New England has the most brilliant display of fall foliage in the United States, hands down. My beloved home state of Colorado shows off its gorgeous golden aspen leaves in the autumn, and I’m told the trees in the mid-Atlantic states and along the Blue Ridge Parkway put on their own colorful show once October rolls around. But if you want to lay eyes on the most varied bright hues of foliage in the country, I’d plan a fall trip to New England.
Boston is a great place to start a leaf-peeping vacation in the Northeast, since it’s home to New England’s largest international airport. From here, rent a car and take a leisurely drive along popular highways and back roads in search of mountains and valleys blanketed in colors that you might find in a Crayola crayon box: green-yellow, goldenrod, burnt orange, and brick red.
Now, which direction you take from Boston—north to Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine; or west and south to Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island—may depend on the date. Meteorologists say that when the leaves achieve their “peak color” varies from year to year, according to air temperatures and moisture received. Still, generally you can expect leaves to start turning earlier in northern New England than southern New England. For example, in the last week of September, leaves might be peaking in Burlington, Vermont, but they would be just starting to turn in Greenwich, Connecticut.
Viewfinder Tip: State websites feature foliage reports with up-to-the-minute information on where and when the colors are peaking. Check out these sites for Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.
My suggestion: Book hotel reservations in advance of your trip, since autumn is such a popular time to visit New England, but be willing to put some miles on your rental car if you get word that leaves are especially vibrant in a neighboring state. Remember, New England states are tiny: You can drive from the coast of Maine through southern New Hampshire to the edge of Vermont in just more than two hours.
While there are dozens of routes you can take throughout New England to view fall foliage, here are a few of the scenic spots with which I’m familiar.
I spent my childhood and college years in New Hampshire, so I’ve got to give props to its White Mountains. The Kancamagus Highway, which runs through the White Mountain National Forest, is probably the state’s most popular road for viewing fall foliage, so traffic can be fierce in September and October. Franconia Notch State Park and the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway also are favorite fall attractions. My alma mater of Dartmouth College, in Hanover, is particularly picturesque when the air turns brisk and golden leaves shower students walking across the green on their way to and from class.
The Bay State also offers plenty of college campuses on which to admire changing leaves, since you’ll often find towering deciduous trees lining well-manicured lawns at these revered schools. Check out Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and Amherst College in central Massachusetts, as well as Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, across the Charles River from Boston. You also can’t go wrong with a drive through the Berkshire Mountains (locals call them “the Berkshires”) that extend from western Massachusetts into Connecticut.
Almost 90 percent of Maine is covered in forest. That’s a lot of trees for fall foliage viewing. A driving tour of Maine in the fall should cover some of the rocky shoreline, say, from Portland through the “Midcoast” and up to Acadia National Park. However, the interior is also so striking in the fall. In particular, check out the Kennebec Valley and Waterville, home to Colby College. There’s also Baxter State Park, with the highest point in Maine, Mount Katahdin, and Moosehead Lake, the largest body of water in the state. Both have hundreds of thousands of trees.
Where do you go to view the prettiest fall foliage?