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Best Scenic Drives for Fall Foliage in the Northwest

A scenic drive is an incredible way to witness the fall foliage in the Northwest. These routes can allow you to enjoy phenomenal views without leaving your vehicle.

Watching the fall leaves change can be a memorable experience. Undoubtedly, something magical happens as the seasons shift and the bright colors begin to paint the landscapes.

Today, we’re sharing five of the best scenic drives to witness the fall foliage in the Northwest. 

Let’s hit the road!

Horsetail falls in the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon, showcasing the beautiful fall foliage of the Northwest
Horsetail falls in the Columbia River Gorge showcases stunning fall foliage

Cruising for Fall Foliage in the Northwest

People flock to this region year-round for its mountain ranges, rainforests, and glaciers. Yet, the trees steal the show from late September until early November. To observe the change at its peak, plan your trip for mid-October. However, elevation and weather play a significant role in the timing, so your exact dates may change depending on your destination. 

Thick evergreen forests create a stunning backdrop for the changing leaves. Some of the most impressive trees you’ll see are maple, dogwood, oak, ash, and birch. They combine to create a sea of colors. You can expect many yellows, reds, burgundies, oranges, and browns.

Cruising the back roads is a fantastic way for all ages to enjoy the show. You don’t have to stress about tired legs and chilly temperatures. You can put on your favorite music and escape the hustle and bustle of life. Many routes have parking areas to take pictures and enjoy a picnic.

A car ride may be your best option to make memories and connect with nature. Luckily, we’ve found some of the best scenic drives in the Northwest to witness the fall foliage.

#1 Seely-Swan Scenic Drive, Montana

This 90-mile path runs from Seeley Lake to Swan Lake in Western Montana. It uses Highway 83, which cuts through thick evergreen forests and along numerous lakes. Because the calm waters reflect the colors, your views will be spectacular.

Other famous routes in this area, like Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun-Road, are also popular for leaf-peepers. Unfortunately, many close before the height of the season. Barring any unusual circumstances, you can depend on the Seeley-Swan Scenic Drive to be open.

Those up for a bit of adventure can find some incredible hikes nearby. Hitting the trail can be an excellent way to get closer to nature. One of the best spots is Holland Lake. It features a three-mile path that’s fantastic for all ages. Bring your camera to capture the stunning view with snow-capped mountains in the background.

#2 Teton Scenic Byway, Idaho

The Teton Scenic Byway is a 69-mile route that spotlights the Northwest fall foliage in Idaho. Generally, it takes two or three hours to complete this drive. It starts in Swan Valley on Highway 31 and ends in Ashton, Idaho, on Highway 47.

With fewer visitors, many describe the area as the quiet side of the Grand Teton Mountains. For that reason, you can enjoy panoramic vistas, waterfalls, and wide-open spaces. Take the time to slow down and appreciate the sights of fall leaves and breathtaking landscapes.

Hiking and mountain biking are great ways to stretch your legs and explore the Targhee National Forest. Additionally, ranches, museums, and breweries make ideal pit stops while cruising the highway. 

Are you on the other side of the country? Here are 5 Great Scenic Drives for Fall Leaf Peeping in the Northeast.

#3 Mount Baker Highway, Washington

A round-trip on Mount Baker Highway is 116 miles, but it’s well worth it. The route follows Highway 542 from Bellingham to Artist Point while climbing 5,100 feet above sea level. You can enjoy views of the Nooksack River Valley, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, and the majestic North Cascade Mountain Range.

Due to the higher elevation, the fall foliage of this Northwest area appears a bit earlier than others. Plan to visit in August or September for the most stunning and colorful scenery. While past its prime, late September and early October still have plenty to offer.

A majority of this drive requires traveling through a remote area. No stops for food, gas, or flushing toilets are available after you pass the town of Glacier. However, you can find plenty of places to stop for adventure.

The Glacier Public Service Center, Nooksack Falls, Picture Lake, and Artist Point are some of the best waypoints on the route. With several treks along the way, use the hiking app AllTrails to find one that’s right for you. Picture Lake, Artist Ridge, and Heliotrope Ridge are some of the most highly rated.

#4 Historic Columbia River Highway, Oregon

The Historic Columbia River Highway was built from 1913 to 1922 and claims to be the oldest scenic road in the country. It’s since received the designation of a National Historic Landmark. For experiencing the Northwest fall foliage, it’s hard to beat what Oregon offers.

This drive is an 80-mile ride best done from mid-September to mid-October. It starts in Troutdale and follows the Sandy River. You’ll then pass through Springdale and Corbett before ending at I-84 near Ainsworth State Park.

Be sure to stop at the Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Overlook. The view of the Columbia River and the Cascade Mountains is one of the highlights of this route. The most popular stop along the way is Multnomah Falls, a 620-foot waterfall. You’ll need a Timed Use Permit during peak season from May through September.

Or go for a longer drive: What (and Where) Is the National Park to Park Highway?

A tree-lined street in the Northwest with beautiful fall leaves
Northwest streets are lined with gorgeous leaves in the fall

#5 Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, Oregon

Fremont-Winema National Forest and Crater Lake National Park are two premier spots to enjoy fall foliage in the Northwest. Luckily, the 140-mile Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway makes it easy to enjoy both.

This adventure starts on US-97 at Diamond Lake Junction. You’ll then take OR-138 into Fremont-Winema National Forest and hop onto the 33-mile Rim Drive, entering Crater Lake National Park. You don’t need a reservation to enter the park, but it does require an entrance fee. If you have an Interagency Pass, it’ll cover this expense.

Spend time exploring Crater Lake and checking out the visitor’s center. When finished, use the park’s south entrance and head towards Fort Klamath and Klamath Lake. Here is your chance to enjoy Oregon’s largest freshwater lake. The remarkable scenery leaves many guests speechless, and the fall leaves only add to the beauty.

Get out of the car and immerse yourself in the fall foliage: Moon Pacific Northwest Hiking: Best Hikes plus Beer, Bites, and Campgrounds Nearby

Northwest Fall Foliage is Worth the Trip

The Northwest is a remarkable place to experience fall foliage. Numerous scenic drives throughout the region provide some of the best views. Its natural beauty is easy to enjoy, whether you stay in your car or get out to explore on foot. 

Don’t pass up a chance to see these stunning landscapes and remarkable attractions as the seasons change!

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