These five short-and-sweet New England fall foliage drives mix leaf peeping, easy hikes, and apple delights.
By Kim Knox Beckius
Aug 19 2020
The shortest route isn’t typically the most scenic, but the following five fall drives—all under 60 miles—are rare exceptions. Each can be a quick leaf-spotting outing or a daylong adventure that will have you outside your car more than in: stretching your legs, seeing interesting sights, and savoring an appley-sweet taste of fall.
Walk the Poetry Trail at the Frost Place in Franconia, where Robert Frost’s famed verses are posted on trees, and you’ll be inspired to take this White Mountains drive slowly, wandering off on roads less traveled. Get on I-93 and drop south through Franconia Notch State Park, home of the Flume Gorge, if only for the sheer pleasure of turning around and driving north on New England’s most dramatic interstate, with Cannon Mountain and Mount Lafayette in view. Get off at exit 35 and take Route 3 to Route 302 east to see how autumn amplifies the grandeur of the Omni Mount Washington Resort and makes Crawford Notch State Park’s waterfalls look like ribbons of smoke. Stop at AMC’s Highland Center in Bretton Woods for hiking guidance, but be sure to reach the White Mountain Cider Company’s market in Glen in time to sip refreshingly icy apple cider slushies.
Empires, Macs, and other familiar varieties grow in neat rows at Chapin Orchardin Essex Junction, but it’s the century-old trees that produce Tolman Sweets, Fameuses, and other heirlooms that make apple picking here feel like a treasure hunt. Fill a bag, then set out via Route 15 for Jericho and the Old Red Mill museum and craft shop, which exhibits Wilson A. Bentley’s 19th-century snowflake photos, the first ever captured. Continue north on Route 15 to Cambridge, with Mount Mansfield looming above; here, generations of plein air painters have fallen under the spell of blue slopes and red barns. Walk the riverside Cambridge Greenway Path before turning south and following the thin brushstroke of Route 108, edged with leaves that dazzle with cold-snapped vibrance. Roadside boulders and unexpected pullovers make the run through Smugglers’ Notch feel like a video game experience. Your pulse won’t slow until you reach the Kaffeehaus at Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, where the “crisp apple strudels” that Julie Andrews once sang of will be your favorite things.
There’s a wonderfully inefficient way to get from Rockland to Camden that takes you away from the coast to where fall’s reds and oranges shine. So, turn inland by taking Route 1 to Warren, then hop onto Western Road for a stop at Beth’s Farm Market, where cider and apple crisp await. Continuing north, skirt Seven Tree Pond, its blueberry barrens turned crimson, on your way to Union, a photogenic farming community with antique homes, an artisanal winery, and one of the oldest public commons in Maine. Head east, first on Route 17 and then via a series of smaller roads through Bald Mountain Preserve and past Hosmer Pond, to connect with Route 52 and drive north to Barrett’s Cove Public Beach on Megunticook Lake. Hike the moderately challenging mile-long Maiden Cliff Trail for views of this freshwater pool. Then it’s time to return to the coast: Drive Route 52 south and hop onto Route 1 north to visit Camden Hills State Park. No exertion is required to reach Mount Battie’s summit, so end your drive on this peak, looking out over the islands of Penobscot Bay.
Cinnamon-doused apple fritters are a weekends-only treat at South Glastonbury’s Belltown Hill Orchards, a fourth-generation pick-your-own farm so close to Hartford you can see the capital’s skyline, yet so removed that it crosses into a different climatic region. Ramble east to Route 2, then head south on Route 66 to East Hampton, where you can stroll an easy stretch of the 50-mile Air Line State Park Trail and see the glossy cliffs and reflective pools that enchanted 20th-century riders aboard the white “Ghost Train” that once steamed through these woods. Photo ops are plentiful at East Hampton’s Pumpkintown USA, and—half an hour to the northeast via Route 66—traffic always slows on the folk tale–inspired Frog Bridge in Willimantic, but you’ll be back on lonely roads again through rural Scotland, with its pre-Revolution homes and gazebo-adorned town green, on the way to Pomfret’s Sharpe Hill Vineyard for a tasting of the state’s most-awarded wines.
The auto road in Hadley’s Skinner State Park winds to the top of Mount Holyoke, where the Summit House, a former hotel, is the lone survivor of its kind in New England. In the mid-19th century, dapper gentlemen and women in broad-brimmed hats and long skirts arrived here by way of a remarkable inclined tramway. Long after the tram’s demise, views of the Connecticut River Oxbow still enchant. Exiting the park, turn right on Route 47, then strike out east on Bay Road, which becomes Route 9 South as it leads to the Quabbin Visitor Center in Belchertown. Keep an eye out for bald eagles as you walk or bike 12 miles of paved roads on the Quabbin Reservoir’s shores. After continuing on to Ware and turning north on Route 32, snag a photo of the Ware-Hardwick Covered Bridge en route to Harvard Forest in Petersham, where the Fisher Museum’s mesmerizing dioramas tell the story of one of the oldest research forests in the country. Switching to 202 East at Athol, you’ll find there’s one more mountain to conquer just five minutes away: the pileup of steamy apples inside handmade, plump-baked apple dumplings at Red Apple Farm in Phillipston.