May 7, 2020

Fall foliage: The best New England road trips

Ahh, is there any road trip as stunning as a New England road trip to see the fall foliage? Winding through country lanes under a canopy of rustic fall colors, staying in an elegant B&B with a roaring fire and a glass of your favorite drop. Hiking, driving, stopping for photos. New England in the fall is simply magic.

Fall foliage on the ground

Whether you are looking for weekend break ideas or a much longer vacation, taking a road trip in New England to see the incredible fall foliage is breathtaking.

But you need to time it just right! And therein lies the difficulty with knowing just when to book. It pays to be flexible, if you can be, between early October and early November. The colors are totally dependant on the weather, so each year they will turn at slightly different times. (Of course being too flexible and not booking your accommodation well in advance means the prices will be higher. Or booked out!)

Pro tip: try and plan your visit mid-week to avoid weekend crowds (and rates)!

This detailed guide should go a long way to helping you get the best views in the best places at the right time. It is filled with links to check on latest updates and provides everything you need to know to have a blast during your road trip.

You’ll be leaf-peeping at all of the dazzling colors of autumn and enjoying this natural wonder, taking pictures like a pro! And if you are taking photos on your phone, I put together this easy guide for how to take great pics on an iPhone.

Jetty with chairs looking at fall trees

We may be in a self-isolation phase right now, but in time “this too will end” and soon we’ll be looking for a great getaways to put the virus behind us and splash some cash around the small towns and businesses that have been feeling it.

The six states of New England (Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island) edged by the Atlantic coastline and dotted with snow-capped mountains, are full of history and hidden gems, not to mention bathed in stunning fall foliage from about late September, so if it’s not already on your road trip bucket list, you might want to add it after reading this!

New England map
The six states of New England

New England is a hugely popular corner of the US to visit for a road trip, and every fall the thick canopy of trees turn from green into bright yellows, reds, oranges starting in the north and blazing south across hills and valleys. Roads are carpeted with vibrant leaves, parks gleam with the promise of winter, and mountainous landscapes take on a whole new character. The leaf peeping season has begun!

If you love a road trip, you might like to read my weather.com

Below are my best tips for where to go see fall in New England, as well as the best hiking trails, best viewpoints for photos and places to stay for leaf-peepers. 

Vermont

One of the most famous places to visit and see New England’s fall colors is Vermont. This is a great place for first-time leaf-peepers to get a real taste of the beauty that fall brings to the region. Pack your favourite cosy sweaters along for a surreal getaway full of autumn fever. 

A beautiful little waterfall in Vermont
A beautiful little waterfall in Vermont. Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash

Vermont boasts some of the most incredibly scenic parks, historic bridges, lakes and dams, making it a must-see during autumn. The colors of the trees lining the winding roads are sure to ease you into a state of bliss. Taking a road trip through the southern region of Vermont is something you (and your camera) will never forget.

Best road trip routes in Vermont are: 

  • Edson Hill and West Hill (10.9 miles)
  • Brush Hill (8.4 miles)
  • Craftsbury Common and Hazen’s Notch (107 miles)
  • Jeffersonville, Johnson and Hyde Park (41.3 miles)
  • Stowe Hollow and Little River Dam (30.9 miles)

Where to stay in Vermont 

Choosing where to stay in Vermont is all about finding a hotel that caters for your leaf-peeping needs. One of the best hotels to enjoy an easy escape is the Grafton Inn. This hotel is charming, with everything you need to be comfortable, whilst also offering beautiful leaf-peeping opportunities. 

Grafton Inn Vermont
The elegant Grafton Inn, Vermont

Best hikes in Vermont 

Hiking during autumn is an ideal way to marvel at the beauty of the fall foliage. Some of the best hikes for nature lovers and leaf-peeping enthusiasts are: 

Each of these trails has its own unique tone, and they’re all suitable for beginner hikers.

Best viewpoints in Vermont 

Vermont has so many gorgeous landscapes that become even more beautiful during the fall. The best places to go to soak in the sights of the fall colors in Vermont are found on: 

  • Equinox Mountain
  • Bromley Mountain 
  • Emerald Lake State Park

Perfect photo opp in Vermont

Vermont is known for having stunning apple orchards, and your road trip here would not be complete without stopping to enjoy one. If you’re looking for the perfect photo op (and to pick up a couple of bottles of their delicious cider), look no further than Champlain Orchards. It captures the historic feel of Vermont, whilst also providing sweeping views over the surrounding mountain range’s fall foliage. 

Champlain Orchard, from route 74 west
Champlain Orchard, from route 74 west

New Hampshire

Another must-see destination for leaf-peeping in New England is New Hampshire. This dreamy location is a haven to go to with your loved ones to revel in the scenery of autumn, with mountainous backdrops galore.

