Drives and hikes across the Bay State offer a leaf peeper’s delight.
By Yankee Editors
Sep 08 2022
Sponsored by the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism
While Massachusetts is home to more New England residents than any other state in the region, rooted in and around its bustling cities and towns is another diverse, thriving population that takes center stage every autumn: trees. More than half of the state is forested — nearly 3 million acres — mainly by the kinds of northern hardwoods that paint the fall landscape in crimson, orange, and gold. Even better, they cascade down from mountainsides to coastal lands, each area peaking at different times and spreading the opportunities for leaf peeping across the season.
Want to get a front-row seat to the Bay State color show this year? These classic drives and favorite foliage spots will get you started.
More than a dozen official scenic byways and countless beautiful rural routes make fall day-tripping an essential Massachusetts experience. Among the standouts:
Explore the Berkshire foothills on the Jacob’s Ladder Trail, a 35-mile drive that winds around from the rocky heights of Mount Tekoa in Russell to the Lee/Lenox town line, providing views of the Wild and Scenic Westfield River along the way. Experience rolling farmland and historic villages settled in Colonial times on the 40-mile Connecticut River Byway, or plan a longer jaunt on the nation’s first scenic automobile route, the Mohawk Trail, which runs nearly 70 miles from Orange to Williamstown.
Maritime heritage meets foliage color along the 90-mile Essex Coastal Scenic Byway, linking 14 communities from Lynn to Salisbury as it traverses forests, farmlands, and coast, as well as extensive salt marshes lined with oaks that display brilliant golden color in late October. You’ll find plenty of compelling reasons to stop along the way, such as the storied fishing town of Gloucester and charming, walkable Newburyport.
The 40-mile Lost Villages Scenic Byway (Route 122) offers a quiet ride past working farms, forests, and historic landmarks. Its name is an homage to the four towns that were displaced when their land disappeared under water during the Quabbin Reservoir construction in 1930.
Hear the echoes of Revolutionary history on the Battle Road Scenic Byway, which follows the approximate path of the British regulars during the battles that marked the start of the American Revolution on April 19, 1775. It runs along approximately 15 miles of roads in Arlington, Lexington, Lincoln, and Concord, including part of Minute Man National Historical Park.
See another kind of fiery fall color on the 62-mile Cranberry Course through Plymouth County. From Milton, you head south on Route 24 before hopscotching on secondary roads from Bridgewater to North Carver to Wareham and Mattapoisett. Along the way, views of autumn leaves are complemented by the sight of cranberry bogs flooded with pools of bright crimson berries at harvest time.
For seaside autumn splendor, try a different set of wheels: the Cape Cod Central Railroad, offering scenic rides through October. This heritage passenger railroad operates mainly on 27 miles of former New Haven Railroad tracks on Cape Cod, and its excursions take guests past marshes, cranberry bogs, dunes, and other places only accessible by rail.
With 150 state parks, 100 Trustees of Reservations properties, 15 national park areas, five national heritage areas, and three national trails, Massachusetts’s treasure trove of natural assets means that no matter where you go, you’re not far from a foliage spot perfect for exploring at your own pace.
For a bird’s-eye view of the autumn canopy, try one of the state’s many stunning summit hikes, which are especially abundant in Western Massachusetts. Mount Greylock State Reservation offers the chance to tackle the state’s tallest mountain (3,491 feet), but less-ambitious peaks offer equally eye-popping views, including Monument Mountain (1,642 feet), Mount Sugarloaf (935 feet), and Mount Holyoke (652 feet).
Waterfalls, lakes, and rivers add a certain magical sparkle to foliage excursions. For proof, head to the sprawling Quabbin Reservoir in Central Massachusetts, a magnet for autumn hikers and bikers, or the Taconic Mountains’ Bish Bash Falls State Park, home to the state’s highest waterfall. And of course there’s the timeless appeal of Concord’s Walden Pond, made famous by Massachusetts native son Henry David Thoreau.
Bird watchers and nature enthusiasts can take their pick of 60-plus Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries, whose autumn beauty is as diverse as their locations: from the mountainside setting of Pleasant Valley in Lenox, to the former farmlands of Wachusett Meadowin Princeton, to the salt marsh of Wellfleet Bay on Cape Cod.
Another collection of pristine properties not to be missed is managed by The Trustees of Reservations, the nation’s first and Massachusetts’s largest preservation and conservation nonprofit. At the Fruitlands Museum in Harvard, for instance, discover glorious views of the Nashua River Valley amid a former 19th-century Transcendentalist colony.
Also among The Trustees’ properties: Bartholomew’s Cobble, a National Natural Landmark in Sheffield, which offers five miles of trails through fields, forest, and marshes and superb foliage vistas from atop 1,000-foot Hurlburt’s Hill. Finally, for a uniquely coastal spin on fall color, head to Martha’s Vineyard, where Menemsha Hills blends awe-inspiring seaside panoramas with flashes of red from blueberry bushes and ripening holly berries.
For more ideas on exploring autumn in Massachusetts, go to visitma.com/blog/season/fall.