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3 Scenic Drives in the Southeast Perfect for Fall

blue ridge feature
The famous Linn Cove Viaduct along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Kolin Toley
Climbing season, backpacking season, leaf-peeping season—whatever you want to call it, autumn is an especially amazing time to hit the open road, and there are some pretty awesome places to do so in the Southeast. To welcome the all-too-welcome change of seasons, we’ve compiled a list of the Southeast’s favorite scenic drives. Whether you’re hoping to rock climb or hike, or you simply want to see some stunning fall color (maybe with a warm roadside cider in hand), these routes will take you straight to the good stuff.

1. Blue Ridge Parkway

The long and winding Blue Ridge Parkway.
The long and winding Blue Ridge Parkway. BlueRidgeParkway NPS

Why It’s Great: Commonly referred to as “America’s Favorite Drive”, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469-mile U.S. National Parkway that runs through Virginia and North Carolina, connecting Shenandoah National Park with the Great Smoky Mountains. The route is peaceful, with incredible vistas of layered mountains and Appalachian landscapes. Because of its twisting turns and distracting beauty, the Blue Ridge Parkway is the perfect journey for slow travelers looking for tranquility and inspiration. This is especially true from mid-September through late-November, when fall colors make everything pop with vibrancy.

What To Do: With over hundreds of diverse trails stemming from the road, there are ample opportunities to hike and explore the wild. We recommend you check out the hike to Craggy Gardens—one of Asheville’s most iconic hikes—or take a dip in some of the area’s swimming holes. Enjoy views of misty mountains, cascading waterfalls, and autumn leaves—all while meandering footpaths lined with crimson and alabaster tinted leaves.

Where To Stay: Consider staying in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, at The Inn at Ragged Gardens—an elegant mountain hotel that dates back to 1900, just 1.9 miles off the Parkway and a short six minute drive from downtown Blowing Rock. Here, you can experience fine dining and relax in the hotel’s wood-paneled reading room or rock wall garden. Blowing Rock is a charming town in itself, offering visitors all sorts of award-winning restaurants, spas, fudge shops, art galleries and boutique shops, and of course plenty of nearby outdoor adventure.

2. Cherohala Skyway

A blustery day along the Cherohala Skyway.
A blustery day along the Cherohala Skyway. Andrew Piazza

Why It’s Great: Known as one of the best drives in the country, this 40-mile National Scenic Byway crosses through Tennessee’s Cherokee National Forest, as well as North Carolina’s Nantahala National Forest. The two-lane route connects Tellico Plains, Tennessee with Robbinsville, North Carolina, with curvy turns and elevations ranging between 900 and 5,400 feet above sea level. Revered among sports car drivers and motorcyclists for its winding multi-mile ascents and descents, the Cherohala is a great two-to-three hour trip that boasts awe-inspiring beauty. And with premier hiking, stunning waterfalls, and overlooks always nearby, the journey is regularly noted as “America’s Best Secret.”

What To Do: With yoga retreats, massage and spa treatment centers, rugged trails, paddle boarding, whitewater rafting, and canoeing all within arm’s length, there are countless options. Whether you’re looking for an adventure-packed day of water sports and intense hiking, or a calming evening in a rocking chair or hammock, you can find it here. Be sure to check out Tellico Bakery for a homemade sandwich lunch, overlooking the river. Also, be sure to snap a picture at the “Tail of the Dragon” sculpture, which honors an 11-mile segment of the course with 318 snaking curves!

Where to Stay: The Snowbird Mountain Lodge is a cottage located on a secluded mountaintop in western North Carolina. Overlooking Lake Santeeetlah’s crystal waters and the Cherohala Skyway, this particular accommodation is pretty spectacular. Lamps amplify the glow of the cabin’s chestnut wood, giving off a cozy, home-like, feel. Since 1941, visitors have retreated to this lodge for its delicious and locally sourced dining (including three complimentary meals), lovely views, and unbeatable hospitality.

3. Foothills Parkway

The parkway near Newfound Gap.
The parkway near Newfound Gap. Brad Kebodeaux

Why It’s Great: As part of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this drive offers a number of camping opportunities, wildlife viewing, beautiful hiking (including a short, paved walk to Look Rock Tower), picnic spots, and more. And a huge plus is that the Foothills Parkway doesn’t experience nearly the same traffic issues as some of the other roads in the Smokies. The Parkway West is 17-miles long, traveling along the backbone of the Chilhowee Mountain, while the Parkway East is 5.5 miles through Cocke County and cradled just below the park.

What To Do: Located on the parkway is Look Rock—a natural observation ledge that overlooks the Smoky National Park. An easy, paved half-mile path leads directly to the lookout tower, allowing spectacular 360-degree panoramas of the area’s famous mountain peaks.

Where To Stay: The Dancing Bear Lodge offers a variety of excellent accommodations. From the spacious VIP Le Conte to the Evergreen Cottage, Dancing Bear aims to please everyone’s style and budget. The full service lodge—just minutes from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cades Cove, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and Sevierville—offers hotel-like amenities, with a more home-like feeling. With wrap-around porches, rocking chairs, hiking trails, lakes for flyfishing, and gourmet meals, you’ll stay occupied!

Originally written by RootsRated for Rock/Creek.