For “Fall Foliage” (season 2, episode 12), Weekends with Yankee hiked to Holt’s Ledge in Dartmouth, New Hampshire, to talk fall foliage with Yankee autumn expert and photographer Jim Salge. Here, Jim shares a list four favorite New England foliage drives that offer a quiet, but still beautiful, alternative to some of the more popular autumn road trip routes.
Here in New England, as soon as Labor Day comes and goes, our collective thoughts turn to fall activities. With every turning leaf, we start planning our apple picking excursions, fair outings, leaf-peeping excursions, and fall foliage drives.
I can see the appeal in traveling the most popular routes to find fall color. Smuggler’s Notch, the Acadia Loop Road, the Mohawk Trail, and the Kancamagus Highway are world renowned for their scenic beauty and classic New England charm. They are all well traveled fall foliage drives and absolutely worth the trip.
But traveling the most popular routes isn’t the only way to experience New England’s autumn show. There are 32 million acres of forest here, and countless routes through them. On top of that, many towns and villages in New England showcase stately maples alongside classic meetinghouses, stone walls, old cemeteries, and white clapboard steeples.
Is it possible to find routes that pale in popularity compared with the more famous fall foliage drives but still rival them in stunning scenery? I think so. Here are four favorites.
This narrow winding road over a mountain pass northwest of Stowe provides countless recreational opportunities and stunning views.
ALTERNATIVE ROUTE: Route 58 from Lake Willoughby to Hazen’s Notch
Sitting between the steep walls of two mountains, Lake Willoughby is a stunning start to this trip through some of Vermont’s earliest fall foliage. The route winds through beautiful villages with plenty of mountain views. It even briefly turns to dirt near the village of Lowell, a testament to its under-the-radar status.
Prized for its wilderness views, the Kanc is one of the most popular scenic drives in all of New England.
ALTERNATIVE ROUTE: Evans Notch (Route 113)
Beginning and ending in Maine, this route along the New Hampshire border is steep, winding, and spectacular. Maple, birch, and beech trees growing close to the road create a true tunnel of foliage until you reach the views at the height of the route. Trailheads lead to spectacular waterfalls and high mountain vistas. And Basin Pond is one of the true gems in the White Mountains.
MAINE FALL FOLIAGE DRIVES
POPULAR ROUTE: The Acadia Loop Road
The Acadia Loop Road offers both mountain and ocean views along Maine’s rocky coast.
ALTERNATIVE ROUTE: The Camden Hills Loop
Camden isn’t terribly far from Bar Harbor as the crow flies, but as they say in Maine: “You can’t get there from here.” And saving the extra two-hour trip north from southern New England to Acadia does mean sacrificing some of the wildness; still, there are plenty of similar scenes here: from mountains that meet the sea to lakes lined with amazing autumn foliage, all near a fine coastal village.
The Mohawk Trail (New England’s first official “scenic tourist route”) has had millions of drivers tool along its 60-mile stretch into the Berkshires since its opening in 1914.
ALTERNATIVE ROUTE: Jacob’s Ladder Scenic Byway (Route 20) Loops
Route 20 is the longest highway in the United States, and the trip through Becket, Massachusetts, brings you over its highest point east of the Mississippi. Taking a loop off the highway by the Berkshires brings you past lovely pastoral scenes and mountain views. We recommend Route 8 and the Skyline Trail for a reasonable detour off the main route.
Though a brilliant backdrop of autumn leaves can be found almost anywhere in New England, there are many ways and places to view the foliage display. The popular routes are tried and true, while the back roads offer surprises and adventure.
We think these alternative fall foliage drives offer a great balance of both, and hope you try some of them out.