Train driving through New Hampshire fall foliage
Stunning ride through the fall foliage! Photo by Balazs Busznyak on Unsplash

This laid-back and old-country destination provides so many gorgeous pit stops, with plenty of sightseeing opportunities. Here are some amazing driving routes for leaf-peeping: 

  • Currier & Ives Scenic Byway (30 miles)
  • Moose Alley (12 miles )
  • The Kancamagus Highway (56.39 miles)
  • The Lakes Loop (134 miles)
  • The Sunapee Loop (140 miles)

Where to stay in New Hampshire 

New Hampshire is overflowing with chic, cosy and picturesque accommodation spots dotted throughout. However, not all of these options have unforgettable foliage views of New England.

The best option for leaf-peepers is to stay at the Omni Mount Washington Resort.  This luxury hotel has unbeatable views over the surrounding forest during fall that will keep you captivated and elegant rooms to luxuriate in when you’ve come back from yet another photo walk.

Omni Mt Washington in the fall
Omni Mt Washington in the fall

Best hikes in New Hampshire 

Hiking in New Hampshire is sure to be a rewarding experience for everyone wanting to enjoy priceless views of New England in the fall. Here are some excellent hiking trails that will take you on exquisite journeys through the wilderness.

If you want to take your hikes that extra mile, you can join in on a thrilling White Mountain Forest Hiking Trip during autumn. 

South Branch Pond, North end of Baxter State Park

Best viewpoints in New Hampshire

If you’re looking for the pinnacle viewpoints in New Hampshire, then you’re in luck. Here are the best places to go to indulge in marvellous sightseeing during the fall.

  • Mount Monadnock
  • Foss Mountain
  • Toho Beach
  • Jericho Mountain State Park

Perfect photo opp in New Hampshire

Capturing the essence of New Hampshire’s fall foliage is best done at Franconia Notch State Park. Here you have many open spaces to explore and get lost in the colours of autumn. Let your inner creativity go wild and snap some of the most beautiful pictures of the mountainous landscape and stunning natural habitats.

Jericho Mountain State Park in fall in New Hampshire
Jericho Mountain State Park in fall in New Hampshire. Credit: New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism Development

Maine

Get ready to take your leaf-peeping to a whole new level. Maine combines the timeless treasure of autumn colours with the seaside charm of the coast. It’s a great addition to your list of travel bucket list ideas, and it makes for an awesome destination to stop do some adventuring during your road trip. 

In fact, it’s unmissable – a trip to enjoy leaf-peeping in New England is not complete without a rendezvous here. Be sure to bring your journal, as the picturesque surroundings and the rich atmosphere of Maine are bound to inspire some thoughts.

Here are some of the most scenic routes to take: 

  • Acadia Byway (40 miles)
  • Old Canada Road National Scenic Byway (15 miles)
  • Million Dollar View Byway (8 miles)
  • Grafton Notch Byway (21 miles)
  • State Route 11 – Fish River Scenic Byway (38 miles)

Where to stay in Maine 

Maine gives travellers a true paradise, with accommodation options that each have their own unique character and that encompass different facets of the state. The best place to stay in Main to enjoy a New England autumn is the Bethel Inn Resort.

Come here to relax and marvel at the beauty of the fall foliage. You can also take time out to partake in outdoor activities like tennis, swimming and golfing. These activities allow you to get active whilst leaf-peeping. 

Bethel Inn Resort, Maine
Bethel Inn Resort, Maine

Best hikes in Maine 

Maine will delight and surprise you with the amount of hidden gems it has, all just waiting to be discovered. Some of the best hiking trails for those wanting an intimate leaf-peeping experience are: 

These hikes will give you extraordinary perspectives of autumn in New England.

Best viewpoints in Maine 

Get ready to be awestruck as you enjoy leaf-peeping over these majestic vantage points. Journey to these treasure troves of picturesque views over New England in Maine:

  • Bradbury Mountain State Park
  • Mount Battie
  • Mount Kineo
  • Baxter State Park

Perfect photo opp in Maine

Found in the scenic Grafton Notch State Park, the Screw Auger Falls makes for a fantastic photo spot. Whether you want to get a romantic selfie with your partner, a triumphant picture of you during your road trip, or a scenic image of the foliage – you will get it right here.

South Branch Pond, North end of Baxter State Park

Massachusetts

Leaf watching is one of the most exciting activities to partake in while venturing Massachusetts. A road trip through this trendy destination is going to leave you feeling extremely fulfilled while giving you insurmountable views of the autumn foliage.

Playing in the fall leaves in Massachusetts
Playing in the leaves in Massachusetts! Credit Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism

There are ample routes to take to get a full experience of the magical fall colours. Some of the best for you to drive along are: 

  • Battle Road Scenic Byway (14 miles)
  • Mohawk Trail Scenic Byway (69 miles)
  • Old King’s Highway, Route 6A (62 miles)
  • Essex Coastal Scenic Byway (90 miles)
  • Jacob’s Ladder Scenic Byway (35 miles)

Where to stay in Massachusetts 

Leaf-peeping can be done so beautifully at some of the stunning accommodation spots in Massachusetts. A fantastic option for your road trip of fall foliage adventures is to say at the Fairfield Inn & Suites Great Barrington.

