From Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains, here are 9 must see stops during your fall leaf peeping trip.

If you’re a lover of fall leaves and autumn foliage, you NEED to visit the East Coast. Fall just hits different there. The leaves are a multitude of color, the air is crisp, and everything gets you into your feels. Take a little East Coast road trip and experience fall. Here are some highlights from our leaf peeping trip!

east coast leaf peeping |

east coast leaf peeping |

Where to see fall leaves in Virginia

Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park is beautiful all year round, but especially in the fall. You can’t go leaf peeping in the East without visiting. The best way to see the fall leaves is to do the Skyline Drive.

shenandoah national park |

Skyline Drive

The Skyline is a two lane road with 75 overlooks that lets you gaze at the Shenandoah Valley and the Piedmont plateau. It’s the main road through the Shenandoah, which means you can stop at the visitor centers and see the entirety of the National Park. It’s a beautiful drive, winding and full of fall trees. Make sure you plan your time – the speed limit is 35 and people pull out to the overlooks constantly for photos.

east coast leaf peeping |

The best drive for fall leaves

east coast leaf peeping |

Blue Ridge Parkway

When people talk about leaf peeping, they usually go for the big guns: Shenandoah National Park and Great Smoky Mountain National Park. But, if you’re going on a leaf peeping trip, you would be a fool to not drive the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a scenic drive that links the two parks. It runs along the spine of the Blue Ridge, which is one of the main mountain chains of the Appalachian Mountains. It’s a beautiful drive and when we went, it wasn’t crowded at all, making it really enjoyable. The leaves along the parkway are absolutely beautiful. Stop on one of the many mile markers to take a peek at the scenic outlooks. I especially like Marby Mill, mile 176.1, which has a super picturesque watermill. It almost feels like you’re in a Charles Wysocki puzzle.

Blue Ridge Parkway
Start: Rockfish Gap, VA. The north end of the parkway starts Mile 0 at the Intersection of I-64 and Skyline Drive.
End: Cherokee, NC. The Parkway ends at Mile 469, where it connects with US Route 441, the South Entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park

blue ridge parkway |

The curviest fall leaf peeping road

Tail of the Dragon

If you’re a driving fan, you’ve probably heard of the legendary Tail of the Dragon. It’s a twisty, turn-y 11 mile drive that has 318 curves. The turns are tight, there are photographers along the way to take photos of your car (or bike) and the leaves are absolutely gorgeous. If you like winding roads, this is a must-do. The way the light hits the road combined with spectacular fall colors; it can’t be beat. Plus, at the end of the drive, there’s a beautiful lake. Pull out on one of the many pull outs on the side and bask in the leaves.

tail of the dragon |

When you get to the start of the Tail of the Dragon, there’s a little store that sells merch. You’ll see a bunch of people in the parking lot and it can kind of look intimidating, but everyone is really friendly. A lot of online guides make the Tail of the Dragon sound insane, but the drive isn’t that crazy. Just take your time and enjoy it, it’s definitely a must-do.

Tail of the Dragon
Start: Intersection of NC28 and US129 in North Carolina
End: Tabcat Creek Bridge in Tennessee.

tail of the dragon |

Where to see the most stunning fall foliage

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smokies is one of America’s most beautiful (and most visited) national parks, especially in fall when the leaves change into a endless array of fall colors. Looking out at the mountain ridges on a smoky (that’s means cloudy!) day is beautiful. The blue gradients of the mountains against the fall leaves in unbelievable. Add in a golden fall sunset and it’s one of those you never forget it moments.

great smoky mountains national park |

Chimneys Picnic Area

This cute little picnic area is located right inside Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It used to be an old campground and all the picnic spots are next to a rushing river. It’s incredibly picturesque, especially during the fall with the fall foliage. Pack a picnic and make sure you stop here and enjoy the water and the leaves. Maybe you’ll see a wild turkey or two!

chimneys picnic area |

Clingmans Dome

Clingmans Dome, the mountain is the highest point mountain in the Great Smokies, the highest point in Tennessee, and the highs point along the Appalachian trail. There’s an architectural, space-age looking walkway that leads to a circular observation tower. From the top, the viewpoint gives you a panoramic 360 degree view. On a cloudy, smoky day, the view of the fall leaves is breathtaking. And, if you luck out on a clear day, you can see seven states from the top of the tower: Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama.

