Top Northeast Fall Drives and Day Trips

Autumn truly captures the beauty of the northeastern part of the U.S. Most sights can be found just a short drive away from the region's largest airports. Here are five fall destinations in the Northeast that are worth going the extra mile to explore.

Leaves burst into color, and hints of cinnamon waft through the air. The words “sweaters” and “scarves” re-enter our conversations. Yes, autumn is here.

The northeastern part of the United States showcases the beauty of this season in colorful and dramatic ways. Fortunately, some of the most magnificent views and sights can be found just a short drive away from the largest airports in the Northeast. Here are five fall destinations that are worth going the extra mile to explore.

Amish Country, Pennsylvania

  • From Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, 90 minutes
  • From Philadelphia International Airport, 90 minutes

After flying into Philadelphia or Baltimore, you can find yourself on a picturesque drive through Pennsylvania Amish country in 90 minutes.

Start your family vacation with this scenic driving tour, which guides you along curvy roads, covered bridges and must-see stops in this historic country. Try a whoopie pie in Lancaster, the “home to Pennsylvania Dutch cooking,” before heading toward Gettysburg National Military Park, a major Civil War battle site. While there, tune in to a free podcast tour, developed by Civil War Traveler and the National Park Service, and follow the free self-guided, printable map that includes a suggested auto tour. Prefer to walk? Not a problem. Parking is free and the map includes walking trails.

Amish Country, Pennsylvania Amish Country, Pennsylvania

The Finger Lakes, New York

  • From Rochester, 50 minutes
  • From Syracuse Hancock International Airport, 10 minutes

Appropriately named, the Finger Lakes in upstate New York consist of 11 long, thin lakes that were formed when glaciers melted at the end of the last ice age. The lakes extend like the digits of splayed hands in a 75-mile long line from Syracuse in the east to Rochester in the west, making them easily accessible by car from either city.

Follow National Geographic’s driving route and soak in the rolling hills covered in vineyards. Stop and sip wine, and enjoy the views of charming Amish farms all along the way. The Finger Lakes provide a terrific playing ground for a memorable family vacation. Take the kids hiking, biking, boating or picnicking surrounded by the season’s colorful foliage in one of the Finger Lakes’ many parks.

The Finger Lakes, New York The Finger Lakes, New York

Salem, Massachusetts

  • From Boston Logan International Airport, 35 minutes

After landing in Boston, one short drive will lead you to historic, memorable — and sometimes haunted — vacation moments. Just cruise 35 minutes northeast of the airport to Salem, site of the notorious 1692 witch trials. Visit the Salem Witch Museum, and afterwards, grab some ice cream at Melt Ice Cream; or take the kids on one of these haunted Bay State drives.

Cape Cod, Massachusetts

  • From Boston Logan International Airport, 110 minutes

Drive southeast from Boston along the coast of Massachusetts and in less than two hours you’ll reach Cape Cod. In the fall, the weather is cool and the summer crowds are gone. Enjoy classic New England clam chowder, or treat your family to a fresh lobster dinner. Walk through history on the Kennedy Legacy Trail in Hyannis, a frequent retreat destination for President John F. Kennedy and the extended Kennedy family. Bring the kids whale watching, climb to the top of one of the Cape’s many lighthouses or drive onto a Steamship Authority ferry for a day trip to Martha’s Vineyard.

Kennebunkport, Maine

  • From Portland International Jetport, 35 minutes

After departing Portland, drive southwest along the Maine coastline for about 35 minutes and you’ll enter the Kennebunks. At this time of year, you’ll experience lovely scenery featuring vibrant red, yellow and orange fall foliage cast against the blue ocean. The Kennebunks area includes Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, Arundel and Cape Porpoise. Enjoy gorgeous drives along the rocky coast sprinkled with iconic lighthouses, such as the Goat Island Lighthouse that has guided boaters since 1833. Visit one of the local fish markets or take a lobster tour. Other area activities include camping, boating, biking and horseback riding.

Kennebunkport, Maine Kennebunkport, Maine


National Geographic is a registered trademark of the National Geographic Society.


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About the Author

Lisa Zimmermann, a writer and editor based in Washington, D.C., has a passion for travel and adventure. She’s backpacked extensively through Europe, and traveled through the Caribbean Islands, Middle East and North America. Lisa has already been to nearly every state in the United States, and now she plans to discover, explore and share the variety of experiences the USA offers. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.