Enjoy classic New England scenes, stippled in white and sparkling with frost, without leaving the warmth of your car with these 5 winter drives.
By Kim Knox Beckius
Dec 29 2021
Best 5 New England Winter DrivesPhoto Credit : Kim Knox Beckius
Intuitively, winter might seem like the wrong season for a New England driving tour. But imagine how freeing it feels to drive along dramatic coastal routes without summer’s standstill traffic. How meditative a forest can be when tree-lined arteries are no longer clogged with autumn leaf-peepers. Of course, you must be mindful of road conditions and storm forecasts if you’re setting out on one of these ideal-for-winter drives. But with cellphones and GPS apps adding a warm layer of security, a road trip is an exhilarating way to spend an ice-kissed, blue-sky day.
Even if you don’t plan to get out of your car to cross-country ski or snowshoe, drive the pine-lined entry road to the White Memorial Conservation Center in Litchfield, Connecticut, and admire old stone walls frosted with winter’s icing. More iconic New England scenes await, as you drive east on U.S. Route 202 and turn left on state Route 63 to journey north toward rural Goshen and its eclectic farms, including Sunset Meadow Vineyards, which is open for tastings Thursday through Monday in the winter. Drive west on state Route 4, and you’ll pass the entrance to Mohawk Mountain, where snowmaking was invented in 1950. Continue on state Route 128, and drive through the classic red West Cornwall covered bridge, which strikes a photogenic pose when the Housatonic River churns below and snow coats the hillsides. You’re headed south next on U.S. Route 7. Watch for a left turn onto state Route 45 south, which clings to the eastern shore of Lake Waramaug, the prettiest lake in the state. Turn left at the U.S. Route 202 intersection, and complete the loop back to Litchfield. Never mind that it’s winter — you’ll want to stop in Bantam for luscious ice cream at the Arethusa Farm dairy. Warm your tongue at Litchfield Distillery, where tours and craft spirit tastings are free Wednesday through Sunday. A bottle of their Batchers’ cinnamon bourbon is the antidote for the rest of winter’s chilly days.
There’s no better starting point for a drive through snowy New England landscapes than the Old Red Mill in Jericho, Vermont. On winter weekends and Wednesdays, you can step inside and marvel at some of the thousands of individual snowflake images snapped by local farmer Wilson A. Bentley, who in 1885 was first to immortalize a snow crystal on film. His pioneering photomicrography proved no two snowflakes are alike. Drive east toward Underhill on state Route 15, and you’ll be staring straight at snow-encrusted Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s tallest peak. As winter yields to spring, the working sugarhouse at the University of Vermont’s Proctor Maple Research Center is a worthy detour. Otherwise, stay on Route 15 to Cambridge, then drive rural roads north through the tiny towns of Fletcher and Fairfield to Sheldon Junction, admiring red barns that pop against milky-white snow. One last stop — Lake Carmi State Park —is a jog east on state Route 105, then north on state Route 236. The road to the boat launch is plowed all winter to ensure ice fishing access, and the frozen lake looks like a pastel painting when the sky pinks up at sunset.
Known as New England’s ultimate fall foliage drive, state Route 112, better known as the Kancamagus Highway, was plowed for the first time in 1968. An active snowstorm can close down this winding mountain pass, which mimics the course of the swirling Swift River, but on most winter days the Kanc is a drivable roller-coaster ride through the rugged White Mountain National Forest. Motoring between Conway and Lincoln, you’ll climb nearly 3,000 feet and be awed during all 36 miles of the journey. With dense clusters of evergreens laden with white and leaves erased from deciduous trees, deep views of the forest’s interior are opened up. You’ll see this granite wonderland dripping with icicles and impressive in its austerity. Don’t miss photo-op stops like Albany Covered Bridge and even Sabbaday Falls (if you’re game for a mile-long round-trip snowshoe hike).
On summer days, it’s a struggle to find parking at New Hampshire’s Hampton Beach. But come winter, you can wander the shivering sands and not see another soul. If you’ve never walked a ghost beach, the experience is remarkable. Winter waves pummel the shore, leaving trails of foam as thick as shaving cream behind. When the chill catches up with you, drive north on state Route 1A. Your passenger-side companions will have the best views of the Atlantic’s potent winter moods. At Rye Beach, you might see wetsuit-clad surfers putting on quite a show. At Petey’s Summertime Seafood in Rye, you’ll be glad to find the doors open and the clam chowder hot. Continue on 1A to the Seacoast Science Center in scenic Odiorne State Park, open Saturday through Monday during the winter months. Shortly after Route 1A turns inland, watch for a right turn onto 1B toward New Castle, and drive across the Piscataqua River, past the gloriously restored Wentworth by the Sea grand hotel, and out to Fort Constitution and Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse. The ruins of this staunch fortress and the white, cast-iron beacon give this point of land a frozen-in-time appeal that is only enhanced by a dusting of snow.
SEE MORE:Rye, New Hampshire | Beaches, Seafood & Seaside Fun
In the winter, Cape Cod belongs to year-rounders. You can infiltrate their ranks by driving state Route 6A — the Old King’s Highway — along the bay side of the peninsula from Sandwich to Orleans. Sure, some tourist-centered businesses have closed or curtailed their hours. But that makes wandering through some of the oldest villages in America — stopping where the locals dine, play, and shop — even more appealing. If conditions permit, bundle up and walk the Sandwich boardwalk first for surprisingly beautiful views of steely blue saltwater and withered marsh grasses glistening with frost. Beloved places you can count on to be warm, open, and inviting include Titcomb’s Bookshop in East Sandwich, Claire Murray in West Barnstable, and the Optimist Café in Yarmouth Port, where breakfast is served all day Wednesday through Sunday. Poke around at the Antique Center of Cape Cod in Dennis, or detour onto Dr. Lord’s Road to watch ceramic artists at work at Scargo Pottery. Any left off 6A is like a lottery ticket that might win you views of Cape Cod Bay. Press on to Brewster, where the general store’s windows glows through the winter, and to Orleans, where you’ll find cute shops and, at Hot Chocolate Sparrow, the winter beverage of your dreams.
Which New England winter drives would you add to the list?
This post was first published in 2018 and has been updated.