The CarGurus Guide to Leaf Peeping

Courtesy of Instagram user @bentley.potter.photography

The leaves are just starting to change — and while we haven’t seen bright colors like this photo yet, we’re giddy with anticipation.Here’s how you can plan for a leaf-peeping road trip this fall. Jump in your car — and don’t forget the camera! 

Know When the Leaves Change in Different Regions

SmokyMountains.com takes weather trends into account to predict when the leaves will change around the country; it suggests that leaves will start changing color September 17th, hitting the northern parts of Minnesota and New York first. October 8th will kick off peak leaf-peeping season in much of the Northeast, the Northern Midwest and the Southwest. Want to head south for leaf peeping? The Mid-Atlantic and the Southeast also offer Instagram-worthy views as soon as October 15th.

Find a Scenic Route

Once you’ve decided when you can go, where will you go? While there are plenty of options, we’ve listed some top scenic routes below:

  • For drivers road tripping in the Northeast, you can take Interstate 395 through Massachusetts and Connecticut (67 mi.) for a brief day trip. It offers several picnic stops for drivers to get out, stretch their legs, and snap a photo. For those further north, Route 12 (62 mi.) takes drivers through the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Route 182 (12 mi.) takes drivers through Southern Maine. If you’re interested in a longer drive, Interstate 93 (189 mi.) stretches through Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont.
  • Looking to go leaf peeping in the Midwest? Michigan drivers who want a day trip can explore Highway 119 (16 mi.) and its “tunnel of trees” or M-29 (41 mi.). Route 127 (758 mi.) is great for road trippers who have plenty of time; they can see the leaves change in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Going further north? Jump on Highway 13 (338 mi.) in Wisconsin.
  • Enjoying the fall in the Southwest? Start in the south of Utah to see the leaves change. Drivers interested in a day trip can choose to take a shorter drive via the Cedar Breaks Scenic Byway (6 mi.) or a longer drive via the Patchwork Parkway (51 mi.) or the Markagunt Plateau (40 mi.) Scenic Byways. For slightly longer drives in Colorado, check out Colorado Highway 133 (71 mi.).
  • For those road tripping in the Southeast, make sure to drive through Virginia. It has the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains, creating a beautiful backdrop to any drive. Skyline Drive (105 mi.) and Blue Ridge Parkway (469 mi.) could serve as backdrops for a longer road trip.

Pick a Worthy Car

In search of a car ideal for leaf peeping? Check our list to give you a few ideas to jumpstart your search. If you’re looking to make the most of the car you have, here are a few features that will maximize your leaf-peeping fun:

  • Moonroof/open roof: The best fall days offer a crisp breeze, sunshine, and the smell of autumn. So convertible owners, drop the top! For hardtop owners, slide the moonroof open or at least open your windows to feel the sunshine on your face and take a deep breath of the season.
  • Roof rack: Some leaf peepers may want to take a detour to bike or kayak. That’s when a roof rack will come in handy — load your bikes or kayaks before you embark. And just think: You won’t have to worry about getting the upholstery dirty when you’re ready to continue driving.
  • Heated seats: Leaf peeping on brisk fall days usually means dressing in layers. Once you’re in the car, you can ditch the flannel or jacket while still staying cozy, thanks to heated seats.
  • Strong gas mileage: Who wants to cut a leaf-peeping ride short because you’re low on gas? Vehicles with strong highway mileage can keep you focused on finding the best view, not the nearest gas station.

Once you’ve decided your route and found the best car for the drive, you need to make sure your car is ready for the trek. Here are a few CarGurus-approved ways you can do that:

  • Give your car a checkup before driving: There’s nothing worse than having your car alert you to a problem… when you’re on a highway with no town in site. Check your tire tread for wear, top up fluids in your car, and make sure to have emergency supplies in the trunk.
  • Pack smart: Make the most of the cargo space you have by expertly packing your bags. That way, you have extra room for apples, pumpkins, and other fall-themed items you pick up on your journey.
  • Make a plan to take breaks: The Automotive Association of America (AAA) found that 10 percent of car crashes were the result of drowsy driving. To keep yourself alert behind the wheel, schedule driving breaks.
  • Enjoy the ride: Longer drives offer breathtaking views, so make the most of them! If you’re a passenger, pull your eyes away from your smartphone to look out the window. Traveling solo? Have a playlist ready to keep you company while driving.

Check out #fallfoliage or #leafpeeping on Instagram for more inspiration — and then check out @CarGurus for car tips.

How do you make the most of leaf-peeping season?

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