New England

Peak Perfection

As the fall foliage display makes its spectacular journey from northern elevations to valleys and shorelines, these seven hot spots along the way will keep you in the thick of color.

By Yankee Magazine

Jul 11 2019


Though Route 3—New Hampshire’s so-called “Moose Alley”—may be the better-known North Country drive, Route 145 also has plenty to offer leaf peepers, as seen in this roadside shot taken near Clarksville.

Photo Credit : Jim Salge

When it comes to fall foliage displays, New England is a rare smorgasbord: You can whet your appetite in the northern high elevations, feast on the color as it rolls down into the valleys, and come back for dessert along the southern shores. From late September all through October, gorgeous color is never far away—and in the following pages, you’ll discover some of our favorite places to hit the peak.

Though Route 3—New Hampshire’s so-called “Moose Alley”—may be the better-known North Country drive, Route 145 also has plenty to offer leaf peepers, as seen in this roadside shot taken near Clarksville.
Photo Credit : Jim Salge

The Wild Heart of Autumn
New Hampshire’s Great North Woods | Early Peak (September 22 – October 6)

New Hampshire’s Great North Woods is a place for beginnings.As early as mid-September, the first signs of leaves tinged with color nudge into view along mountain ridges and the waterways that thread through the forested villages. Famously, this is where the mighty Connecticut River begins its 410-mile journey to the sea from a remote beaver pond just a few hundred yards from Canada. The towns are small and inviting, from Lancaster, then north to Colebrook, and beyond to Pittsburg. Here, wilderness sporting lodges that have attracted outdoors lovers for generations stand along shorelines, and a native’s prowess with a paddle and a fishing rod is a birthright. Hikers set off along the 170 miles of the Cohos Trail, and ATV enthusiasts explore over 1,000 miles of backcountry trails. This is a region of twisting two-lane roads, with the promise of moose around every bend—and when one emerges, you know you will remember this. It’s where scarlet-and-orange-drenched trees rim the Swiss-like Lake Gloriette in Dixville Notch, and where a logging museum in Berlin awakens an echo of the frontier legacy of river drives and the men who steered the lumber to the pulp mills. The North Country may be a place for beginnings, but when loons cry and eagles soar over the water, and you listen to the slap of fish on the lake, a love of the wild will come over you, one that may never end. –Mel Allen

When You Go:

  • Scenic Route: Drive slowly with open windows north from Colebrook to Pittsburg on Route 145, a National Scenic Byway, and soak in views of water, mountains, forest, and possibly moose.
  • Photo Op: At Beaver Brook Falls in Colebrook, water tumbles 80 feet over rocks, while evergreens and hardwoods lush with color frame every shot. 
  • Refueling Stop: The Rainbow Grille & Tavern at Tall Timber Lodge in Pittsburg shows that sporting camps that thrive after 70-plus years know how to please hungry anglers and foliage day-trippers.
  • Fun for Kids: On an ELC Outdoors pontoon boat tour of beautiful Lake Umbagog, kids will likely spy eagles, ospreys, and (if lucky) black bears at play. 
  • Shopping Break:Just north of the Lancaster Fairgrounds on Route 3, Potato Barn Antiques stuffs an impressive array of vintage wares into (you guessed it) a 7,500-square-foot former potato barn.
A family-and-foliage trip on the Kingdom Trails.
Photo Credit : Corey Hendrickson

Feasting Through Foliage
Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom | Early Peak (September 22 – October 6)

Though filled with clapboard villages and rugged mountain beauty, the tricounty northeastern corner of Vermont is no mere drive-though postcard. It rewards those visitors who stop and bide a while—whether it’s to spend a day mountain biking on East Burke’s famed Kingdom Trails, or an evening camping at Brighton State Park’s Spectacle Pond, a sheltered gem that fully lives up to its name in autumn.

But the most compelling reason to tarry in the Northeast Kingdom might just be the food, as the onset of fall foliage marks the bountiful end of the region’s growing season. Everywhere you look, there are farm stands and markets offering an edible rainbow of red-orange tomatoes, jewel-like yellow raspberries and emerald brassicas, giant blue Hubbard squashes, and enough purple cabbages to feed an army. Even better, this homegrown abundance—as well as world-class cheeses from Kingdom standbys Jasper Hill Farm and Sweet Rowen Farmstead—is baked into restaurant menus and showcased on the shelves at general stores and grocers. In these parts, small farms feed each village, and locals buy in—not because it’s trendy or “sustainable,” but because supporting one’s neighbor is a community best practice. Luckily, you don’t have to be one of the region’s 65,000 year-round residents to partake in these pleasures … just stop the car, pull up a chair, and dig in. —Hannah Palmer Egan

