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Fall on the Byway

The best leisurely drives are the ones that offer scenery around every bend.

There’s no question about it — group tours often require travelers to spend long stretches of time on the road. But not all roads are created equal. Some highways offer scenic vistas so spectacular that the drives become attractions in themselves.

During autumn, the brilliant colors of changing leaves make many of these driving routes all the more beautiful. Groups can spend anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days driving through some of the most beloved natural areas. In addition to great vistas, there are historic sites, lodges, shops, hiking trails and more to explore along the way.

When planning your group trips for this fall and next, keep some of these scenic drives on your radar.

Hocking Hills Scenic Byway


Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio might be the most popular park you have never heard of. Comprising six noncontiguous sites in central Ohio, the park receives more than 3.5 million annual visitors, making it more visited than even Yellowstone National Park.

The road that connects the six park units, state Route 374, has been designated as the Hocking Hills Scenic Byway and offers a wealth of beauty and colorful foliage in autumn.

“The scenery is just stunning all along the byway,” said Karen Raymore, executive director of the Hocking Hills Tourism Association. “It travels through the Hocking Hills State Forest, and there are a number of historically significant sites along the way. It’s a true scenic byway, a really pleasant drive and so colorful in the fall.”

It takes about 45 minutes to drive the entire length of the byway. But groups should plan significantly more time than that to allow ample opportunity to experience the natural wonders and historic sites along the way. The most popular stop is Old Man’s Cave, one of the state park’s units.

“It’s a sandstone cave, where the sandstone has worn away over thousands of years,” Raymore said. “You hike down into a gorge, and there are multiple waterfalls down there. The scenery is amazing, and that’s why it’s the most popular park site.”

In addition to that and other caves and natural areas along the byway, groups can stop at several historic sites, such as a former Civilian Conservation Corps camp and the state forest headquarters. The state park offers a dining lodge for hungry travelers, and there are numerous large cabins and lodges along the way that can accommodate groups of up to 30 people.

Skyline Drive at Shenandoah National Park


In one of the most scenic parts of the eastern United States, Skyline Drive stands out as the autumnal jewel of Shenandoah National Park. And though it wouldn’t take long to drive straight through from the beginning of the drive in Front Royal, Virginia, to the place it ends in Waynesboro, the sheer number of scenic stops along the way necessitates a slower pace.

“There are 75 overlooks on the 105-mile Skyline Drive,” said Helen Morton, director of sales and marketing at Delaware North, a hospitality concessionaire in the park. “We have birch and oak, so in the fall, most of our colors are rustic. You see brilliant red growing up trees, then you get into beautiful rust, orange and light yellow.”

There are four entrances onto Skyline Drive, breaking the route into three segments. Morton said most groups focus their trips on the middle section of the drive, which has the most visitor services, including two overnight lodges located nine miles apart.

“A lot of groups overnight there, or come in for day trips and do a lunch at one of the lodges,” she said. “Many of them hire step-on guides, who can tell them about the history of the park and the families that lived there in the prepark days.”

The center section of the drive is also home to the Harry F. Byrd Sr. Visitor Center, one of the largest in Shenandoah National Park. The center features a film about the park, its history and its creation, and another film about the Civilian Conservation Corps camps that were established to build the park facilities.

Morton said fall color usually begins to break through in the first week of October and hits its peak by the middle of the month.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.