The best fall East Coast road trip route

Our favorite stops on a North Carolina to Maine road trip

a windy road in new england surrounded by fall leaves
the wetlands of holden beach at sunset

Summer’s great, but we all know fall is really where it’s at. And with smaller crowds, milder weather, and golden-hued landscapes, we’d make the argument that East Coast road trips are better in the fall, too. Follow our North Carolina to Maine road trip route to explore the best places to stop on an East Coast road trip—as well as a few incredible places to stay along the way.

P.S. Don’t worry about sticking to our East Coast road trip itinerary too much. It’s your trip, and we hope these fall East Coast road trip ideas spark ideas for other detours and destinations you’ll love.

beach homes on holden beach

Stop 1: Holden Beach, NC

Starting at the very southern tip of North Carolina, Holden Beach is a classic summertime vacation destination, but it’s just as fun in the fall. Take advantage of smaller crowds and get a taste of beach life the way the locals do it.

The best road trip activities near Holden Beach, NC

Charter a fishing boat to catch flounder, king mackerel, trout, and more. Can you say dinner?

  • Schedule a tee time at Carolina National Golf Club or the Rivers Edge Golf Club. The latter was designed by the great golfer (and beverage namesake) Arnold Palmer
  • Go bird watching on the appropriately named Bird Island Reserve in Sunset Beach, NC

Places to stay in Holden Beach, NC

Two white adirondack chairs look out over Lake Anna in Virginia on a sunny day

Stop 2: Lake Anna, VA

Take I-95 north 360 miles to the next stop on our East Coast road trip: Lake Anna, VA. Only an hour outside of historically significant and culturally vibrant Richmond, Lake Anna is a little slice of peace beloved by Virginians for decades.

The best road trip activities near Lake Anna, VA

  • Hike the Goodwin Mine Loop to explore the ruins of a 19th-century gold mine
  • Rent a boat for a leisurely paddle—or less-leisurely kayak—on Lake Anna
  • Sample local beers and watch the sunset lakeside at the Lake Anna Taphouse

Places to stay near Lake Anna, VA

four deer walk through a snowy forest

Stop 3: Tannersville, PA

Head another 300 miles north to our next destination in the rolling Poconos. Tannersville is a go-to destination for skiing in the winter, but it’s a hidden gem in the fall. And after all that driving, you’ll find Tannersville the perfect spot to kick up your feet and relax.

The best road trip activities near Tannersville, PA

  • Visit an ice-age relic, the Tannersville Cranberry Bog
  • Hikers of all skill levels will find a route to love in Big Pocono State Park: casual hikers can get fabulous views from Indian Trail, while more adventurous hikers can test their skills on the steep inclines of the South Trail

Places to stay in Tannersville, PA

Fall foliage of the Adirondacks

Stop 4: The Adirondacks, NY

From Tannersville, drive north to New York. Only an hour and a half outside Albany, you’ll feel worlds away from city life in the Adirondack Mountains. Our top tip: stay near Lake George to get the best this special region has to offer.

The best road trip activities near the Adirondacks

  • Go leaf peeping up Prospect Mountain
  • Hike under the golden canopies of the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness
  • Pick apples at a local orchard to get a real taste of autumn

Places to stay in the Adirondacks, NY

clouds reflect on the surface of a body of water in Killington

Stop 5: Killington, VT

Bringing a bike? Perfect. Killington’s a must-visit destination for mountain bikers (and has plenty to offer folks who enjoy an easier pace of life).

The best road trip activities near Killington, VT

  • Mountain bike down Killington Peak
  • See Vermont’s famous fall colors in Woods State Park

Sample real maple syrup and local cheese at Sugarbush Farms in nearby Woodstock, VT

Places to stay in Killington, VT

remote vacation home surrounded by forest and a light early snow in NH

Stop 6: North Conway, NH

Another ski town 140 miles from Killington, North Conway is an outdoor enthusiast’s ideal stop. Known across the northeast for its rock climbing, skiing, and hiking, North Conway is the perfect place to stop and stretch your legs (and then some).

The best road trip activities near North Conway, NH

Hike the White Mountain National Forest

  • Take a ride on the historic Conway Scenic Railroad
  • Enjoy picturesque autumn New England scenes of fall foliage and covered bridges in nearby Albany, NH

Places to stay in North Conway, NH

a lighthouse in acadia sits on the cliffs overlooking the ocean

Stop 7: Bar Harbor, ME

200 miles from North Conway and the gateway to Acadia National Park, quaint Bar Harbor is the perfect place to end your trip.

The best road trip activities near Bar Harbor, ME

  • Shop and dine Bar Harbor’s picture-perfect town center
  • Hike in Acadia to take advantage of the smaller crowds and cooler temperatures

See whales and other sea life on a tour with the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co.

Places to stay in Bar Harbor, ME

East Coast fall road trip FAQ

1. How much time do I have to travel?

Because the East Coast has diverse landscapes, cultures, and regions, you can craft an amazing trip within even small amounts of time. But the best trips have time to spare for off-the-beaten path detours, extended stays, and rest from the road. For a North Carolina to Maine road trip, budget at least 14 days.

2. Where am I starting from?

If you’re planning to start from a major metropolitan area, like a road trip from Boston or New York, take into consideration how and when you’re planning to escape the city—and where you’re going. If you’re thinking of a Labor Day East Coast road trip, for example, be prepared to encounter traffic that eats away at precious travel time (plus crowds in popular destinations). Skip the congestion and head out on a weekday if you can, and definitely look into roads less traveled: you might discover your next favorite vacation spot.

3. What season will I be traveling in?

The time of year you hit the road can make all the difference in the world for accessibility, lodging prices, crowds, activities, and more. That’s why fall East Coast road trips are a great option for people who like smaller crowds (and good deals). But there are fabulous places to go in each season, so do your homework, plan a budget, and check out local events and conditions before deciding on an itinerary.

You can take your dog on a road trip anywhere, but be thoughtful about finding common ground between what your dog needs and what you want out of a vacation. Dog-friendly road trips on the East Coast depend on the dog—if your bud is the active, adventure-loving sort, plan a trip that has lots of hiking and space to run. Bringing more of a couch potato along? Make sure your activities are more easygoing. But for every East Coast dog-friendly road trip, make sure you schedule plenty of stops for them to stretch their legs and book pet-friendly vacation rentals. (We have quite a few to choose from.)

An East Coast Road trip usually takes five or more days, depending upon where you’re going and how much time you’ll be spending in each destination. A regional route might only take a long weekend, like an East Coast road trip from New York to Maine or a road trip from Washington D.C. to the Carolinas. The number of stops you make will also determine the length of your trip—an East Coast road trip with fewer, longer stops could take as much time as a straight-through drive over a long distance, like a road trip from Florida to New York. For the perfect blend of restful and exciting, we recommend spending at least two nights at each stop.

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