When You Go:

  • Signature Event: Vermont is the kind of place where things are built to last, and one of its favorite long-lived creations is the Northeast Kingdom Fall Foliage Festival: Founded in 1956, it keeps the fun going for a full week as the focus shifts to a new town each day. From craft sales and church suppers to parades and live music, the lineup changes—but the appeal remains the same.
  • Scenic Route: Cruise by bike or car from Brighton to Westmore via Route 105 and Hinton Hill Road, where Lake Willoughby, Vermont’s deepest lake, appears as a blue ribbon from the high open fields.
  • Photo Op: Snap a selfie with the stately double row of maples on Darling Hill Road in Lyndonville.
  • Refueling Stop: For a delicious double play, stop in at Greensboro’s world-renowned beer mecca, Hill Farmstead Brewery, then grab a pizza at the Parker Pie Co. in West Glover.
  • Fun for Kids: Lose yourself for an hour (or three) in the Great Vermont Corn Maze in Danville.
  • Shopping Break: Railroad Street in St. Johnsbury is an antiques-picker’s delight.
Windjammers lend their timeless presence to the Camden waterfront.
Photo Credit : Mark Fleming

Setting a Course for Color
Maine’s Upper Midcoast | Middle Peak (September 29 – October 13)

Autumn on Penobscot Bay is a sailor’s delight, as cooler, drier winds chase away the clammy ocean fogs of summer. These same crisp breezes nip at the heels of warm-weather vacationers heading home, convinced that they’ve seen the Midcoast at its best—and that to stay any longer would require a much fleecier set of clothes. And it does. But it’s worth donning an extra layer to linger in this place where the mountains meet the sea, and to claim the procrastinator’s reward: elbow room and eye-popping color.

Even without the sparkling lure of the Atlantic at its doorstep, the region that rolls west from the bay to the St. George River would be a worthy foliage visit. Mostly farmland in the 1800s, it’s now 70 to 80 percent forested with everything from birches and aspens to maples, oaks, and beech. Catching fire in early fall, blueberry barrens contribute some brilliant reds, while Maine’s omnipresent evergreens provide a cool contrast to all. And an agrarian spirit still shines here, in small farms and creameries and even a handful of award-winning wineries (including the terrifically scenic Cellardoor in Lincolnville).

The call of the coastline, though, is impossible to resist—especially along the stretch of Route 1 that hugs the bay, linking the destination towns of Rockland, Rockport, and Camden with Belfast and Searsport to the north, now emptied of the summer throngs. You can stretch your legs wandering streets and waterfronts salted with history, or kick back at a seafood shack and claim some of the best lobster of the year. And when you see the season’s last day-sails and windjammer cruises swanning around against a backdrop of fiery leaves, you may even be tempted to cast off into the color yourself.  —Jenn Johnson

When You Go:

  • Scenic Route: Climb Mount Battie in Camden Hills State Park and—with Penobscot Bay spread out below—you will have achieved the literal pinnacle of Midcoast leaf peeping.
  • Photo Op: Hike out onto Rockland’s nearly-mile-long breakwater for an uninterrupted view of the harbor and coastline, including the crown of Owls Head Light.
  • Refueling Stop: The Red Barn Baking Co. in Camden excels at oven-fresh breads, pastries, cookies, and, of course, whoopie pies—perfect for enjoying on a bench by the harbor.
  • Fun for Kids: Find a tricky corn maze and a 20-foot-high hay pyramid—plus pumpkins, apples, and lots of homemade treats—at Beth’s Farm Market in Warren.
  • Shopping Break: An afternoon can easily slip away on Rockland’s Main Street, but do make time for the artistic, all-local wares at the Island Institute store, Archipelago.
With Mount Monadnock looming in the background, the lovely little town lake in Dublin is too tempting a picture to pass up.
Photo Credit : Dave White

One Majestic Mountain
New Hampshire’s Monadnock Region | Middle Peak (September 29 – October 13)

For those of us who live in the southwestern pocket of New Hampshire, we know we’re home when we see our mountain, our Monadnock, on the horizon. It rises only 3,165 feet, modest enough compared with many in the Whites, or Maine’s Katahdin. Yet Monadnock’s prominence stems from what’s not around it. It stands alone, with no other geological formation to distract the eye—it’s an only child who receives undivided love. Each year, some 125,000 hikers scamper up its well-worn trails. They come in part because Monadnock is accessible (Boston is only 65 miles away), but also because of what they’ll see: On clear autumn days, the view takes in all six New England states in one single, circling gulp.

