Your New England autumn trip planning guide
Best New England Fall Foliage
Travel Destinations, Vacations and Scenic Drives
scenic autumn vacation destinations and hotel getaways, best leaf
spots, driving tours, hikes, day trips, apple picking and apple cider
recommendations, and restaurants perfect for a fall day!
Bird Park, East Walpole, MA (photo by Eric H.
Article and photos by Eric H.
The moral of this story is to not put all your fall foliage leaves in one basket.
Without a doubt, the best approach to viewing
New England fall foliage is to consider the journey as important as the ultimate travel destination. Even the least-known places in New England are capable of having brilliant colors as it is well-known in scientific circles that fall foliage is not exclusive to New England vacation and resort communities.
That's not to say you should be joyfully leaf peeping in areas of urban blight, but many times, those stops along the way turn out to be the most memorable places. The key is to keep your eyes open for the length of the trip, as New England demands your full undivided attention when it comes to travel surprises.
Keep in mind that peak New England foliage season varies from year to year. Generally, peak season for most of New England occurs from mid to late October, but can peak earlier in the northern sectors ( parts of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont). It's best to contact local tourism offices or chambers of commerce to find out about their peak season.
Here are some top New England fall foliage picks -- popular and less known areas, but all nice for extended vacations or just a day trip:
New Hampshire offers "mountains" of colorful foliage
New Hampshire sports some of the best fall foliage in the United States, especially the 34-mile Kancamagus Highway, in the thick of the White Mountain National Forest and designated by the National Forest Service as a Scenic Byway. It always seemed like parents had to travel the Kancamagus Highway to find good foliage, just the way Howard Johnson's had to be the only place to eat when traveling down on highways. While Howard Johnson's restaurants were sub par, the Kancamagus Highway always delivered the goods, and still does today: an endless array of colors, some not seen in any civilized society. Spanning from Lincoln to North Conway, the Kancamagus is indeed a candy land of foliage, generally regarded as the premier New England fall foliage destination.
White Mountain National Forest, with its dramatic, rocky mountains, ponds, streams, hiking trails and a plethora of motels, inns, restaurants and tourist attractions, is a mix of some of the northeast's best scenery and the occasional cheesy commercial tourist strips that comes with it. No matter how much development has taken place in the Lincoln-Woodstock area, the sheer beauty will always dominate. Mt. Washington is the highest mountain in New England at nearly 6,288 ft. Mt. Washington can be driven or hiked (always check the forecast when hiking at Mt. Washington or other New England mountains; inclement weather conditions can happen in a hurry). Mt. Washington is an amazing place to enjoy the fall foliage.
While in the area, be sure to check out Echo Lake Beach, located right off busy Route 93 in Franconia Notch State Park. Beautifully situated on the slopes of popular Cannon Mountain in the White Mountains, Echo Lake seems like a million miles away from civilization. This pristine 28-acre beach features incredibly peaceful, colorful fall foliage views of where the Franconia and Kinsman Ranges meet, thus creating a notch -- it doesn't get much prettier than this scene. The good thing for you is that it's right off the highway in the heart of the White Mountains.
The ever-evolving outlet shops in North Conway are almost as annoying as the Donkey in "Shrek," but the undeniably stunning location has people coming back year after year. The view of Mount Washington and the surrounding countryside from Main Street is priceless, especially when the leaves begin to change. Despite commercial overgrowth, Mother Nature still shines in North Conway perhaps at its peak in the White Mountains autumn.
Welsh and Dickey Mountain in nearby Waterville Valley is a great place to hike. The 4.5 miles of hiking is a tad difficult, but certainly worth the effort in terms of viewing the brilliant foliage within the White Mountain National Forest.
The Hollis-to-Keene sector of southwest New Hampshire lends beautiful fall foliage to New England. Perhaps the most unassuming part of New Hampshire, this region does not boast, overwhelm or act flamboyant in any way. Hollis may just be the most pleasant town in New England, with beautiful Silver Lake State Park, wide-open farms with farms stands and downtown from another era with a general store and lots of nice, old homes.
