In celebration of Fall Foliage Week, Outdoorsy pinpoints the top U.S. destinations Outdoorsy renters are headed to get a glimpse of unbe(leaf)able fall color.
Catching fall color at just the right time can be a fickle game to play — especially for people who live in climates where the seasons consist of early spring, spring, summer, and late summer. If you know where to look though, the reward for seeking out specks of burnt orange, golden yellow and ruby red is worth the drive.
Whether you need a spontaneous weekend road trip or want to take the scenic route home for the holidays, we looked at the top Outdoorsy rental destinations of the season and scouted the best nearby spots to see fall color at its finest. We even took a stab at selecting the perfect rig to rent in the area (a tough job, but someone had to do it).
The destinations listed below are based on aggregated rental volume data over several fall weekends during peak foliage.
No. 1: Denver, Colorado
>> Where to go: A surefire way to get a glimpse of fall color: head for higher elevations and take a whiff of the crisp mountain air. Thanks in large part to the state’s Aspen tree population, Denver is within an hour’s drive of some of the most scenic fall settings in the U.S. Two of our favorites: The Lariat Loop Scenic Byway from Evergreen to Bergen Park and down through the cute mountain town of Golden and the Peak to Peak Byway connecting Black Hawk to Estes Park (the backyard to Rocky Mountain National Park).
>> What to drive: Stoke some serious #vanlife envy by traveling in this Wooden Truck Camper.
No. 2: Las Vegas, Nevada
>> Where to go: If you thought fall was just for the mountain dwellers, think again. Drive 15 minutes northwest of Las Vegas and you’ll be transported to the 2,000-acre natural oasis that is Floyd Lamb Park. Amble down the trail alongside the park’s resident duck and peacock population to admire the shifting shades of amber orange and highlighter yellow reflecting off the park’s four stocked lakes. Maybe there’s a reason why everyone told you about the best shows to go to in Vegas, but no one said anything about this. It is, after all, one hell of a showstopper.
>> What to drive: Venture into the desert southwest in comfort in the Gulf Stream Conquest.
No. 3: Salt Lake City, Utah
>> Where to go: Pack up and head south of town for two of our favorite drives that are well worth their curves and climbs in elevation. If the words “winding” and “narrow” excite you, then the 24-mile Alpine Scenic Loop connecting American Fork Canyon with Provo Canyon is calling your name. Each miles gets you closer to the groves of glowing yellow Aspen that lollygag along roadsides at higher elevation. Bonus points if you stop for a hike and waterfall sighting at Cascade Springs.
If you’re a driver who stops at every scenic overlook sign, you’ll want to alot an afternoon to wander along the Nebo Loop. The road on this loop climbs 9,000 feet over 32 miles and rewards travelers with sweeping views of Utah Valley, the Wasatch, and 11,877-foot Mt. Nebo, the highest peak in the Wasatch Range.
>> What to drive: Embrace the curves of a canyon road and tuck yourself in for star gazing under an above-the-bed skylight in the Sundance Kid.
No. 4: Phoenix, Arizona
>> Where to go: In the time it takes to watch the fall classic film When Harry Met Sally, you can drive northwest from the city of Phoenix to the town of Prescott — and the nearby Prescott National Forest. From Prescott, head northeast toward the historic mountain town of Jerome. The 35-mile drive consists of equal parts teeth-gritting switchbacks and serendipitous bursts of fall color from the ash and poplar trees that hug the road. At the risk of burying the lead, we feel compelled to mention this route conveniently and charmingly winds its way into wine country.
>> What to drive: Catch the sunset on the sandstone cliffs from the back of your campervan companion, Stevie.
No. 5: Austin, Texas
>> Where to go: Finding fall color in Texas feels a bit like finding a four-leaf clover. It’s hard to get too excited about the idea until you get a glimpse of one for yourself. Even the most seasoned Texans are surprised to discover that just a few hours southwest of Austin — and a hilly, pastoral drive through the Texas Hill Country away — lies a stand of Uvalde bigtooth maple trees at Lost Maples State Natural Area. Tucked between the natural area’s steep canyon walls and along the banks of the frigid Sabinal River, the trees are at their peak shift in foliage from mid-October to mid-November.
>> What to drive: Blend in to your surroundings by camping in this sherbet orange VW Westfalia.
No. 6: Seattle, Washington
>> Where to go: Once you have the Seattle prerequisite in hand (aka, a cup of hot coffee), get your day off to a strong start on the Mount Baker Scenic Byway and immediately begin spotting breathtaking golden yellows and vibrant reds. The byway starts just west of Bellingham, winding along the North Fork Nooskack River to Artist Point, where spectators can soak in sublime views of Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan. Another option for leaf peepers lies less than a half hour drive from the city center, where you can multitask between cheering on the salmon making their way up Issaquah Creek and taking photos of the fall foliage at the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery. Pro tip: Trained docents will be leading drop-in tours Saturday and Sunday from September 14 to November 3, 2019 at 11 a.m and 1 p.m.
>> What to drive: Keep your wanderlust spirit alive by traveling in a converted sprinter van nicknamed Wander Baby.
No. 7: Portland, Oregon
>> Where to go: Pack up a picnic, hit the Historic Columbia River Highway, and get ready to fall in love with the lush, colorful displays of nature along this route. Starting 20 miles outside of Portland in Corbett, the route heads east toward Multnomah Falls, Horsetail Falls, Latourell Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and a few other scenic stopping points suitable for leg stretching and picture snapping. Pro tip: Take a weekday off work and have the road all to yourself. If you’d prefer to stay close to the city, there’s no better quick weekend getaway than heading for the hills at Forest Park and hitting the trail along the Pittock Mansion Hike, which rewards visitors with 360-degree views of the entire city. Soak in views of Portland below and sneak a peek of Mt. Hood if the weather is clear.
>> What to drive: Live out your #vanlife dreams in the modern, minimalistic design of converted campervan, Roads and Rose.
No. 8: San Francisco, California
>> Where to go: In October and November, the countryside in and around Sonoma are flowing with red — and we’re not just talking about vino. Take picturesque Arnold Drive toward Sonoma Valley Regional Park, where you can hike through 200-plus acres of wooded ridges and hide away under orange-hued oak tree canopies. For a drive in the opposite direction and an undulating view of fall foliage, head southeast of Fremont to Sunol Regional Wilderness, a 6,000-plus acre park nestled in the rolling hills of the Diablo Range. Hit the winding 5.3-mile trail to the Cerro Este overlook, working up a sweat as you trek up switchbacks to rewarding lookouts of burnt orange, yellow, and burgundy.
>> What to drive: Can you think of a cuter space than this custom-built camper to unwind with a cup of hot cocoa? We’ll wait.
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