Indian Summer in the USA is legendary! The forests of North America glow in the most beautiful shades of yellow, red, and orange while the pleasantly warm autumn temperatures lift your spirits. We have compiled 5 amazing routes for your Indian Summer road trip in the USA, which will turn the natural phenomenon into an unforgettable experience for you.
What could be better than enjoying the freedom of the American highways on a road trip in the USA, when the forests transform themselves into a colorful kaleidoscope and are caught by the golden sunlight during Indian Summer?
The intense colors of Indian Summer on the North American continent are so famous that thousands of vacationers travel around the world every year to marvel at the splendor of autumn on an Indian Summer road trip. The greatest spectrum of colors awaits you in the New England states in the Northeast of the USA, but you can also enjoy the glowing foliage spectacle, which is also known as "Foliage" or "Second Summer" in America, further South in the Appalachian Mountains or in the Pacific Northwest.
The name Indian Summer comes from the fact that late summer was the Native Americans' harvest and main hunting season. In Native American tradition, it was a significant season, and the impressive autumn colors of the forests were considered spiritual symbols of fire and the transience of life.
The Indian Summer in North America produces much more intense colors than autumn foliage in other parts of the world. There are two main reasons for this: high daily temperature fluctuations and a wide variety of tree species.
An interplay of warm, sunny days and cold nights alters the exchange of fluids between leaves and branches, and the chlorophyll content of the leaves decreases. The sugars accumulated in the foliage cause them to glow in the most beautiful hues.
The New England states also have a great diversity of deciduous trees. More than 800 species of trees stand side by side here, and each shines with its own unique hue in the fall. The sugar maple, for example, which is widespread in New England, provides particularly intense coloration, glowing a bright scarlet.
You can experience the phenomenon of the Indian Summer in North America from the last warm, sunny weeks of summer onwards. When the first cold air currents arrive from the North, they ensure that the leaves of alder, oak, birch, maple, and other trees shine in a multitude of colors.
Accordingly, the foliage changes color at different times from region to region, depending on geographic location and climatic conditions. The further North you head, the earlier you can expect the Indian Summer to begin. In the province of Nova Scotia in Canada and the New England states of the USA, the first leaves usually start to change color at the end of August. The Indian Summer unfolds its full splendor between the end of September and the end of October. Depending on the weather, the blaze of color in the forests can continue into November.
To make sure you don't miss the peak of Indian Summer, you can use special Indian Summer maps published by many US states or regions that show the current foliage coloration. For a very detailed map, check out the website SmokyMountains.com, which documents the nationwide leaf coloration with its Fall Foliage Prediction Map.
If you want to reach the most beautiful autumn landscapes on your Indian Summer road trip on time, you are obviously at a great advantage if you travel flexibly with your own rental car in the USA. You are even more independent when renting a camper, which is not only a means of transport, but also serves as accommodation at the same time.
Coffee maker, electric cooler, or Wi-Fi hotspot for on-the-road: we have found the smartest travel gadgets, especially for your Indian Summer road trip! You'll be well equipped, and you won't be lacking for anything in the pristine nature of America's Northeast.
Rugged coastlines, quiet bays, magnificent forests: your Nature Route starts in beautiful Acadia National Park, the only national park in New England. Set out by boat, bike, or on foot to explore the most stunning sites within the park, which is largely located on Mount Desert Island.
In the Southeast of Mount Desert Island, you will find the characteristic rugged rocky coastline. To see the most famous sights of Acadia National Park, take a tour along the Park Loop Road, which winds through the Eastern part of the island. Be sure to visit the old fishing port of Bar Harbor, where quintessential New England charm combines with historic buildings and scenic mountain views.
Because Maine's forests have a high proportion of pine trees, the lush dark green of the conifers mixes with the red-yellow-orange glow of Indian Summer leaves. You can best enjoy the charm of the region when the late summer light shimmers through the woods!
Your Indian Summer road trip will take you further along the coast of Maine, where you will pass numerous lighthouses. The most famous of them is in the South of the state near the city of Portland.
Park your rental car in the South of Portland at the edge of Fort Wiliams Park and hike along the stunning bluffs to Portland Head Light. The historic 18th-century lighthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and now houses a maritime museum.
Afterward, spend some time in picturesque Portland, where many colonial-era buildings remain. Stroll the historic harbor, explore the art galleries of Old Town, sample the fresh seafood at the Portland Fish Market, and end the day at one of the city's excellent microbreweries.
Well refreshed, the nature route continues inland to the state of New Hampshire, where the impressive White Mountain National Forest awaits you. The forest is crisscrossed with trails that take you through dense fall woods, to rushing waterfalls, and to the top of Mount Washington, where you'll be treated to a magnificent view of the White Mountains.
