A horse grazes in a fenced field at a farm...

A horse grazes in a fenced field at a farm outside Gordonville, Pa. in Lancaster County.  Credit: AP/Jacqueline Larma

 Long Island fall leaf peepers are legion and legendary, but their spring counterparts are another shade altogether.
Unlike in autumn, when most trees in the Northeast shed their eye-catching foliage, only a handful of species burst into colorful blossom other than pale green during this season of hope, and they are not common here.
So, Long Island leaf lovers typically have to travel farther to experience areas where species capable of generating choruses of “oohs” and “ahs” are plentiful. That may be costlier this year because of the recent spike in gasoline prices. But for those determined to cast off the winter blues and believe the cost of filling their tanks — and the minimal risk of contracting COVID in their cars — is worth it, here are five multiday drives through some of the East’s perennially favorite spring foliage destinations.

Skyline Drive, North Central Virginia

Visitors can explore Skyline Drive and hundreds of miles of...

Visitors can explore Skyline Drive and hundreds of miles of trails. Credit: National Park Service /Mary O'Neill

One of America’s premier scenic roadways, Skyline Drive runs the length of Shenandoah National Park along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression, the 105-mile long, two-lane road offers virtually continuous awe-inspiring views out over the Virginia Piedmont to the east and the Shenandoah Valley to the west.

Not surprisingly, Skyline Drive is at its most spectacular (and crowded) in the fall. But  in the spring, azaleas, serviceberry, mountain-laurel, and redbuds set the woods alongside the roadway ablaze in soft light while a rotating roster of roadside flowers adds its own multicolor accents. 

With a speed limit of 35 mph and 75 pullout overlooks, you’ll have no trouble seeing both. And with three lodges along the way (Skyland Resort at Mile 41.7, Big Meadows Lodge at Mile 51, and the rustic Lewis Mountain cabins at Mile 57.5), you don’t have to come down off the mountain at night. 

Access to Skyline Drive for those coming from the north is either at its northern terminus in Front Royal or Thornton Gap, 75 miles west of Washington, D.C. Cost: $20 per vehicle (good for seven days.)

Nearby attractions: Luray Caverns in Luray, Skyline Caverns in Front Royal, numerous nearby wineries

INFO nps.gov/shen

Blue Ridge Parkway, Western Virginia and North Carolina

Bikers make their way across the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Bikers make their way across the Blue Ridge Parkway. Credit: Getty Images for IRONMAN/Grant Halverson

Literally picking up where Skyline Drive lets off, both geographically and botanically, is the Blue Ridge Parkway, which winds its way an additional 469 miles southwestward before emptying out in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The most dramatic scenery lies in the higher, southern elevations, but there’s no need to go  that far, because the 120-mile stretch between Waynesboro, its northern terminus, and Roanoke through the George Washington National Forest is just as rewarding in spring, albeit without the profusion of high-altitude rhododendron.

Travelers along the Blue Ridge Parkway have only one en route lodging option, the Peaks of Otter Resort (Mile 86, opens May 1), but easy access to the historic and amenity-laden cities of Charlottesville, Lynchburg, Lexington, and Roanoke.

Nearby attractions: Natural Bridge Park and Natural Bridge Caverns

INFO blueridgeparkway.org

Lancaster County, Southeast Pennsylvania

Two boys ride in the back of a horse-drawn buggy...

Two boys ride in the back of a horse-drawn buggy near White Horse, Pa. in Lancaster County.  Credit: AP/Jacqueline Larma

What Lancaster County lacks in dramatic scenery it makes up for in heartwarming domestic landscapes, especially as populated by the “Plain” living Pennsylvania Dutch (properly Deutsch, i.e., German) Amish and Mennonites who settled here in the 1700s and make it the perennially favorite family destination that it is.    

There’s no need for spring peepers to follow any preset routes, just let whim and serendipity lead you along the back roads off of U.S. Highways 30 and 322, where you will see tilled brown fields sprout back to life, pastures erupt with grasses and wildflowers, and fruit and ornamental shade trees burst into blossom. And there are plenty of places to stay, either out in the countryside or in the city of Lancaster.

Nearby attractions: The 1730 Ephrata Cloister (through May 31), the Amish Village in Ronks, and the Amish Farm and House in Lancaster

INFO discoverlancaster.com

Finger Lakes, Central New York

The sign at Finger Lakes Welcome Center on the banks...

The sign at Finger Lakes Welcome Center on the banks of Lake Geneva. Credit: AP/Julio Cortez

The benefit of visiting the Finger Lakes in the spring is avoiding the summer and fall crowds. Along the road you'll see abundant flowering trees, mostly ornamentals, and the vineyard-covered hillsides that sweep down to long, narrow lakes are more than scenic enough in the lingering light of a soft, spring day. 

Treat yourself to a number of long lakeside drives, most of which double as wine trails, on both sides of the three largest lakes, Cayuga, Seneca, and Keuka. The tasting rooms will be open, as will most of their plein-air gardens, making for a truly intoxicating seasonal pairing. 

Nearby attractions: numerous waterfalls, cultured Ithaca, and historic Seneca Falls

INFO FingerlakestravelNY.com or Fingerlakes.org

Laurel Highlands, Southwestern Pennsylvania 

People white water rafting at Laurel Highlands in Pennsylvania.

People white water rafting at Laurel Highlands in Pennsylvania. Credit: Alamy Stock Photo/Philip Scalia / Alamy Stock Photo

The 3,000-square mile, forested expanse that constitutes Pennsylvania’s highest geographic area derives its name from the abundant mountain-laurel that erupt into soft pink and white blooms for a few weeks beginning in late May. While seeing them can easily be done on most of the local roads that run between the two major highways that traverse the Highlands, the Lincoln Highway (U.S. 30) in the north and The National Road (U.S. 40) in the south, the best up-close and personal views of them and their accompanying forest wildflowers are going to come on foot at one or more of the area’s numerous state parks, especially Laurel Ridge, Laurel Mountain and Ohiopyle.

And while the towns of Ligonier and Somerset have much to recommend them, the Laurel Highlands, which have served as Pittsburgh’s rural retreat for well over a century, are chock-full of rustic and not-so rustic hotels, inns, and resorts.

Nearby attractions: Laurel Caverns and Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1937 architectural masterpiece

INFO golaurelhighlands.com

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