You can wake up with a hot cup of coffee and enjoy sprawling views of the trees changing colour right before you. 

Best hikes in Massachusetts 

Get your blood pumping and your body moving on an enchanting hike as you leaf peep on some of the most famous trails. Here are the best hiking trails to enjoy the fall colours: 

Best viewpoints in Massachusetts  

Your breath will be taken away as you soak in the glory of the fall colours from these viewpoints. Some of the must-see peaks are: 

  • Tully Mountain
  • Mount Watatic
  • Hermit Mountain

Perfect photo opp in Massachusetts

The entire Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary provides elegant, yet vibrant and scenic views of the fall foliage in New England. You will be submerged in a wonderland of leaves and tranquil surroundings as you enjoy the many picture-perfect spots found throughout the sanctuary. No matter where you go, the perfect photo opportunity will be waiting for you!

Audubon Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary
What a shot! Pic used with permission from Audubon Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary Facebook page.

Rhode Island

Your road trip will take a turn for the ocean as you head to the ever-beautiful Rhode Island for some premium leaf-peeping. This popular destination will give you the perfect escape. Enjoy central, colonial towns and golden, sandy shorelines. 

You’ll take in the magnificent views of the landscapes as you drive on these picturesque routes during fall:

  • Newport and Ocean Drive (14 miles)
  • Conanicut Island (22 miles)
  • Route 3 (48 miles)
  • Route 1A (61 miles)
  • Route 138 (77 miles)

Where to stay in Rhode Island

Rhode Island is a spunky, yet old-school destination that strikes the chords of many hearts. It’s a beautiful place to stay for a night and has a lot of accommodation spots that will give you great leaf-peeping opportunities. One of the best places to stay in Newport is The Chanler at Cliff Walk.

The Chanler, Newport, Rhode Island
The Chanler, Newport

Best hikes in Rhode Island

To treat yourself to some R’nR and some amazing views during a hike in Rhode Island, you can consider a number of trails. This island is known for having legendary hiking spots to explore during the fall. Some of these are: 

These hikes are leisurely and have spectacular scenery. 

Best viewpoints in Rhode Island

Rhode Island has some extraordinary viewpoints, with some allowing you to see the contrast of the fall foliage with the blue ocean waters. These are some places with remarkable viewpoints:

  • Arcadia Management Area
  • Bridge in Roger Williams Park
  • Slater Memorial Park

Perfect photo opp in Rhode Island

White Mill Park is every photographer’s dream come true. It is teeming with colours, scenic trails and a serene lake that reflects back the magic of the trees. It’s the perfect place for a photo op of any kind, with many incredible backdrops and areas.

Dawn light hits the Presidential Range in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

Connecticut

The spectacular fall foliage blanketing Connecticut usually reveals itself between early October and early November, with peak viewing in the northeast and northwest corners of the state around Columbus Day (the second Monday of October), then following down the state from then.

The Nutmeg State is awash with bright yellows of tulip poplars and hickory, deep red maples and purple ash, with Connecticut home to some the most diverse tree species in all of North America being ideally located in the Appalachians. If the latter half of September provides cool overnight temperatures, peak colours will arrive on time.

Here are some popular routes to drive during fall:

  • Colchester and Salmon River
  • State Route 169
  • Connecticut River Loop (80 miles)
  • Merritt Parkway/Scenic Fairfield County (115 miles)
  • Litchfield Hills (100 miles)
  • Hartford West (90 miles)
  • Mystic Country and Coast (90 miles)

Where to stay in Connecticut

You could stay on the coast, in the countryside or even on the grounds of Yale in elegant accommodation, so it depends on whether you’d like to walk to restaurants and shops or be far from civilisation and hunkered down. I like the Wallingford Victorian Inn for its lush, traditional decor and no expense spared decadence! We are talking fancy, just five suites and gourmet food – and all within a few minutes from beautiful Sleeping Giant State Park.

Wallingford Victorian Inn
The Wallingford Victorian Inn in full summer colors!

Best hikes in Connecticut

Strap on your hiking boots, charge that camera, grab a water bottle and head out for a hike (or a stroll on some of these!)

These hikes are easy to medium, short and long.

Best viewpoints in Connecticut

If you’re looking for the best views in Connecticut for that photo memory, here are some to start with:

  • Sleeping Giant at Hamden State Park
  • Goodwin Conservation Center
  • Mt Tom State Park, Litchfield
  • Head to the coast – leaves turn later down here

Perfect photo opp in Connecticut

How about this for a photo op! Get up bright and early (before sunrise), put on your arm clothes (and boots and socks, there’s a lot of hanging around while they get the balloons blown up and you’re standing on chilly grass!) and take a hot air balloon ride with CT Ballooning.

Phew! There you have it. Some helpful tips and loads of ideas to help you plan your fall foliage itinerary.

If you are planning a New England road trip in fall or any time of the year, click here for the official Discover New England website for more info.

About Megan Singleton

Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!

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