From the peak, the foliage rolls down to the 40-odd towns and villages that claim kinship with Monadnock while offering beauty on a smaller scale: a lush center green in Hancock, a lively general store front porch in Harrisville, a sloping field of apples in Walpole. Just beyond lies a wealth of streams, lakes, ponds, waterfalls, and tree-lined back roads connecting other tree-lined back roads. Nature is not something one goes to in the Monadnock Region, like some exhibit. It’s there, embedded in the very fabric of life. If you come here, do what the locals do: Take your time, drive slowly, stop often. When you do, chances are you, too, will discover the secret of Monadnock’s hold. —Ian Aldrich

When You Go:

  • Scenic Route: Follow the 1.3-mile toll road up the other Monadnock—Pack Monadnock, in Peterborough—and soak up the 360-degree panorama you’ll find at the top.
  • Photo Op: Route 124 between Marlborough and Jaffrey offers a stop-the-car view of Monadnock.
  • Refueling Stop: Duck into the Harrisville General Store for a coffee, or sit down to a grilled cheese with tomato and the most delectable kale salad you’ve ever tasted.
  • Fun for Kids: At Alyson’s Orchard in Walpole, pick-your-own apples, wagon rides, and freshly made cider are all a part of the family-friendly itinerary. 
  • Shopping Break: Crafters, artisans, foodie stops, and one impeccable bookstore round out the scene in downtown Peterborough’s Depot Square.
A Pioneer Valley riverscape, seen from Mount Sugarloaf.
Photo Credit : Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism

College Towns to Fall For
Massachusetts’ Upper Pioneer Valley | Middle Peak (September 29 – October 13)

It’s a postcard-perfect fall morning. A bluebird sky. A slight chill in the air as the rising sun tickles the Pioneer Valley’s undulating swath of woods and farmland along the Connecticut River. Breaking the spell, the bells at Mount Holyoke College’s Mary Lyon Hall peal to announce Mountain Day: a surprise day each autumn when classes are canceled and students head for the hills, Mount Holyoke being the obvious choice. The tradition, dating back to the late 1830s and also celebrated at Smith College across the river, is a nod to how profoundly the landscape shapes life in the so-called Happy Valley for both residents and the 30,000 students at the five famed local colleges: Mount Holyoke, Smith, Hampshire, Amherst, and UMass Amherst.

In turn, the schools keep the region—centering on the towns of funky, bohemian Northampton and bookish Amherst—awash in arts and culture. It’s college-town charm, cranked up to 11. As the fall semester gets under way, “all of a sudden, there are a million things to do and choose from,” says Northampton poet laureate Amy Dryansky, who works at Hampshire College. “The students bring their own energy.” This isn’t the place for leaf peepers looking for languid walks and sleepy B&Bs. Here, stunning foliage and panorama-laden hikes come with a side of indie music, film screenings, book readings, and, to keep it all humming, artisanal coffee.  —Courtney Hollands

When You Go:

  • Signature Event: Even as October fades into November, the Pioneer Valley gives autumn lovers one last bite of the apple with Franklin County CiderDays. Held in towns throughout the county, this hidden-gem harvest festival pays tribute to the ultimate fall crop with cider workshops, orchard tours, apple cooking demonstrations, hard cider tastings, and more.
  • Scenic Route: Hit the Norwottuck Rail Trail, which offers bikers and walkers a nine-mile canopy of color from Northampton to Amherst.
  • Photo Op: Drive or climb Mount Sugarloaf in South Deerfield, where the observation tower affords sweeping views of the Happy Valley and beyond.
  • Refueling Stop: Gourmet picnic nibbles—washed-rind cheeses, pâtés, crispy baguettes, local brews—can be had at Provisions, just off the main drag in Northampton.
  • Fun for Kids: Ooh and aah over the slew of whimsical illustrations by William Steig, Maurice Sendak, and others at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, an Amherst landmark.
  • Shopping Break: New York Times best-sellers, Tibetan crafts, Brooklyn-made handbags—Northampton’s beloved Thornes Marketplace has it all (and Herrell’s hot fudge sundaes).
Often hailed as one of America’s best small cities, Providence is custom-made for leaf peepers who don’t want to stray too far from Wi-Fi, great restaurants, and other urban amenities.
Photo Credit : Richard Benjamin

An Urban Blaze of Glory
Providence, Rhode Island | Late Peak (October 13 – October 27)

Autumn finds Rhode Island’s capital burning at both ends:On select evenings the bonfires of long-running art installation WaterFire are set aglow along the rivers downtown; meanwhile, daytime hours erupt with a fall foliage display that transforms the city’s otherwise muted palette of brick, concrete, and steel.

