Editor’s note: It’s that time again! Each year, in honor of the official fall kickoff, we love highlighting these prime spots for soaking in the changing leaves. Enjoy! (Updated September 21, 2023)
Leaf lovers, REJOICE! If you’re looking for an autumnal experience, we recommend traveling some of the South’s most scenic byways to take in the colorful fall foliage. It’s a show-stopping experience, for sure, but it’s on a limited run. If the Smoky Mountains Fall Foliage Prediction Map is on target, the colors will begin fading by early November. These are your best bets for a leaf-peeping excursion in fall 2023.
Perhaps the most obvious in the group is the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is a no-brainer any time of year — but especially during peak leaf-peeping season. Pile in the car and set out on the 469-mile drive that weaves through the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina. The richly diverse region is abundant in flora and fauna, and this beautiful area counts among its attractions the highest peak in the Eastern United States, the oldest river in North America, and the highest waterfall east of the Rockies. The wildly colorful leaf-changing season is merely icing on the cake. Click here and find the ideal itinerary for you.
In northern Georgia, just south of the Chattahoochee National Forest, you’ll find Dahlonega, a beautiful town that is part of Georgia’s wine country. Sure, you can enjoy a wine tasting while there — fall is harvest season, after all — but for this article, it’s all about the leaves, and at this time of year, you’re in for a colorful treat. Known for its mountain settings and impressive vistas, Dahlonega offers an up-close look at the leaves in all their colorful glory at this time of year. (Select which scenic drive you want to take here.) Book a stay at a bed & breakfast or a local inn, and spend your time there exploring the stunning scenery and strolling the award-winning downtown square. It’s a storybook setting, for sure!
Regardless of whether you have time to knock out the entire 3,000-mile Great River Road, which follows the Mississippi River from Minnesota to Louisiana, or you simply want to jump on and travel a smaller segment of it, this National Scenic Byway offers an amazing experience for road-tripping leaf-peepers (wow, that’s a mouthful). The stunning beauty that can be found throughout the Mississippi River Valley is abundant and, at this time of year, quite colorful. To truly make an adventure of it, map out your journey with the help of the suggested itineraries found here. Otherwise, load up the car and set out for an amazing adventure filled with unbeatable scenery that will have you relishing the season.
Designated as a National Scenic Byway, the Natchez Trace Parkway is as bold and colorful as it is peaceful. Regardless of whether you start the 444-mile drive in Nashville, TN, or Natchez, MS, it’s a spectacular ride — especially in the fall. Bikers, motorcyclists, and drivers all share the road, so be mindful of that when you’re gazing at the leaves. Or better yet, stop off at any of the ideal spots for leaf-peeping — here’s a list of the best fall foliage viewing areas on the Parkway.
It goes without saying that Gatlinburg is a Southern treasure. Ideal at any time of year, fall is the second most popular time for people to visit (behind July) — and with good reason. Crisp temperatures and breathtaking views are just two of the many reasons folks flock to this East Tennessee hotspot. Located in the Great Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg is filled with wildlife and impressive scenery … the mountains go on and on. And despite the destructive wildfires of late 2016, the region has rebounded and is preparing for a most colorful fall season. If you want to vacation there during October, you have to book your stay well in advance. So if you’ve missed the boat on accommodations this fall, not to worry — you can still enjoy a drive on U.S. 441, which travels through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where you’ll be surrounded by nature in all its colorful glory. Find more useful travel tips for visiting the park on their website. And learn more about the history of Gatlinburg HERE!
Enjoy the season, and safe travels wherever they may lead you!
If you’re looking for even MORE leaf-peeping destinations, check out our Southern State Park Guide. The beauties listed there promise especially stunning views this season.