the canyon floor, but it isn't out of the ordinary to look up and see white-capped sandstone peaks and trees. To take the adventure even further, road trippers can drive from Zion to Las Vegas, 2.5 hours, or to Bryce Canyon National Park, 1.5 hours away.

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