Nearby in densely-forested Mason, N.H., is Parker's Maple Barn (1316 Brookline Rd., Tel 603-878-2308), a classic fall foliage dining destination. The maple barn is actually an authentic 1800s dairy barn and silo. Inside, the antique cow stanchions integrated into handmade wooden tables and antique farm items hanging on the walls create an instant time warp atmosphere set to dim lighting, bright service, and absolutely electrifying comfort food. For those interested in breakfast, the Parker's Special ($10.95) is the acknowledged standard with two eggs, two pancakes (or one French toast), two bacon strip, two sausages and ham or ham hash in place of all meats , home fries and toast. Particularly delicious are the pumpkin pancakes, as far away from artificially flavored as could be.Without a doubt, the best lunch item (it's actually a dinner portion) is the sumptuous maple ribs ($12.95). Why haven't other restaurants thought of this concoction? A half-rack of these gems goes in a hurry as its succulent quality demands for rapid eating.
Peterborough is a quiet arts community with a small downtown with great foliage beyond the modest selections of local stores. The Peterborough Diner (10 Depot St., Tel. 603-924-6202) makes for a nice breakfast or lunch, with a hill of brilliant foliage behind it. Keene is a sweet "college town" with an appealing and wide Main Street, an old-time movie theater, nice parks, a golf course, plenty of services, really pleasant neighborhoods and proximity to the scenic Mount Monadnock area and Vermont's Green Mountains. It's a vibrant city (population 22,000) that really feels like a small town.
The aforementioned Mt. Monadnock, minutes from Keene and Peterborough, on Rt. 124 in Jaffrey, is one of the most climbed mountains in the United States. It's not too difficult a hike, perfect for the family. The views from the top are what one would expect in the fall -full of panoramic colors, accompanied by a classic New England chill in the air.
Durham is an underrated southeast New Hampshire fall foliage destination. Home to the University of New Hampshire, Durham is an attractive college town with a few blocks of small-town shops and restaurants. It is the ultimate town to stroll, enjoy the fresh New Hampshire air and enjoy the mix of foliage and UNH campus architecture.
Nearby is Portsmouth, the former capital of New Hampshire and an eclectic, coastal historic city. Locally owned shops, great restaurants with a water view, narrow streets, tree-lined streets with fine old homes and an overflow of eclectic University of New Hampshire students make this section seem like a miniature version of Boston. For starters, check out the historical Strawbery Banke Museum, a 10-acre historic waterfront neighborhood, with homes dating back to 1650. Although modern amenities beckon around the corner in Market Square, Strawberry Banke takes you out of the modern era and into another period of time.
Great restaurants abound in Portsmouth. One favorite is the Oar House, at (55 Ceres St., 603-436-4025) with its indoor and scenic outdoor waterfront deck dining, excellent seafood-oriented lunch and dinner menus, which include local favorites like New england clam chowder, steamers, twin boiled lobster, baked stuffed haddock and encrusted Atlantic salmon.
Vermont goes beyond being the "Green State" for fall vacations
Northern Vermont's Stowe may have great little shops, and diverse dining choices, state-of-the art ski facilities and some of the best lodging in New England, but what matters most is that despite all the development, it still feels like a small, relaxed village. Stowe is especially appealing during the foliage season when the leaves turn brilliant colors. That special chill in the air, the beautiful views of Mt. Mansfield -- the highest elevation in the state -- and long and winding roads with farms dotting the landscape make the foliage that much more special.
It is true that every community in New England has foliage. It's just that foliage set to triple deckers or commuting highway traffic don't give off the same warm feeling as the spectacular North Country setting of Stowe.
As lifelong New Englanders, we've never heard anyone say they didn't like Stowe. When the visitor information people there say that their village forces you to relax, it is actually public relations that lives up to the hype. From a ride through the dramatic and rugged Jeffersonville Notch to the marvelously scenic bike trail, Stowe is a scenic treasure, sure to warm your senses no matter how cold the weather gets.
South of Stowe in Waterbury is the Cold Hollow Cider Mill (3600 Waterbury-Stowe Rd., Tel. 802- 244-8771). They make cider the old-fashioned way with a rack and cloth press built in the 1920s. Cider is not the only attraction at this legendary attraction as a bakery (including delicious homemade donuts), Green Mountain Coffee, Vermont-made wines and a toy store are just a few of the thousands of items found at this delightful roadside building.
