New England

Drive Time | Jim Salge’s Favorite Foliage Day Trips

Our foliage expert, Jim Salge, shares his favorite places to see the beautiful fall leaves as they arrive.

By Jim Salge

Aug 29 2022

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Designated a National Scenic Byway, the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire offers some of New England’s finest foliage viewing.

Photo Credit : Chris Bennett

After months of watching the forecasts and studying the health of New England’s forests, I’m ready to hit the road to see the beautiful leaves as they actually arrive. Here are a few of my favorite places to do just that.

Route 26 Newry, ME, to Colebrook, NH

My first fall drives are always to places where I can get a preview of the color before much of the rest of the region begins to turn. A great example of this is Route 26 in the Great North Woods of New Hampshire and the mountains of western Maine. It passes through Grafton Notch and Dixville Notch, both of which have short hikes to beautiful waterfalls and steep treks to dramatic vistas. In Dixville Notch State Park, the route to Table Rock above Lake Gloriette and the historic Balsams Resort has grown in popularity thanks to Instagram visitors, but it’s rarely crowded—and the view is amazing. Between these two notches you’ll also find the headwaters of the mighty Androscoggin River and Lake Umbagog State Park, where you can rent a boat to view the early colors, interspersed among fir and spruce. I’ll visit in late September, but there are usually fine fall colors into early October.

Kancamagus HighwayConway to Lincoln, NH

A week or so after the first hints of fall foliage appear, you can expect to see bright colors covering the higher-elevation hillsides all over the north country. One of the best places to photograph this sea of changing leaves is from the Kancamagus Highway (Route 112), a National Scenic Byway that climbs to nearly 3,000 feet from the Saco River Valley near Conway. It’s rare that the foliage along the whole 35-mile drive hits peak at the same time, but the varied terrain will always deliver a drive to remember. With dozens of places to stop and stretch your legs, the “Kanc” allows for short hikes to 100-mile views, ponds, waterfalls, and streams. My favorite photo stops are Lower Falls and Rocky Gorge, on the eastern end, and the Pemigewasset Overlook, near the height of land. And for a longer but easy walk, you can’t beat the miles of flat rail trail from Lincoln Woods that take you deep into the national forest.

Route 52 & Mount Battie Auto Road Camden Hills, ME

After foliage on the inland mountains slides past peak, it’s time to head to the coast. In Maine, my go-to is the Camden Hills, an area that offers a look at some striking ecological boundaries. High above the town of Camden, the mountain forests consist of beech, birch, and maple, but closer to the ocean, oaks are the dominant species. These forests peak at different times, offering many chances to see prime color. I actually have two drives here. Route 52 winds along the eastern shore of Megunticook Lake, whose namesake mountain looms in the rearview mirror. The colors along this route usually peak before those you’ll see from Mount Battie, in Camden Hills State Park, which has a scenic, winding auto road to a beautiful view eastward back toward the lovely town and the sea.

Route 102 Southern Rhode Island

When the slopes of the highest mountains are bare of leaves, and the first snowfall sometimes dusts the ground up north, the quest for peak color is not lost. For late foliage in southern New England, look to Route 102 in Rhode Island, which arcs wide around Providence and includes a stretch between Exeter and West Greenwich, locally known as Ten Rod Road, that’s been designated a state scenic roadway. Stopping at Audubon’s Fisherville Brook Wildlife Refuge in Exeter, with its miles of hiking trails through diverse habitats, is always one of my highlights of late fall.

Jim Salge will host the upcoming Yankee webinar New England in the Fall, sharing his travel and photography insights for making the most of the foliage season. For details, including when the webinar will be held and how to register, go to NewEngland.com/FallFoliage.