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Five Scenic Road Trips For Seeing Autumn Colors
It was the romance of the fall season that moved outdoorsman John Muir to implore his fellow Americans to "break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods."
And it was the wonders of October that sent Van Morrison singing about "all the leaves are falling, to the sound of the breezes that blow."
Americans love of the awe-inspiring fall colors stretches back as far as Henry David Thoreau and has been captured by literary legends and weekend hikers alike. Halfway between the broiling summer and gray winter ahead, the leaves on the trees are indeed falling, and it’s time for you to enjoy the sights.
We’ve selected five scenic fall road trips for you – some popular and some little-known gems – and the five cars you should bring along for the journey. It’s a little too crisp outside, at least up north, for the convertibles of the summer, so we’re sending you on your way with some of the top sedans on the market today.
MSRP: $15,545 - $28,200
Invoice: $14,923 - $27,072
Fuel Economy: 24 mpg City, 34 mpg Highway
There’s plenty to love about the VW Jetta, in all its iterations. The Germans provide an enviable blend of fuel economy, performance and interior comfort in the Jetta. And it may be the perfect sedan for an affordable road trip.
Not only does it boast 34 mpg on the highway in its regular models, but the TDI diesel engine trim returns 42 mpg on the highway, according to the EPA.
Even better: In 2009, VW introduced the panoramic sunroof on its SportWagen models. About double the size of the traditional sunroof, it offers passengers both in the front and back seats ample views of the beautiful fall foliage.
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What better place to see the changing colors of Colorado's scenic aspen trees than Aspen itself?
Start this journey 10 miles outside the classic ski town, and make your way to the Maroon Bells, two of the most breathtaking mountains in the country. Hikers can choose from several trails in the area, from rugged to easy. There’s no harm from enjoying the view from the road either.
From there, proceed back toward town and join Route 82 and head north about 41 miles toward Glenwood Springs, enjoying the stunning views along the way. Tired from the drive? Stop at the hot springs in town and enjoy a relaxing soak.
If you’ve got more adventure left in your hiking legs, be sure not to miss a true gem. Ten miles north along Interstate 70, you’ll find the trailhead for Hanging Lake. If you don’t mind a steep two-mile hike into the heart of a canyon, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful fall leaves and a crystal-clear lake fed by a waterfall (a picture of which accompanies the introduction to this story).
Check out the Aspen, CO Travel Guide on AOL Travel
Photo Credit: hao$, Flickr
MSRP: $35,925 - $37,815
Invoice: $33,770 - $35,546
Fuel Economy: NA
For one of the same reasons we chose the Jetta for a fall journey, we’re also adding the Lincoln MKZ: It has a spacious sunroof ideal for viewing the fall colors. Earlier this year, Ford unveiled the model’s 15.2-square-foot glass roof at the New York Auto Show.
The sunroof spans about the length of the front and half of the back seats, and Ford says it’s the largest glass roof in the midsize luxury class.
Ford completely redesigned the MKZ for the 2013 model year, and it comes in both front- and all-wheel drive configurations, perfect for the unknown conditions you might find on a fall road trip.
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We're keeping the Lincoln MKZ in its home state of Michigan, but nonetheless sending it on a 369-mile adventure from Ford's headquarters in Dearborn, Mich., up Interstate 75, over the Mackinac Bridge and into the wilds of the Upper Peninsula.
The leaves are an amazing array of green, yellow, red and orange the whole drive, but those who head out on this drive might be most impressed by the under-visited, underrated U.P.
Once across the bridge, you’re likely to not only enjoy the best whitefish sandwich on the planet – take your pick of restaurants – but the Tahquamenon Falls State Park boasts the third-biggest waterfall east of the Mississippi River. The falls are actually two distinctive series of falls set four miles apart, perfect for a day hike. Just beware of the black bears.
