New England

6 City-Based New England Fall Drives

Want to make the most of foliage season without going far? These New England fall drives and scenic road trips are all located near big cities and can be done on just one tank of gas!

By Jim Salge

Aug 31 2020

Bridge Over The Contoocook In Henniker, Nh (user submitted)

Bridge Over The Contoocook In Henniker, Nh (user submitted)

Photo Credit : Michael Blanchette (user-submitted)

New England fall drives and foliage getaways are a beloved autumn tradition, but if you live near a big city and don’t have time to get deep into the countryside, you may feel you don’t have great options for fall road trips. Not to worry! Scenic fall drives in New England are always within reach, no matter where you live or how much time you have to explore. These six fall drives are close to some of New England’s biggest cities (one per state), can be tackled on one tank of gas, and deliver all the essential autumn color, New England charm, and fall experiences you seek.

In mapping our fall road trip routes, we started with scenic and historic byways, both national and local, and then looped in scenic sites and autumn activities to check as many foliage boxes as possible.

Planning Note: Cities are often the last places to reach peak color, since they tend to absorb and hold more heat and have less overnight cooling. Small changes in elevation, slope, and proximity to wetlands affect foliage, too. Taking all this into account, we’ll tell you when you’re likely to see the best color for each route.

Ready for the open road? Here’s our city-based guide to top New England fall drives. Happy road-tripping!

Henniker Bridge over the Contoocook River in Henniker, New Hampshire, is maintained by New England College.
Photo Credit : Michael Blanchette (user-submitted)

6 City-Based New England Fall Drives

Portland, Maine | Pequawket Trail

Best Time to Visit: Mid- to late October (early October for Evans Notch extension)
Farthest Point from City: 55 miles (80 miles for Evans Notch extension)

Pequawket Trail

The Saco River is the guiding feature of this Portland, Maine, fall foliage drive, but if you want a longer trip and more landscape variety, you can add an extension at Fryeburg that takes you through Evans Notch.

Leaving Portland on Route 25, find the start of the Pequawket Trail Scenic Byway (Route 113) in Standish.

Two impressive stops along the way are Steep Falls in Standish and Jockey Cap in Fryeburg. While only six feet high, Steep Falls is one of the most powerful waterfalls in Maine, and Jockey Cap is a bald granite dome where a quick hike pays off in panoramic views of the surrounding lakes and mountains.

Detour Option:At Fryeburg, you can leave the river and extend your Maine scenic fall drive north through Evans Notch, a steep, winding, and downright gnarly road in the eastern White Mountains (but check conditions before you go, as it often closes in mid-October due to early snow and ice).

Otherwise, you’ll loop back from Fryeburg to Portland on Route 302, through Bridgton and Naples, and past Moose Pond, Long Lake, and Sebago Lake, with long views over the water to gorgeous foliage.

Manchester, New Hampshire | Currier & Ives Scenic Byway

Best Time to Visit: Mid-October
Farthest Point from City: 55 miles

Currier and Ives Byway

This New Hampshire fall foliage drive travels along a section of the Currier & Ives Scenic Byway, which meanders between the Daniel Webster Birthplace in Franklin and the Franklin Pierce Homestead in Hillsborough. Along the way, expect quintessential New England villages with stately town halls, white-steepled churches, and orchards with a view.

The section we’ve mapped from Manchester begins on Route 114, taking you out to the town of Henniker; there, a picturesque covered bridge on the campus of New England College is worth a photograph. From Henniker, the byway brings you east on Route 202/9 to Hopkinton and Contoocook, home of Gould Hill Farm (one of Yankee’s “picks” for Best Apple Orchards in New England) and stunning views of Mount Kearsarge. Heading north, you’ll travel along Routes 103 and 127 — tightly forested and full of foliage color — through Webster and Salisbury. To stretch your legs, plan a stop at the Blackwater Dam’s extensive trail network along the river.

Detour Option:For a worthwhile detour, visit picturesque Warner, home to three covered bridges, a charming downtown, and Rollins State Park, which offers an auto road to the summit of Mount Kearsarge.

To return to Manchester, you can make it a loop by taking Route 4 back to Interstate 93 and through the state’s capital, Concord.

Burlington, Vermont | Lake Champlain Byway

Best Time to Visit: Early to mid-October
Farthest Point from City: 50 miles northern section; 30 miles southern section
Lake Champlain Byway

The Lake Champlain Byway is a Burlington, Vermont, fall foliage drive that’s less of a loop, and more like two out-and-back trips.