There's nothing in the northeast village of Waits River (southeast of Montpelier) except, oddly enough, a river and a few old homes. Don't expect to go here and do the "Hot, hot, hot" dance at a four star resort specializing in drinks, loud over stressed people and high prices. In Waits River, all one has is the stark beauty of Vermont. All that is left is the remarkable foliage at one of the northeast's most photographed and beloved village scenes.
For those not familiar to the area, Weston, Vt., represents New England (and the Green Mountain National Forest region) at its finest. A charming village green with a gazebo gently tells you, "I am New England. This is what you've been wanting to see your whole life."The serene, green environs evokes a sweet dream, only this isn't a dream. Weston is a Vermont masterpiece, filled with charmingly quaint New England homes, and sunny streets filtered by pure Green Mountain air. Many of us know of homes placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In this case, the whole village of Weston is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Everywhere you look is like a Norman Rockwell painting. Weston may be a quiet town, but it does have a retail district. It's called the Vermont Country Store, purveyors of Yankee bargains, Vermont-made clothing and just about anything else under the sun. This incredible trip back in time offers everything from Vermont fudge to wool socks.So, after eating fudge in your new wool socks, kick back and marvel at the unspoiled, quiet beauty of this fabulous New England community. Whether a day trip or a full fledged vacation, you'll leave wanting to come back to this classic New England community.
Just outside the village is the Weston Priory (58 Priory Hill Rd., 802-824-5409), high atop a hill at the edge of the beautiful Green Mountain National Forest. A community of Benedictine Monks live in this idyllic location, with a beautiful monastery. The Priory combines the spirituality of the soul, outdoor masses, and sunrise and sunset services. The Priory Web Site states that "Men and women wishing to spend several days at the priory, in the atmosphere of our monastic life, are most welcome" Visit the Weston Priory Web Site for more information.
Route 9 in southern Vermont from Brattleboro to Wilmington is what you'd expect of Vermont -- green hills, green mountains, green grass, and in the fall, foliage that goes well beyond green. The most striking part of the itinerary is the 100-mile view from the Hogback Mountain area. Here, you can see the striking Vermont country skyline, plus areas of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut and New York.
Brattleboro is a funky town with loads on unique shops and people, and transplants trying to start a new life after getting tired of New York City. Wilmington is more traditional, the perfect place to stroll the quiet downtown, drink apple cider and wonder what it would be like to live in such a peaceful, small-town setting.
Route 100 starts in southern Vermont, and ends at the Canadian Border featuring many great stops along the way, including Wilmington, Weston, Londonderry, Plymouth, Waitsfield, Ludlow and Stowe -- offering perhaps the best consistent Vermont foliage in the northeast.
remarkable Vermont fall foliage driving tour should always include
traveling Route 5 North
from Lyndonville, VT. Start with a cup of coffee
and a hearty pancake breakfast at the truly "local' Miss Lyndonville
Diner (686 Broad St., Tel 802-626-9274). Traveling through
the pleasantly quaint downtown of Lyndonville will lead you through
more remote towns like West Burke, East Burke and Newark. The mountain
views are high and lonesome and dramatic, filled with plenty of fall
foliage. Taking Route 5A from West Burke will bring you to Lake
Willoughby where you'll find the colors of fall enhanced by one of
Vermont's most pristine bodies of water. Downtown East Burke
features the famous Northeast Kingdom Country Store (466 Route 114,
Revolutionary fall foliage vacations reside in Massachusetts
A popular fall foliage stretch is Route 2, especially from Ayer, Mass., to the Berkshire Mountains (going from north central to northwestern Massachusetts). Frequent spurts of brilliant colors off this older scenic highway make it a must to discover some of the charming villages and towns that have the New England spirit with village greens and churches with tall steeples -- Shirley, Templeton, Princeton, Harvard, Westminster, Shelburne Falls, and North Adams, to name a few.