Check out the Mackinaw City, MI Travel Guide on AOL Travel
Photo Credit: James Marvin Phelps, Flickr
MSRP: $21,500 - $30,080
Invoice: $20,114 - $27,492
Fuel Economy: 27 mpg City, 38 mpg Highway
It has been an unprecedented year in the sedan segment. Six of the best-selling models all underwent serious transformations. Among them is the Nissan Altima, one of the country’s best-selling cars.
At roughly 3,100 pounds, it’s the lightest sedan out there. Models with a four-cylinder engine – which account for 90 percent of Altima sales – earn gas-sipper status, getting 38 miles per gallon, according to the EPA, a number most road-trippers would be thrilled to see.
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Starting in Asheville, North Carolina, enjoy a leisurely three-hour drive west toward the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and one of the most scenic areas of the Appalachian Trail.
Just north of Cherokee, N.C., pick up the Blue Ridge Parkway to see some of the most spectacular views. You’ll drive along the crest of the mountains for as long as 469 miles, all the way to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, should you choose.
Right now is the perfect time to see the autumn leaves turning inside the park. At high elevations, there are probably just past their peak week, and colors are popping at the middle elevations, according to the National Park Service.
Check out the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Travel Guide on AOL Travel
Photo Credit: NCBrian, Flickr
MSRP: $21,200 - $26,800
Invoice: $20,255 - $25,040
Fuel Economy: 24 mpg City, 35 mpg Highway
Kia must be doing something right with its four-door Optima sedan. Sales of the vehicle have more than doubled over the past year from 55,737 year-to-date in 2011 to 114,728 today. Credit its affordable price and fuel efficiency for making it a major player in the crowded sedan market.
A panoramic sunroof is one more reason the Optima is optimal for a fall road trip, and it’s dual-zone climate control makes the ride a comfortable one for all passengers. It might be best to keep the little kids in the back – the Optima gives front-seat passengers plenty of room, but it comes at the expense of those in the back.
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Truth be told, you could point your car in any direction in New England and find some awe-inspiring colors during the fall. From the Catskills of upstate New York to the Berkshires in Massachusetts to the Maine coast, there’s really no better place for fall-color viewing.
We’re sending you to New Hampshire. Start in the classic Ivy League college town of Hanover, home of Dartmouth, and follow Route 302 and the Connecticut River north to the town of Bath, where you can cross a wooden bridge and push onward toward Bretton Woods, which circus titan P.T. Barnum once called “the second-greatest show on earth.”
Head east into the heart of White Mountain National Forest, where you’ll find Crawford Notch State Park in the expansive valley between some of the biggest mountains on the East Coast.
Check out the Hanover, NH Travel Guide on AOL Travel
Photo Credit: kla4067, Flickr
MSRP: $20,295 - $28,895
Invoice: $19,201 - $27,097
Fuel Economy: 21 mpg City, 28 mpg Highway
Many of the vehicles on Alaskan roads are pickup trucks and SUVs. Of the regular cars on the road, locals favor Subaru products.
And why not? Earlier this year, the Japanese automaker placed all six of its tested models on the Consumer Reports recommended list, and ranked first among 13 automakers rated in the magazine’s annual Automaker Report Card.
Whether you live in Alaska or are just visiting, reliability is what you need in a car. The Subaru Legacy stands out as a solid road-trip vehicle for its improved legroom for all passengers, smooth ride and decent fuel economy – 24 mpg city, 34 mpg highway. Whether it’s the four- or six-cylinder engine trim, all-wheel drive comes standard, another plus for the unpredictable conditions of a road trip.
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If you’re looking for something a bit more rugged than any of our Lower 48 offerings, check out the 135-mile Denali Highway that cuts across the south side of the Alaska Range from the town of Paxson toward Denali National Park.
State Road 8 is mostly rough, unpaved, unpredictable and, at times, dangerous. It also offers expansive vistas of some of the most spectacular and untrodden scenery in the country. You won’t bump into many other travelers here – perhaps only some moose and bears. Take note when planning your trip: This route is closed in the winter.
Check out the Denali National Park Travel Guide on AOL Travel
Photo Credit: Alaskan Dude, Flickr
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