A haven for leaf peepers looking to ditch their car, Providence offers walkable, tree-lined neighborhoods dotted with dining and shopping stops. Fall foliage reaches its crescendo in College Hill, where restored colonial homes and grand mansions line Benefit Street near the cast-iron filigree gates of Brown University. Take a guided stroll with the Rhode Island Historical Society to learn how this architectural treasure chest was saved from the wrecking ball, and check out the John Brown House Museum, home to 100-year-old-plus elm trees. Over on the East Side, the showstopping red maple—Rhode Island’s state tree—can be seen in abundance, while Hope Street invites browsing with a farmers’ market, excellent restaurants, and independently owned stores. Downtown, colors run amok as street art and large-scale murals by artists from around the world vie for attention with the changing leaves.

Meanwhile, a ramble along Wickenden Street, in Fox Point, brings you back to a time before big corporations took over neighborhoods. Here, an old-school hardware store still thrives in an eclectic business lineup that includes an independent coffeehouse, a record store, antiques shops, and watering holes that have existed for decades. For leaf peepers craving urban comforts, it doesn’t get much better than this. —Jamie Coelho

When You Go:

  • Scenic Route: You can’t beat the East Side’s Blackstone Boulevard, a 1.6-mile path bordered by two roads and crowded with mature trees that put on a show.
  • Photo Op: Join the granite statue of city founder Roger Williams in surveying the entire city from the height of Prospect Terrace Park.
  • Refueling Stop: For upscale fall flavor, head to New Rivers, a tony College Hill bistro that spotlights produce and meat from area farms.
  • Fun for Kids: Check out the resident elephants, giraffes, and snow leopards at the venerable Roger Williams Park Zoo.
  • Shopping Break: From clothing boutiques to home decor purveyors, “small” and “locally owned” are the retail watchwords on Hope Street.
Lynde Point Light in Old Saybrook marks the entrance to the Connecticut River, whose lower stretch is among New England’s most scenic spots for wildlife-watching during fall migration season.
Photo Credit : Carl Tremblay

All Aboard the Hues Cruise
Connecticut’s Lower Connecticut River Valley | Late Peak (October 13 – October 27)

Right through October, the river-veined core of Connecticutclings to a fall stage that can only be called … denial. Virginia creeper vines slithering up tree trunks are caramelized red; the river banks shine gold, signaling upland maples it is time they, too, relinquished their green. Yet water and sky are as frenzied and alive as ever. The Connecticut—New England’s mightiest river—gets a shot of saltwater from Long Island Sound as it nears the end of its 410-mile run, creating an estuarine environment that sees a flurry of wildlife activity in the fall. Book a riverboat cruise from East Haddam or Deep River and enjoy nature’s show, from ocean-bound baby shad leaping in silver streaks to a bald or golden eagle soaring overhead. Hundreds of winged species migrate through each fall, but the tree and barn swallows are an autumn phenomenon unto themselves: When nearly a million of these birds swirl in a funnel before plummeting en masse to roost among amber reeds, their flapping creates a vortex of energy you can actually feel.

The rush is magnified if you paddle into the melee in a kayak or canoe. Low to the water, which snaps so crystal clear after the first frost you can spy on the tens of thousands of blue crabs that march downriver just as foliage color peaks, you’re no longer an impartial observer. Old Lyme–based Black Hall Outfitters offers kayaking ecotours into the 500-plus pristine backwater acres of the Great Island salt marsh, where you can banish civilization from sight and immerse yourself in an autumn splendor that feels as if it could go on forever.  —Kim Knox Beckius

When You Go:

  • Scenic Route: From Old Saybrook, take Route 154 north to Route 148 east straight to the Connecticut River: The Chester-Hadlyme Ferry, in service since 1769, is there to catch you.
  • Photo Op: Gillette Castle State Park in East Haddam offers a lofty view of the Connecticut River and the fall colors that shimmer in its waters.
  • Refueling Stop: Call ahead, and Simon’s Marketplace in Chester will have your custom gourmet picnic (try house-roasted beef on a fresh-baked baguette) ready to tote on a boat or car ride.
  • Fun for Kids: All ages will be enchanted by the Lilliputian architecture of the Wee Faerie Village, a seasonal art installation at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme.
  • Shopping Break: Walkable, waterside Essex Village has clothiers, galleries (including the state’s oldest artists’ co-op), and the “goods and curiosities” of the Griswold Inn Store.