There’s a short, but steep paved trail that leads to the observation tower. We thought it was a pretty easy walk but some people were taking breaks, so keep that in mind.

clingmans dome |

Where to eat and drink on a leaf peeping trip

leaf peeping guide to the east coast |


If you’re on a road trip in the East, you can’t not stop by Sheetz and Wawa. The two Pennsylvania convenience store/gas stations/delis are a must visit. After all, you’ll need to fill up on gas for your drive. Sheetz and Wawa have a deep rivalry and personally, I don’t have a favorite. I recommend you try both. They both have amazingly clean washrooms and a HUGE selection of roadtrip snacks, especially chips (read more on Pennsylvania chips below!). They also both do fast food items and hot and iced coffees. Bonus, if you’re a nugget ice lover, they got that sweet, sweet, chewable ice. You might think this is a strange recommendation, but trust me, no East Coast road trip is an East Coast road trip without multiple trips to Sheetz/Wawa.

sheetz/wawa |


If you’re in Pennsylvania, near Pottsville, consider a stop at Yuengling Brewery. It’s one of the oldest operating breweries in America and is still family-owned and operated. That’s really impressive in the world of beer! The name is an Anglicized version of the German surname, Jüngling, which means youngster. I don’t think you should make this a stop if it’s out of your way, but if you happen to be passing through and want a cute little activity, I recommended it. I always admire family run businesses that are still in business. You get to see super cute old ads and graphic design, learn about their ice cream, and if you want, you can tour the factory.

yeungling brewery |

Carolina BBQ

If you’re in Carolina, you have to have Carolina BBQ! The difference between BBQ and Carolina BBQ is in the sauce and the types of meats they specialize in. The Southern style BBQ you’re probably familiar with focus more on sliced and chopped brisket with either a dry rub or a sweet, thick BBQ sauce.

Carolina style BBQ on the other hand, focuses on whole hog BBQ and their sauce is vinegar based. It adds contrast and tang to the richness of whole hog BBQ. They serve the sauce alongside the BBQ and baste with it. They cutely call it “mop sauce” because they use giant brushes to mop it on. Definitely try the pulled or chopped pork. I also really, really love the corn pudding in Carolina. It’s sweet, tender, and so, so good. If you haven’t had corn pudding before or if you’re not a fan, try it while you’re in the Carolinas, it will change your mind!

buxton hall bbq |

Shoutout to Buxton Hall BBQ in Asheville, NC. We love their vibe, their BBQ, and their graphic tees. Like any good Carolina BBQ, they focus on local whole hog BBQ that they smoke for hours. They have a sauce bar where you can load up on all the Carolina sauce you want and their sides are SO, SO good, especially the corn pudding. I dream of it.

buxton hall bbq |


If you love cherries and cherry flavored things, please, I beg you, try Cheerwine! I am a huge fan of cherry coke and cherry pepsi, but they do not hold a candle to the cherry-ness of Cheerwine. It’s the cherriest black cherry soda you’ll ever taste and it’s only available in North Carolina. It’s fizzy, it’s cherry-forward, and it is so, so delicious. Cheerwine is a North Carolina icon. As they say, it’s uniquely Southern and undeniably delicious. It’s been around since 1917 and is one of the only remaining independent soda companies around, still run by the Peeler family, four generations in. Definitely taste some Cheerwine when you’re in NC and stop by a grocery store to stock up. We did!

Bonus: You can even get it in Cheerwine zero sugar if you’re watching your soda intake.

cheerwine |


Did you know that Pennsylvania is the Potato Chip capital of the US? They make the most chips in America. Because we drove down to the Smoky Mountains from upstate New York (there are beautiful leaves in upstate NY by the way) we passed through Pennsylvania and of course we had to buy ALL the chips. If you’re so inclined and have the time, you can stop by several chip factories and take chip production tours! Make sure you try: Snyder of Berlin, Hartley’s, Middleswarth, Dieffenbach’s, Good’s, Herr’s, Martin’s, and Utz! Shout out to the specialty flavors they have too: Carolina BBQ sauce and the Crab Chip.

east coast chips |

When is the best time for leaf peeping?

There’s a handy leaf peeping calendar that you can check on to see when the leaves reach peak color. It’s a little hard to time if you want peak leaves, but honestly, as long as your there once the leaves start to change but before they reach past peak, you’ll be good to go. Generally, that’s between late September to the middle of October, but it changes every year. The photos from this post are from Oct 17-25. Truthfully, north of North Carolina it was past peak when we went.

Check out the Leaf Peeping Calendar

great smoky mountains |

What is the best way to leaf peep?

Honestly, leaf peeping is a car oriented activity. Obviously when you reach your destination there are hikes and walks you can enjoy, but you need a car to get to the prime leaf locations. If you are flying into the area, we recommend renting a car and planning out a road trip.

Note, this is a super esoteric list of things that we LOVED on our roadtrip. We didn’t include everything because who wants to read 10,000 words on someone else’s vacation? Hopefully this gives you a little taste and makes you want to plan your own trip!

Happy leaf peeping friends! Fall is my favorite season and I hope you experience some of the magic.

xoxo steph

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