For the northern section, you take Route 7 out of the city and venture up Route 2 through the Champlain Islands until you hit the New York or Canadian border. This spectacular drive brings you over and alongside Lake Champlain, with views of both the Green Mountains in the east and the Adirondacks in the west. You’ll pass two beautiful state parks, Grand Isle and Knight Point, and cruise by North Hero State Park as well — any of which offers the chance for a terrific walking break.

For the southern section, take Route 7 again, but this time you’ll be heading through forests, farmlands, and hills. The grounds at Shelburne Farms have many easy walking trails through autumn fields, and Button Bay State Park beckons with great views over the lake. The real treat along this route, though, is the drive up Mount Philo State Park: panoramic vistas of the entire lake!

Boston, Massachusetts | Essex Coastal Scenic Byway

Best Time to Visit: Late October
Farthest Point from City: 65 miles

Essex Coastal Scenic Byway

This coastal Boston fall foliage drive winds its way through the fishing village of Gloucester to the charming town of Newburyport, passing forests, farmlands, marshes, and coast.

From Boston, the most direct route to Cape Ann is along Route 128, but we recommend Route 127 — part of the expanded Essex Coastal Scenic Byway — as the better autumn option. Once you reach the cape, you can stretch your legs on Gloucester’s HarborWalk and explore downtown; from there, you may want to add a detour loop to visit Rockport for a look at the world-famous Motif No. 1, then venture up to Halibut Point State Park.

The foliage drive continues north on Route 133 to Route 1A through Essex, Ipswich, and Rowley, each with small-town appeal and historic sites that are well worth a stop. The highlights of this stretch in autumn, though, are the extensive salt marshes lined with oaks that display brilliant golden color in late October.

Your excursion ends at Newburyport, at the mouth of the Merrimack River. Newburyport is known for its array of great restaurants, many of which have expanded outdoor dining. And if you prefer to settle with a picnic, Maudslay State Park is a beautiful natural setting.

Hartford, Connecticut | The Lakes and Dams Loop

Best Time to Visit: Mid-October
Farthest Point from City: 30 miles

Lake and Dams Trail

A bit northwest of Connecticut’s capital is the watershed for most of the city’s water supply, nearly 100 square miles of land in all. The area’s dams, holding back billions of gallons of freshwater, are architectural wonders as well as viewpoints for fall foliage along the lakes and reservoirs.

Beginning in Hartford, take Route 44 through Canton to Route 202 west. A short drive brings you to the Nepaug Forest Reservoir and a milelong paved walking path over the Nepaug Dam. The water cascading over this dam is thunderous — and also incredibly photogenic.

Head back east to Route 44 and continue on to New Hartford, where you’ll take a right onto Route 219, aka Reservoir Road, a designated state scenic road. On this route you’ll encounter two more large dams: first, Lake McDonough Dam, and then picturesque Saville Dam on the Barkhamsted Reservoir.

Route 219 then leads to Enders State Forest, which boasts a great trail network for exploring streams and waterfalls. After you’ve gotten your exercise, head west to the small town of Granby and back south on 202, past Talcott Mountain State Park, and back to Hartford.

Providence, Rhode Island | Ten Rod Road

Best Time to Visit: Late October
Farthest Point from City: 30 Miles

Ten Rod Road

Rhode Island is rightly known for its coastline, which attracts visitors with top-notch beaches, bays, boating, and the famed resort town of Newport. But New England’s smallest state is also home to beautiful forests, farms, and fields, which provide the backdrop to our favorite Providence foliage drive. Locally known as Ten Rod Road, this designated portion of Route 102 brings you to the area between West Greenwich and Exeter, where stone walls from the 1800s serve as a reminder of the state’s agricultural past.

Linking a longer foliage loop from Providence to this short but incredibly scenic byway offers many options, but we suggest you start in the city and take Route 14 west through Scituate and over a portion of the Scituate Reservoir. When you get to Route 102, head south. Shortly after, you can hop out of the car and take a nice break, either by foot or on bike, on a four-mile dirt-road loop around Barden Reservoir.

Back on Route 102 you’ll pass through a rolling landscape of fields and forests that will look stunning in late October; some of the last bright fall color in New England lingers here into early November. And you can view it all from hilltop panoramas right from the road.

Before turning north to head back to Providence, you can take on a worthy side mission and stock up on local beer at the Tilted Barn Brewery near Exeter.

Which city-based New England fall drives would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments below!

More New England Fall Drives:

4 Favorite Quiet Fall Foliage Drives in New England

14 Favorite Fall Drives in New England

Best 5 New England Fall Day-Trip Destinations