You don't feel like hiking? Then drive to the picturesque train station of North Conway, where you can take a seat in the historic train cars of the Conway Scenic Railroad. During the approximately 5-hour round trip in the "Mountaineer Train," you can admire all the beauty of the Indian Summer in the White Mountains from the rail.
Afterwards, the tour brings you to Vermont. This small state is famous for winter sports, charming small towns, covered wooden bridges, great maple syrup, and the rich colors of the Green Mountains during Indian Summer.
Drive along the scenic Vermont Route 100, which runs for 217 km in a North-South direction alongside the Green Mountain National Forest. The nature park is Vermont's largest forested area and is rich in hiking trails, waterfalls, and overlooks that are especially beautiful when sugar maple and red oak transform the park into a spectacle of color in the fall.
During Indian Summer in the USA, hotels and bed and breakfasts in the New England states are often fully booked. Check for suitable accommodations on your itinerary well in advance of your Indian Summer road trip.
In the New Hampshire Lakes Region, the start of fall is a reason to rejoice! When Indian summer arrives around the 300 picturesque lakes, the forests glow in every imaginable shade. And when the colorful foliage is reflected in the large Lake Winnipesaukee, the glory of Indian Summer is twice as beautiful.
But before you unwind on a lakeside porch, there are plenty of attractions waiting for you to discover in the region. Visit the orchards around the lakes, tour the historic estates of Moultonborough, and get spooked by hundreds of pumpkin faces at the New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival.
Your East Coast route starts on the idyllic Cape Cod peninsula on the shores of the Atlantic. When the summer vacationers have left Cape Cod, hikes in Nickerson State Park, Beebe Woods, Yarmouth Port, or Chapin Beach are a real source of deceleration.
Take in the fresh sea breeze as you stroll along the beach and gaze at the orange grasses and shrubs. In September, the Cape Cod Brew Fest gives you a chance to mingle with the locals and taste specialties from more than 100 breweries while listening to live music.
In October, the Yarmouth Seaside Festival, Oktoberfest in Chatham, and PumpkinFest in Sandwich await your visit. Be sure to also check out the cozy and colorful town of Provincetown at the far tip of the peninsula, where you can soak up the maritime flair and enjoy the region's excellent seafood specialties.
Rhode Island may be the smallest state in the USA, but when it comes to color, hardly any other region can match it. Thanks to its many mixed forests, the Ocean State unleashes a tremendous luminosity that, together with the state's rugged rocky coasts, creates an irresistible mix.
A real gem that should be on your Indian Summer road trip itinerary is the seaside town of Newport. Here, you'll find historic buildings, old country mansions, and delicious maritime cuisine. Walk the iconic Cliff Walk and discover Newport's best attractions amidst the beautiful autumn colors.
From Newport, continue along the East Coast to the neighboring state of Connecticut and the city of New Haven, best known as the seat of Yale's prestigious law school. Tour the city's magnificent neo-Gothic buildings, mingle with students, and soak up New Haven's unique atmosphere.
Eventually, in Connecticut, you can leave the coast for a short excursion. It's worth it because your detour into the heartland takes you on a 1.5-hour drive to a real Indian Summer icon: the West Cornwall Covered Bridge is one of the last traditional wooden bridges in Connecticut. It is about 150 years old and spans the Housatonic River over a length of 50 m.
Boston, America's oldest metropolitan city, is located in the heart of the Indian Summer in the USA. Colorful autumn leaves glow in all corners of the city from late September to early November.
Start your Boston tour in the city center at the famous Boston Common, the oldest public park in the USA. Another ideal spot for Indian summer fans is the Public Garden, where Japanese ornamental maple trees turn bright red. Also, take a walk along the autumnal Charles River Esplanade, which runs along the shore of Boston's Back Bay.
You'll find an impressive variety of nearly 5,000 different plant species at the Arnold Arboretum in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood. Harvard University's herbarium is open daily from sunrise to sunset. Mark your calendars for the last Sunday in October, when you can not only marvel at the colors of Indian summer at the Arnold Arboretum but also get a free event program during the Boston Fall Foliage Festival.
Central Park in Manhattan turns into a sea of color in the fall amidst the skyscrapers of the big city. Take a guided hike, a bike tour, or a romantic horse-drawn carriage ride to the most beautiful spots in America's most famous city park.
And if the weather doesn't cooperate, the never-sleeping city offers 1,000 alternatives to the colorful foliage of the Indian Summer. The Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Times Square, One World Trade Center – you won't lack attractions in New York City!
