5 November 2013

Five Great Fall Color Drives (That Aren’t in New England)

Fall is a great time of year to get out and drive your classic car, especially in the northern parts of the country, where the treetop canopy transforms from a monolith of green to a vibrant pallete with bursts of red, gold and orange.

New England perhaps is best known for its spectacular color displays, but there are other parts of the country that offer just as much splendor. Better still, some of these alternatives start their color change a bit later in the season, inviting one more drive before the cold fist of winter drops down.

Here are five great fall drives that will delight all the senses without stepping foot in New England.

The Rolling Hills of Brown County, Ind.: 72 miles, ~2 hours

Less than an hour south of Indianapolis, just outside of Bloomington, Ind., sits Brown County State Park. Despite the Hoosier State’s reputation for being board-flat, the topography here takes on a different look. The land in and around the park rolls gently, and the typical Midwestern grid pattern of roadways yields to natural features. The drive is a combination of open, flat sections stitched together with enough blind hills and curves to let you exercise your abilities, and the car’s.

Start in Bloomington and head east on Highway 46. Take Highway 135 south through the eastern edge of the park. Pick up Highway 58 to head west along the park’s southern edge, and then connect at Highway 446 to continue the loop north across Lake Monroe and back to 46.

If you’ve had some fun and have some time to spare, pick up Highway 37 on the outskirts of Bloomington and head up to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a trip to the museum.

Appalachian Orchards in West Virginia: 100 miles, ~2.5 hours

This is about as close to a New England fall drive as you can get without going north of the Mason-Dixon Line. The back-country roads of rural Maryland and West Virginia are some of the most beautiful – and least traveled – in the eastern part of the country.

Starting in Cumberland, Md., head southeast on Highway 51. When you cross the Potomac River, you’ll be in West Virginia, where the road is designated Highway 9. Follow 9 as it meanders south initially, and then back north along the Capacon River toward Berkeley Springs. Continue on toward Hedgesville and turn right onto Back Creek Valley Road (CR 7) and enjoy the smell of apple orchards at harvest time. Head east briefly on Highway 45, and then pick up Highway 51 and head south.

When you arrive in Charles Town, perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to catch some racing at nearby Summit Point Raceway, which hosts driving events through November.

Kettle Moraines of Wisconsin: 110 miles, ~3 hours

Wisconsin’s geography is unique among Midwestern states, characterized by mounded, rocky deposits (moraines) and low-lying ponds and lakes (kettles). Carved by ancient glaciers, this kettle-moraine landscape provides the perfect foundation on which to build entertaining driving roads, and the fall color change makes them all the more spectacular.

Start out in the scenic lakeside getaway of Lake Geneva and head north on Highway 120. You’ll pick up Interstate 43 north briefly, before exiting at Highway 83, where you’ll be back in scenic splendor in no time. In Hartford, take a quick jog east on Highway 60 and connect to Highway 144 north. In West Bend, take US 41 north to County Highway G. Enjoy Wisconsin’s “alphabet soup” of county roads as you continue north, taking County G to County T to County A, which also becomes County P. Confused? That’s okay, you’ll enjoy the drive.

Just outside the village of Elkhart Lake, where A and P split up, you’ll actually be driving on the original Elkhart Lake road race course used from 1950 to 1953. Follow the historic markers that denote the old course, and head into town for lunch at the Lake Street Café, or have a beer where all the legends have drank at Siebken’s Bar.

Tennessee Gold: 165 miles, ~3.5 hours

Between Interstates 75 and 65 just south of the Kentucky-Tennessee border is a serpentine ribbon of asphalt that would make the famous dragon at Deals Gap tuck its tail. The road is Highway 52, and it takes you through canyons and forests that will command your attention. It also connects remote villages with evocative names like Red Boiling Springs and Rugby.

From I-75, you’ll need to exit at Pioneer and head west on Highway 63. When you reach Highway 27, head south for a couple of miles and make a right to pick up Highway 52. Enjoy this unspoiled and lightly trafficked southern backroad for nearly a 150 miles of its winding allure before reaching I-65 in Portland.

From here, you can either take the Interstate south a half-hour and be in Nashville if you’re a fan of music, or head north to Bowling Green, Ky., for a stop at the National Corvette Museum. That is, if you still have anything in you after the drive.

Almost Heaven Indeed: 288 miles, ~6 hours

If you have the time for a long drive, the trip from Charleston, W.V., to Danville, Va., is one you won’t soon forget. It will take you the better part of a day, but will live on in your memory as virtually unmatched by anything else you drive afterward. This drive crosses the peak of the Appalachian Mountains, rising to spectacular heights that overlook majestic river valleys below, and then descending in to verdant valleys that look almost Alpine in their bucolic perfection.

From Charleston, find Highway 60 and start driving south. You’ll be following the Kanawha River almost turn-for-turn. By the time you reach White Sulphur Springs, you’ll probably need a rest, and the legendary Greenbrier is the place to do it. Backtrack east to Highway 219, which you’ll take south into Virginia at Narrows. Pick up Highway 460 and head east. A brief jog west on I-81 will find you at Highway 8, which you’ll take south to continue on your way. Highway 8 ends at Highway 58, also known as the Jeb Stuart Highway. Take this east for the remainder of your drive to Danville.

Once you arrive, pay a visit to one of America’s longest – and most charming – race tracks, Virginia International Raceway. Chances are if it’s the weekend, there’s something happening at VIR.

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