Feature: Scenic Fall Drives

From the Colorado Rockies to the Berkshires, these seven scenic drives across the United States and Canada offer vistas ablaze with autumn color.

By Karen Nagy

Hop in the car to explore time-honored routes, as well as more-unexpected destinations, that deliver dazzling foliage in the fall. Leaf seekers will get their fix from behind the wheel, though plenty of activities along the way will entertain and offer opportunities to enjoy the crisp fall air.

Watery Reflections in the Poconos

In autumn the 70,000-acre Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (570-426-2452; nps.gov/dewa), on the border between New Jersey and Pennsylvania, is a prime destination for viewing the reds and purples of the area’s oak, maple and dogwood. Drive U.S. Route 209 on the Pennsylvania side through the park along the Delaware River, stopping at the grassy Hialeh Picnic Area (River Rd.) for a picnic lunch on the riverbank. From the three overlooks on Pennsylvania Route 611 in the southern portion of the park, feast your eyes on the water gap, a notch the river carved in a large Appalachian ridge, with its colorful slopes of deciduous forest. Don’t miss Bushkill Falls (Bushkill Falls Rd., Bushkill; visitbushkillfalls.com). Dubbed the Niagara of Pennsylvania, this series of eight waterfalls is interconnected by a network of bridges and trails that meander through the woods.

Classic Day Trip in the Berkshires

East Coasters trek to this region to admire fall’s changing palette. Cruise the Mount Greylock Scenic Byway (open through mid-October), a popular drive in western Massachusetts. You can stock up on apple cider, doughnuts and pick-your-own apples at Lakeview Orchard (94 Old Cheshire Rd., Lanesborough; 413-448-6009; lakevieworchard.com). Soak up the panoramic views of Hoosac Lake there before winding up toward the 3,491-foot summit of Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts. Break for snacks by the roaring fire on the stone hearth at Bascom Lodge (3 Summit Rd., Adams; 413-743-1591; bascomlodge.net). Views of hillsides bursting with color are on display at Stony Ledge (Sperry Rd.) and Adams Overlook (Summit Rd.) scenic area. On the byway back toward Adams, climb the Massachusetts Veterans War Memorial Tower (Rockwell Rd.); from the top you can see five states on a clear day.

The Winding Blue Ridge Parkway

From Asheville take the Blue Ridge Parkway northeast to Craggy Gardens Visitor Center (364 Blue Ridge Pkwy., Black Mountain; 828-298-0398; blueridgeparkway.org), where a quick hike from the parking lot up Craggy Pinnacle Trail offers a 360-degree view of the valleys below. Next head to the top of Mount Mitchell (2388 NC 128, Burnsville; 828-675-4611; ncparks.gov), the highest peak in the Appalachian Mountains. Visitors park just 100 feet shy of the 6,684-foot summit for breathtaking views of the red-and-yellow hillsides of the Blue Ridge Mountains. To learn about the geologic processes that created these rocky formations, explore the interactive exhibits at the Museum of North Carolina Minerals (79 Parkway Maintenance Rd., Spruce Pine; 828-765-2761; nps.gov). Follow that with a visit to three-tiered Linville Falls (Blue Ridge Pkwy., mile 316.3), which plunges dramatically into a rugged gorge.

Golden Aspens in the Colorado Rockies

Come mid-September it’s hard to beat the beauty of a grove of white-bark aspens with glowing yellow leaves. To see the state’s signature tree in all its glory, drive southwest on U.S. Route 62 out of Ridgway through the high mountain pass of Dallas Divide. The prominent peaks of the rugged Sneffels Range soon rise behind a forest of aspens. You’ll find plenty of lunch options in the mountain town of Telluride, as well as the Telluride Gondola (Station Telluride, Oak St.; telluride.com), a free 13-minute ride to Mountain Village with 10,000-foot aerial views of the mountains and valleys. Be sure to visit the stunning 365-foot Bridal Veil Falls (visittelluride.com), at the end of a box canyon just outside town. End the day with a soak in the sulfur-free pool at Ouray Hot Springs (970-325-7073; ourayhotsprings.com).

A Taste of Quebec’s Natural Beauty

For prime leaf peeping, look no further than the Laurentian Mountains, where yellow birch and sugar maple put on a showy display in Jacques-Cartier National Park (103 Chemin du Parc-National, Stoneham-et-Tewkesbury; sepaq.com). Thirty minutes east of Quebec City, stock up on treats baked in 150-year-old ovens at Boulangerie Chez Marie (8706 Ave. Royale, Château-Richer; 418-824-4347); the bread with maple butter is especially good. Continue on to the impressive Canyon Sainte-Anne (Quebec Rte. 138E, Beaupré; 418-827-4057; canyonsa.qc.ca), where you can admire the scenery from suspension bridges over the roaring waterfall. And don’t miss the panoramic gondola at Mont-Sainte-Anne (2000 Blvd. du Beau Pré, Beaupré; 800-463-1568; mont-sainte-anne.com); it whisks visitors to the 2,625-foot summit, where a lookout tower and hiking trails await.

