Vermont back roads in October are custom-made for two-wheeled tours of the state’s foliage.Photo Credit : courtesy of Addison County Chamber of Commerce
Autumn is that precious time of the year when New England’s rural roads radiate a kaleidoscope of colors. And as anyone who has experienced fall traffic on a pristine October weekend knows, this reliably draws a lot of people to the region. But with a little effort (and a bike, a paddle, or some good walking shoes), you can find your own slice of personal autumn splendor and leave the crowds behind.
Mention the 92-mile-long Allagash Wilderness Waterway to an avid paddler and he’s bound to get all dreamy-eyed thinking about this river in the northern tier of Maine, isolated from civilization. This is especially true in autumn, when the blackflies and mosquitos are long gone, along with the majority of other canoers, and the shoreline is ablaze with fall color. September is also the time of year when moose are in heat and males tend to come down to the shores and shallow waters of the waterway to find a mate. A complete Allagash run can take up to ten days, which is why many opt to do it in sections. If you want to go with a group, Registered Maine Guides Lani Love and Chip Cochrane have been leading paddlers down the Allagash for close to 30 years. allagashcanoetrips.com
Flooded with tourists in July and August, the country’s national parks are far less busy in the fall, almost returning to their original wild state. This is especially true of Acadia in autumn, when thickets of maples on Mount Desert Island turn crimson, adding to the already spectacular show of dark blue ocean and evergreen forest. A bonus: Blackflies and mosquitoes are a distant memory. Head to the Bubbles, just off the Park Loop Road, to find pockets of maples on the hillside. A rocky staircase at North Bubble leads through a leaf-strewn path to a flat boulder atop the summit, the perfect vantage point from which to view Jordan Pond to the south. Afterward, reward yourself with lunch at nearby Jordan Pond Gatehouse. Grab one of the picnic tables on the sloping manicured lawn and luxuriate in the view of South Bubble and Penobscot Mountain looming over the pond waters. Then dig into the hot-out-of-the-oven popovers, bowls of seafood chowder, and cranberry salad topped with curried chicken, all washed down with strawberry lemonade.nps.gov/acad
Bike outfitters have pounced on Vermont like miners on a vein of gold. The state’s pastoral setting is ideally suited to the sport. Lightly traveled back roads are rarely used outside of a handful of dairy farmers. Around every bend, there’s another meadow greener than the last, another mountain standing tall in the distance, another quintessential New England village with a gleaming white steeple. Add fall foliage, and it’s hard not to stop every five minutes to take another picture. Start your ride near the Basin Harbor Club in Vergennes and you’ll be smack-dab in a fertile breadbasket. To the east are glimpses of stacked hay, lounging cows, tall silos, and the spine of the Green Mountains. To the west are the waters of Lake Champlain, with the Adirondacks rising from the opposite shore. Don’t miss the thousands of squawking snow geese that reside at the Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area in October.
The Ekwanok Country Club of Manchester, Vermont, should have known better than to mess with Louise Orvis, a member of the same family that made a name for itself in the world of fly-fishing. When they declined her membership in 1927, she hired her own golf designer, Walter Travis, to create a course at the base of Mount Equinox. Updated by acclaimed designer Rees Jones, the Golf Club at Equinox now reaps accolades as one of the finest in the state. Try their signature 7th hole, a par-five that plays over a public road. Then grab lobster rolls for lunch at the Dormy Grill, overlooking the green on the 9th.playequinox.com
Riding a pony-sized Icelandic horse is a special treat: Icelandics move at a very steady pace without much rocking, like driving a car with good shock absorbers. Based in the town of Fayston, three miles off Route 100 in the northern end of Waitsfield, Vermont Icelandic Horse Farm offers half-day, full-day, and overnight rides. A typical ride will take, on average, 15 miles a day through the foliage-saturated woods of Mad River Valley and on country roads. You’ll stop overnight at inns in Waitsfield, Warren, and Fayston. icelandichorses.com
Champney Falls Trail is one of the few trails in America to be named after an artist, in this case Benjamin Champney, whose paintings of Mount Chocorua in the 1850s can be found in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. The distinctive silhouette of Chocorua was favored by landscape artists not only for its grandeur, but also for its association with the 18th-century legend of its namesake, a Native American chief who died on its slopes. Starting at the trailhead just off that beloved fall foliage route, the Kancamagus Highway, the path meanders along a rushing brook. Hop onto rocks across a stream and follow the soft, root-littered trail gradually uphill. You’ll soon reach majestic Champney Falls and its glorious rush of water as it cascades down a series of ledges into rivulets and pools. Beyond Champney Falls is the aptly named Pitcher Falls, where water flows from a much higher altitude as if being poured from a pitcher. The falls can be reached in an hour from the trailhead—but if you came to bag Chocorua’s 3,490-foot summit, your day has just begun.
Feel like mountain biking to the beach? At the 778-acre Bluff Point State Park in Groton, a dirt road lines Poquonock River and heads straight to Bluff Point Beach. If you want to ride by your lonesome, numerous single-tracks spread out in every direction like spokes on a wheel. Ramble along the shores or inland past the maples to the John Winthrop House, dating from the early 1700s. Take a breather on the rocky bluffs, where you can look directly across Long Island Sound to New York’s Fishers Island and north to Rhode Island’s Watch Hill. ct.gov/deep/bluff-point
South of Route 195 and the gritty mill towns of Fall River and New Bedford is the area known as the Heritage Farm Coast, which boasts the sunniest and most temperate climate in New England and the longest growing season. Dairy farms, cornfields, and even vineyards border the Sakonnet River as it washes into the Atlantic. Add the crescent of sand at Briggs Beach, and you have the perfect country-and-coast ride—especially in autumn, when the roads are less crowded. For a good 20-mile loop, take Route 77 south from Tiverton Four Corners to Sakonnet Point and return on country roads past the village green of Little Compton. Be sure to grab your requisite johnnycakes at the Commons in Little Compton for lunch. For dessert, Gray’s Ice Cream in Tiverton Four Corners serves the creamiest black raspberry you’ll ever taste.
At the southernmost point of the Berkshires in Sheffield, near the Connecticut border, is the Trustees of Reservations site known as Bartholomew’s Cobble. Walk on the Ledges Trail, and you’ll spot the Housatonic River snaking through dairy farms to the left while eroding limestone and quartzite rocks form the cobble to your right. A worthy detour at Corbin’s Neck rewards you with a close-up view of the river and the cows resting on its banks. Continue on the Tulip Tree Trail to go uphill through a forest of tall hemlocks before reaching a clearing. At a short summit, take advantage of the bench to sit and take in the views of Mount Everett and Mount Race, part of the Appalachian Trail.thetrustees.org