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The last stop on our City Route is beautiful Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, where the parks and gardens display their most brilliant shades of red, gold, and brown in the fall.
Particularly on the outskirts of "Philly," you will find many exciting places where you can enjoy the Indian Summer and at the same time quench your thirst for knowledge on the subject of American history.
Outside the former US capital of Philadelphia, for example, you'll find Valley Forge National Historical Park, where George Washington's army spent the winter of 1777-78 during the War of Independence. Take a hike on the 8 km long Joseph Plumb Martin Trail and discover famous monuments such as the Muhlenberg Brigade Huts and the National Memorial Arch.
There's also history as far as the eye can see in downtown Philadelphia. Stroll through the city's autumn-colored avenues and visit attractions like Independence Hall, Liberty Bell Center, Elfreth's Alley, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
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The phenomenon of Indian Summer is not limited to the New England states. You can also marvel at the color spectacle further South in the states of Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. On our Appalachian Route, you can combine your Indian Summer road trip with the typical charm of the US Southern states.
About 120 km from Washington, D.C., Indian Summer shows its most impressive autumn colors on the Appalachian mountain ranges. Shenandoah National Park covers a narrow stretch of Northern Virginia and is rich in dense woodlands, rushing waterfalls, and numerous scenic overlooks.
To get the best view of the Indian Summer colors in Shenandoah National Park, take your rental car along the famous Skyline Drive. The 170 km long road leads along the ridge across the impressive autumn landscape and to attractions such as Mary's Rock Tunnel, Dark Hollow Falls, Stony Man Mountain, and Old Rag Mountain.
South of Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive merges into the equally impressive Blue Ridge Parkway. The route runs about 750 km through the hilly landscape of the states of Virginia and North Carolina until it ends south of the city of Asheville in the Great Smoky Mountains.
You can enjoy your drive along the winding road with its beautiful Indian Summer panorama at your leisure because the Blue Ridge Parkway has a speed limit of 45 miles per hour and is closed to commercial traffic.
The most visited national park in the USA is a true Indian Summer highlight! When the peaks of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are covered in beautiful foliage, you'll immediately understand why some 14 million vacationers visit the park each year. Situated on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains are covered by one of the largest contiguous tracts of forest in America and are home to thousands of species of wildlife.
Hop in your rental car and follow the 11-mile-long Cades Cove Loop scenic drive that takes you past the most breathtaking mountaintops to historic buildings and wildlife viewing spots. If you prefer to put on your hiking boots after so much driving, you can enjoy the 1,290 km network of hiking trails that take you to attractions like Laurel Falls and Hen Wallow Falls.
Does your autumn vacation take you to the US Northwest? Although the colors here are less intense than on the East Coast, you can still enjoy Indian Summer vibes. Our Northwest Route leads you from the mountains of Idaho to Portland in Oregon, then to the vineyards of Northern California.
Idaho is a real insider tip for adventure vacationers who like to explore mountains and pristine landscapes. The Southeast of the state is home to the expansive Caribou-Targhee National Forest, which glows with the most beautiful reds, yellows, and oranges when temperatures drop in the fall.
Take in the views at the imposing Palisades Creek Canyon, follow the course of the Snake River on the Cress Creek Nature Trail, explore the area around majestic Fall Creek Falls, and take in the intense fall colors at Palisades Reservoir.
The Multnomah Falls in Oregon is a spectacular photo motif at any time of the year that should not be missing from your Instagram page. But the 189 m high waterfalls are especially impressive when the forest around Multnomah Creek glows in the colors of the Indian Summer.
After your waterfall tour, your Indian Summer road trip will take you to the creative town of Portland, where 1.4 million deciduous trees bathe the city in spectacular fall colors. You can also enjoy Portland's extensive fall events program, which ranges from farmers' markets to October festivals and Halloween parties.
You might not have guessed it, but Indian Summer can also be marveled at in the Golden State of California. Starting in October, the vines of the Sonoma Valley just North of San Francisco slowly change color from a rich green to a bright sea of colors ranging from bright golden yellow to deep burgundy red.
The rolling hills of the wine-growing region often wrap themselves in a warm, golden light during the day. And since daytime temperatures are usually mild to warm in the fall, you'll find ideal conditions for taking long hikes.
Best of all, there's no shortage of ways to combine beautiful views with delightful experiences on your Indian Summer road trip through the US Northwest. Join a wine-tasting tour in Sonoma Valley and taste some of the best wines in the States!
Have you missed Indian Summer? No problem! A trip through America is worthwhile at any time of the year! Get inspired by our articles on the most beautiful road trips and the most visited national parks in the USA, book a cheap flight, reserve a rental car, and let the adventure begin!
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