Williamstown, a college town (Williams College) with wealth, may be one of New England's masterpieces --all decked out in tree-lined streets, interesting locally owned shops and the ultimate feeling of small town America. Add a few colored leaves to this foundation and you have a perfect foliage destination. Williamstown is home to the Sterling and Francis Clark Art Institute (225 South St., Tel. 413-458-2303), featuring more than 30 paintings by Renoir and other French impressionists.
Shelburne Falls, located in the Berkshire Mountains foothills, may not be listed in a travel agent's database, but the town shines with its row of stately old homes, a friendly downtown with interesting little shops, unique glacial potholes, and the Bridge of Flowers - a stunning display of 500 flowers residing on a 400 ft. walkable bridge. Consider Shelburne Falls a great fall foliage stop along the way when venturing toward the heart of the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts, or as part of your Mohawk Trail itinerary (shadowing an old Indian Trail running from Orange to the Berkshire community of North Adam. North Adams is beautifully situated in the Northern Berkshires and has enjoyed a remarkable renaissance over the past several years. It has gone from an eyesore to eye candy through a revitalized downtown. North Adams is also home to Mt. Greylock, the highest point in the state at 3,491 ft. -- its height lends great foliage views.
The 1761 Old Mill Restaurant (State Rd. East, Tel. 978-874-5941) in Westminster stands out as a Route 2 fall foliage dining favorite, with its roaring waterfall, and brilliant colors framing the rustic, old building. A covered bridge leading to the restaurant and a lovely pond where visitors can feed the ducks make this one of the most scenic dining establishments in New England. By the way, the food is great from the sweet, sticky buns to the phenomenal roast duck is tremendous -- tender and plentiful with apple-based stuffing and a choice of orange glaze or gravy.
Carlson Orchards (115 Oak Hill Rd., Tel. 800- 286-3916) and Doe Orchards (327 Ayer Rd., Tel. 978-772-4139) offer fine apple picking facilities in Harvard, one of New England's true gems. The town center consists of a general store, a beautiful lake, the best of colonial homes, and a cool village green -- ideal for sitting under a colorful tree and reading a book.
Stockbridge, Mass., in the southern Berkshires, represents New England at its best. From the alternatingly sunny and shady tree-lined streets to the locally-owned, small-town center , Stockbridge is indeed Norman Rockwell come to life (the Norman Rockwell Museum is located here), but with very little of the overly commercial by-products. The famous Red Lion Inn is located in the heart of the idyllic downtown, featuring a front porch perfect for relaxation. Some of New England's best foliage can be found in Stockbridge, whether it be downtown or on a nearby country road (which there are plenty).
The Eastern States Exposition (the Big E) in West Springfield (western central Massachusetts) is perhaps New England's most famous fall event (from Sept. 12-28 for 2014), including the Big E Super Circus, the Avenue of States, dazzling thrill shows, New England history and agriculture, animals, rides, shopping, crafts, a daily parade and a Mardi Gras parade and foods from around the world.
There's are so many food vendors at the Big E that you might not want to eat until the year 2525, but also consider the Storrowtown Tavern, located on the premises. With a quaint, candlelit New England feel, the Storrowtown Tavern features some well-prepared regional favorites like Yankee pot roast, chicken pot pie, baked Boston scrod, baked stuffed lobster and roast stuffed turkey dinner.
Going east of the Springfield region is Sturbridge, known for Old Sturbridge Village (1 Old Sturbridge Village Rd., Tel. 508-347-3362) which recreates an 1830s New England community. The 200-acre village includes a working historical farm and restored buildings. Old Sturbridge Village seems especially pleasant in the fall, as rustling through the leaves in another era with a chill in the air evokes a true New England autumn. As with most areas of New England, the foliage is beautiful in the Sturbridge region.