Arizona’s Largest National Forest

For a jaunt from Phoenix through some of Arizona’s most beautiful landscapes, travel north on State Route 87 to the three-million-acre Tonto National Forest (fs.usda.gov/tonto). Stands of shimmering aspen, cottonwood and elder trees line the way to one of the world’s largest natural travertine bridges, in Tonto Natural Bridge State Park (SR 87 north of Payson; 928-476-4202; azstateparks.com). View the 183-foot-high bridge and 400-foot-long tunnel from the parking lot, or take a short hike to see this geologic beauty at close range. There’s more nature and wildlife to soak up at Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery (3898 N. Tonto Creek Rd., Payson; 928-478-4200; azgfd.gov), which has pools of rainbow and brown trout and Arizona’s state fish, the Apache trout. Then wind through more forests and canyons along the gravel scenic loop that hugs the steep escarpment of Mogollon Rim (fs.usda.gov/asnf).

Cruising the Great River Road in Iowa

The Great River Road follows the Mississippi River through 10 states. The part that runs along the border between northeast Iowa and Wisconsin offers vistas of brilliant foliage against the Mississippi’s bluffs. Start in Dubuque and go north on the scenic byway, past the brick churches and stone houses of Sherrill. Be sure to stop at the bluff just north of Balltown, which many locals claim has the most astonishing overlook of the Mississippi Valley. Next head to the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge (fws.gov), where in late October hundreds of thousands of waterfowl gather as they migrate south for the winter. You can enjoy a picnic in the gazebos of Pikes Peak State Park (32264 Pikes Peak Rd., McGregor; 563-873-2341; iowadnr.gov). Live music and festivities are on offer at the annual McGregor Arts & Crafts Festival (Triangle Park, McGregor; 563-873-2186) during the first full weekend in October.

RCI affiliated resorts near some of the featured destinations include:
Condo-Québec au Scandinave 3034
110 Rue de la Tourbe, St. Ferreol les Neiges, Quebec
Member Review: “Spacious units.”
Scottsdale Camelback Resort 1150
6302 E. Camelback Rd., Scottsdale, AZ
Member Reviews: “Pristine grounds.”
“Wildlife galore; the kids will love it.” 
Sedona Pines Resort 4968
6701 State Rte. 89A, Sedona, AZ
Member Review: “The location offers peace and quiet—and who can resist the babbling brooks?”
The Christie Lodge 0867
47 E. Beaver Creek Blvd., Avon, CO
Member Reviews: “Shuttles to the slopes are free and frequent.”
“Central to just about everything.”
The Mountainside at SilverCreek 1325
96 Mountainside Dr., Granby, CO
Member Review: “Lovely mountainside units.”
Sunrise Cove at Village West 2101
20785 170th St., Spirit Lake, IA
Member Review: “The resort has the best beach on West Okoboji Lake.”
Clover Ridge 1775
5071 Clover Ridge Rd., Panora, IA
Member Review: “A very informed and helpful staff.” 
Berkshire Mountain Lodge D567
8 Dan Fox Dr., Pittsfield, MA
Member Reviews: “Well-appointed rooms.”
“We were treated like royalty.”
Silverleaf’s Oak ’N Spruce Resort 1243
190 Meadow St., South Lee, MA
Member Review: “Winding roads and neat little farm markets…Serene.”
Fairway Forest at Sapphire Valley 3420
4350 U.S. 64W., Sapphire, NC
Member Review: “The nearby waterfall hikes are indescribable!” 
Willow Valley Resort 0129
354 Bairds Creek Rd., Vilas, NC
Member Review: “Beautiful mountain scenery.”
The Villas at Fairway 1760
2157 River Rd., East Stroudsburg, PA
Member Review: “A great tubing area on-site.”
RCI® Tip

Planning on taking day trips on your next vacation? RCI Weeks® and RCI Points® subscribing members can rent a car through RCI® Travel*. The RCI Travel Best Rate Guarantee on flights, car rentals, hotels and more can save you the hassle of searching with other travel providers.

For complete member reviews (as member reviews have been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.

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Non-RCI Affiliated Resorts:
Le Germain Hôtel
126 Saint-Pierre St., Quebec; 888-833-5253; legermainhotels.com; doubles from $196** a night 
Vintage Block Inn & Suites
1107 Sanborn Ave., Okoboji, IA; 712-332-8040; vintageblockinnandsuites.com; doubles from $109 a night 
Porches Inn at MASS MoCA
231 River St., North Adams, MA; 413-664-0400; porches.com; doubles from $140 a night 
Skytop Lodge
1 Skytop, Skytop, PA; 855-345-7759; skytop.com; doubles from $289 a night
  • *For RCI Travel terms and conditions, go to RCI.Travel.com/terms. RCI Travel and the RCI Travel Best Rate Guarantee are administered by an independent third party under contract with RCI. For more information, visit the Air, Car, Cruise & More Tab on RCI.com.
  • *All prices are in USD.
  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: Fall 2015