Fog hovers above the Housatonic River as it runs past downtown Kent.Photo Credit : Mark Fleming
Anyone who has witnessed the annual procession of fall foliage in New England never forgets it — from the early flashes of fire on northern mountainsides to the late colors that smolder in southern forests. Along the way, there are certain towns where the autumn glow seems just a little bit brighter, thanks to a convergence of visitor amenities and natural gifts. From scenic overlooks to downtown shopping, fall festivals to postcard landscapes, these six destinations represent our picks for the best foliage town in every New England state (plus a worthy runner-up, to double your road-trip options).
That said, when it comes to fall getaways, it’s hard to go wrong with almost any classic New England town — so if you have a favorite, be sure to make a case for it in the comments at the end of this post.
To motor past the neat stone walls and red barns of Kent’s back roads is to enter a scene splashed across tourism brochures for western Connecticut’s Litchfield Hills. Every weekend in summer, its famous state parks, waterfalls, covered bridges, and hiking trails bring visitors seeking a quiet retreat or outdoor adventures, but fall is when this former mining town really strikes gold. From farm stands and antiques stores to cozy inns and restaurants, it’s easy to see why Kent is a stand-in for that famed New England fantasy town, Stars Hollow, during the autumn Gilmore Girls Fan Fest.
Runner-up: East Haddam. Water brings a little something extra to autumn in East Haddam, where you can fall under the spell of reflections in the Connecticut River or thrill to the cascading brooks and waterfalls of Devil’s Hopyard State Park. Wildlife watchers will want to book a riverboat cruise to enjoy nature’s show and possibly spy eagles soaring overhead.
The view from the forested slopes of Mount Battie straight down to the forest of masts in Camden’s harbor is one of the most dramatic in New England — and never more beautiful than in fall. For a closer look at the trees, hike nearby Mount Megunticook or Bald Rock Mountain. In town, you can stretch your legs wandering streets salted with history, enjoy a meal at one of the restaurants that have made Camden a foodie haven, and watch the season’s last day-sails and windjammer cruises swanning around against a backdrop of fiery leaves.
Runner-up:Bethel. Known better as a summer and ski resort, Bethel is a hiker’s heaven in fall, with dozens of prime trails in the neighboring Mahoosucs and White Mountains, which provide sweeping valley views. Plus, Bethel is the beginning and end of one of our favorite fall driving tours.
Sitting near the foot of Mount Equinox, the second-highest peak in southern Vermont, Manchester is really a two-for one. There’s historic Manchester Village, with its elegant white marble sidewalks, and there’s Manchester Center, a hub of commerce with a fine independent bookstore and a number of top designer outlets. Running past both is the legendary Battenkill River (which explains why the American Museum of Fly Fishing makes its home here). For an amazing vista of the fall color, head to Hildene, built high on a hilltop as a summer retreat Abe Lincoln’s son Robert and his family. Even more stunning: the zigzagging 5.2-mile Skyline Drive to the viewing center atop Mount Equinox.
Runner-up: Waitsfield. Cradled between mountain ranges reflected in the rushing currents of the Mad River, this town offers ample foliage photo ops: iconic barns, hillside farmlands, and not one but two covered bridges.
The ultimate college town, sheltered in the arms of Massachusetts’ highest mountain — Mount Greylock, in nearby Adams — Williamstown offers a mix of eclectic architecture and inviting quads that can’t help but inspire lofty thoughts. The drive up Mount Greylock affords dizzying views of the Berkshires and the Taconic Range, but the favorite hike for Williams College students is the two-mile pitch up to Pine Cobble, a quartzite outcropping with a panoramic view of “the Purple Valley” and church spires below.
Runner-up: Amherst. Another beauty of a college town, Amherst sits on the Norwottuck Rail Trail, which offers bikers and walkers a nine-mile canopy of color to traverse. Joggers, meanwhile, will want to mark their calendar for the scenic 5K Fall Foliage and Cider Run.
There may be no better way to see foliage than by train, and the Conway Scenic Railroad is just the ticket, wending its way through White Mountain clefts and over trestles lit by the colors of fall. The excursion from North Conway to Crawford Depot comes with an hour layover at the depot, which is enough time to climb a small knoll on Mount Willard that provides a vista of Mount Washington and the southern Presidentials. And if this star attraction isn’t enough to convince you of North Conway’s autumn charms, consider that during your visit you can also zipline through the color at Cranmore Mountain Resort, hike to Echo Lake State Park’s Cathedral Ledge for terrific views of North Conway and the Whites, and — OK — do a little outlet shopping, too.
Runner-up: Sandwich. Nestled between Squam Lake and the foothills of the White Mountains, this village offers hiking trails, a covered bridge, an inviting downtown, and easy access to a great foliage drive. Plus, there’s lots of old-fashioned fun to be had during October’s Sandwich Fair, with its midway rides, livestock competitions, and more.
Dubbed “America’s most patriotic town,” Bristol is perhaps best known for its Fourth of July festivities, which started in 1785. And architecture buffs are drawn year-round to its well-preserved historic buildings, which span colonial, 19th-century, Gilded Age, and pre-war styles. But this small coastal community is a must-visit for foliage seekers when autumn comes to Rhode Island. The glorious grounds of the Blithewold estate, built in the 1890s, are filled with stately trees crowing with brilliant leaves. The East Bay Bike Path offers a route through a kaleidoscope of color as it runs past coves and marshes, over bridges, and through eight parks, including Bristol’s sprawling Colt State Park. Perhaps best of all is spending time at Coggeshall Farm Museum, a 1790s saltwater farm that’s a favorite for photographers well into October, when marsh grass turns bronze and the maples still glow.
Runner-up: Providence. A haven for leaf peepers looking to ditch their car, Providence offers walkable, tree-lined neighborhoods dotted with dining and shopping stops. For the best photo op, join the granite statue of city founder Roger Williams in surveying the city from the height of Prospect Terrace Park.
This post was first published in 2019 and has been updated.