Sturbridge would be complete without a visit to the Publick
House (277 Main St., Tel. 508-347-3313), a 1771 colonial
structure at the attractive Sturbridge
Common. The Publick House serving great prime rib and turkey dinners in
a quaint setting. Another great dining choice is the Salem
Cross Inn (Route 9, West Brookfield, MA,
Route 117 from Lancaster to Concord, Mass., runs parallel with part of scenic Route 2 in central and eastern Massachusetts. Known as the Nashoba Valley region, Route 117 features small-to-midsize towns with wonderful apple orchards, classic ice cream stands, modest family-oriented restaurants with delicious food and stores from yesteryear (the Maynard Outdoor Store). Towns like Maynard, Bolton, Lancaster and Stow represent New England at its finest -- laid-back with village greens, tall churches and a real community feel. You'll feel like you're home, only with the advantage of great foliage. Concord is one of the most well known communities in the United States, known as the home of the American Revolution, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson and most importantly, the Concord Grape (just kidding). Concord is full of neat little shops, tall majestic church steeples, gorgeous colonial homes, and a walk to beloved American institutions like the Old North Bridge, Louisa May Alcott Museum, and Walden Pond (Route 126, just off Rt. 2). Walden Pond, in particular, is worth visiting. Walden Pond is the former home of one of America's great misanthropes, Henry David Thoreau, and current home of thousands of visitors enjoying the mellow 45 minute walk around one of Massachusetts' prettiest ponds, a small swimming beach and hiking trails pleasing everyone from the corporate weekend warrior, pocket protector and all, to the 1960s hippies with pony tails and long dresses (this includes women, too).
Great farm stands and apple orchards dot the Route 117 and vicinity landscape. Bolton Orchards (125 Still River Rd., Tel. 978-779-2733) has a never-ending apple field in a rural setting, seemingly a million miles from civilization (but in reality, a half hour to Worcester and 45 minutes to Boston). Twenty five varieties of apples can be found in the expansive field. They also have a great farm stand and gift shop.
Near Bolton Orchards is Nashoba Valley Winery (92 Wattaquadock Hill Rd., Bolton, MA, Tel. 978) 779-5521), with a 52-acre apple orchard, wine tasting tours, and J's Restaurant, a rustic farmhouse known for its sophisticated offerings, farm fresh vegetables and award-winning wines. The setting represents the best of rural New England with its gentle rolling farmland.
Verrill Farm in West Concord (Rt. 117) offers some of the freshest produce in the Boston suburbs in a pastoral, farm setting. This is the blueprint for how a farm stand should be, committed to farming excellence. Perfectly manicured and rurally informal, Verrill Farm may not have the variety of produce that some of the bigger stands offer, but what they have is superior in quality. Currently in temporary quarters due to a Sept. 2008 fire, Verrill Farms still offers a wonderful fall farm experience. We look forward to its new building to be completed some time in the fall.
wonderful dining experience, The Colonial Inn (48
Monument Square, Concord, MA, Tel.
The Colonial Inn could get by on its looks alone, but the food lives up to the billing. The pork tenderloin is not to be missed, as well as the sea bass. Salads are well beyond boring iceberg, and the deserts are truly wonderful, especially the cheesecake and chocolate cakes. The Colonial Inn has a Sunday brunch, which is truly inspiring with quantity to match innovative quality dishes. Try it, especially during autumn as a precursor to a Sunday foliage drive.
The southwest suburbs of Boston offer some great foliage, too. Walpole, Westwood and Medfield are nice, small towns with parks and ponds perfect for a weekend stroll. Walpole has the 89-acre Bird Park and 365-acre Adams Farm (North St.), both with attractive grounds and wonderful fall foliage. Westwood features the 1,250 acre Hale Reservation, located just off Route 109 near the town center. Hale is secluded, but safe -- a popular camp area in the summer and a foliage strolling destination in the fall.
Medfield features Rocky Woods State Reservation (Hartford St., Tel. 781-784-0567), a great place for light hiking. Its owners, the Trustees of Reservations state on their Web Site: "The reservation features over six miles of former woods roads and footpaths through rolling hills of white pine and red oak that are part of both the Neponset River Watershed and the Charles River Watershed. Rocky ledges and glacial erratics are evidence of glaciers that receded some 10,000 years ago."
Cape Cod, Mass., may be known for its great beaches, seafood and myriad summer fun, but many prefer the quiet off-season, perhaps best represented by New England fall foliage. The best place to enjoy foliage is by visiting the small towns along Route 6A -- Barnstable, Yarmouthport, Dennis, Harwich, etc. The towns look different at this time, as they return to their normal, quiet village foundation, temporarily put on hold during the heavy tourist season. The foliage is stunning, proving that there is life beyond the summer at Cape Cod.
Connecticut "branch offices" of great foliage
A memorable "underdog" for New England fall foliage is Litchfield, Conn., tucked away in the hills of northwestern Connecticut. Looking like life was a few centuries ago, Litchfield has a calm and old-fashioned aura with only a few shops, restaurants and lots of well-maintained old homes with perfectly manicured lawns. It is the perfect place to stroll and take in the fall colors.
A more well known area New England fall foliage destination is Route 169 in Northeastern Connecticut. New Hampshire and Vermont get most of the foliage credit, but it would be a mistake to bypass on the scenic and quiet northeastern Connecticut corner. Roue 169 is generally regarded as one of the best scenic roads in the united States with beautiful small towns, rolling green hills, farmland and a dignity that shows off the subdued but proud New England spirit. Putnam, once a near ghost town, is often referred to as the antiques capital of New England. It is rough around the edges, but pleasant once there is a chance to stroll around the small but historic downtown, filled with antique and specialty shops, and restaurants. Communities like Woodstock, North Woodstock, Pomfret, Thompson, Abbington and Brooklyn have little going on, but that's a great thing for those interested in seeing a relatively unspoiled part of New England -- which, of course, leaves little distraction, when focusing on fall foliage.
The Inn at Woodstock Hill in the center of Woodstock, is a perfect fall foliage destination. The Inn, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, stands majestically on Plain Hill. Built in 1816, the Inn largely consists of a Federal/Georgian style mansion with a carriage house and two barns. Staying there is like meeting that special, once-in-a-lifetime love--once you meet this romantic vacation destiny, you're sure to return again and again. Around the corner from the bustling downtown complete with a produce stand, a church and colonial homes (the town's idea of a strip mall are rows of apple orchards), the placid Inn at Woodstock Hill could convince the most overstressed business executive to slow down, breathe in the untouched air, and marvel at the old and wise tall trees.
features Stoggy Hollow General Store and Restaurant
(492 Route 198
In nearby Pomfret Center is the Vanilla Bean Cafe, a wonderful casual breakfast, lunch and dinner destination set in a restored 1740s farmhouse. Pomfret Center is breathtakingly quiet and attractive, offering a village green better than most places in Vermont -- known for its village greens.
"Leave" it to Maine for stunning foliage
Maine seems more suited for lobster and rocky coastline, but to ignore the great foliage would be a travesty. In a certain sense, tourists have a tremendous advantage by vacationing in Maine during the foliage season. Unlike the foliage, the lobster and rocky coastline don't go away. It is there to enjoy in the fall with fewer crowds. While the crowds travel to New Hampshire and Vermont for foliage, those going to Maine feel awfully smart, in some places having the foliage season to themselves. Acadia National Park may seem as far away as Australia to some, but the trek is certainly worth it. Acadia National Park is truly one of the most spectacular parks in the United States, with its beyond scenic rocky coast, and forested valleys, lakes and mountains, carved by glacial force. It cannot be fully described, only joyfully visited. Of particular interest is Northeast Harbor, a splendid little village boasting the prettiest harbor you will ever see. The foliage surrounding the harbor and sleepy little village is a joyous discovery, certainly worth the mileage.
South of Acadia National Park on Scenic Rt. 1A is Camden, Maine, perhaps one of the most picturesque seaside towns on the East Coast. The 800-ft. Mt. Battie lends amazing views of the coast, particularly appealing when combined with fall foliage.
Maine is also full of fall events. Attending one of them will no doubt give you a taste of the "Downeast" flavor and the community spirit of New England.
Rhode Island's small size packs a foliage punch
Rhode Island is no slouch when it comes to foliage. No matter what time of season, communities like Bristol, Warren, Barrington ,Westerly and Newport (known for its historic mansions and lively downtown with many shops and charming narrow streets) have incredibly strong appeal offering coastal splendor with enough foliage to please the Mother Nature crowd and retail to please Mother. Much like Cape Cod, there is a misconception that Rhode Island vacations are meant for the beach, but the locals know that as long as you have trees in New England, there is foliage.
England fall-related articles:
Dining, perfect for the fall foliage season:
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