The fall ushers in New England’s most colorful season with hues from bright red to blazing orange to mellow yellows and subtle browns. The crisp, clean air invites people to get out and experience the foliage, cooler temperatures and simple pleasures of immersing oneself in the beauty of the season while getting exercise, enjoying family time together and perhaps gathering some harvest to carry home and turn into delectable treats.
A favorite fall pastime is apple picking, something that can be enjoyed by every member of the family. Orchards throughout the region offer countless varieties of apples, upward of a hundred in some cases, ready to be harvested and eaten whole — “an apple a day…” and all that — or turned into cider, pies, sauces and “brown betties.” A day at an orchard might include, in addition to apple picking, a horse-drawn hay ride, cider pressing, a barnyard visit and petting zoo, a farm kitchen shop, hiking trails and corn maze.
On the Connecticut River in Walpole, N.H., Alyson’s Orchard offers spectacular views along with a variety of fruit including peaches, plums, nectarines and berries. But the specialty on the 450 acres is more than 50 varieties of apples. Many of these are Heirlooms, which are varieties that have been cultivated for more than 75 years. During apple picking season, Alyson’s offers wagon rides to move you around the orchard. Kids can visit the farm’s goats, play bocce or hang out at the playground as well as enjoy the pick-your-own fun. The farm store features many local products as well as everything apple.
For residents of Boston and surrounding areas, a great close-to-home choice is Lookout Farm, located in South Natick, just 20 miles from downtown Boston. The location, on 180 acres, boasts 50,000 fruit trees. Of course, in the fall apples come to the forefront. Environmentally friendly trains transport visitors throughout the orchard, stopping where the picking is best. You can get on and off as many times as you like. For the kids there’s a play area, hay pyramid to climb and a farm maze to negotiate. Adults can enjoy the Taproom, where they can indulge in hard cider and craft beer from the Lookout Farm Brewing and Cider Co., a new addition to the farm in 2017.
At Boothby’s Orchard and Winery in Livermore, Maine, you can enjoy local music along with warm cider and local cheeses at the farm stand, which also features Hereford beef, fresh eggs, special “Boothby Blonde” cucumbers and other seasonal produce as well as wines from Boothby’s own winery. Of course, the orchard’s specialty is apples, and the apple wagon takes you out to the orchards to pick your own. Walking trails and picnic sites are available to make your visit a complete day.
Festivals abound during the fall season in all parts of the region. Peru, Vt., is home to the Peru Fair, held this year on Sept. 28. It’s been described as “one of the nicest country fairs you will ever know” by those familiar with it. A pig roast, Vermont crafts and artisans demos, clogging, magicians and clowns, pony rides, music, dancing and wonderful food make this old-fashioned fair a must-do for the family.
While you’re in the area, check out nearby Bromley Mountain and its Mountain and Aerial Adventure Parks with ziplines, ropes courses, climbing wall, alpine slide, disc golf, space bikes and more.
About an hour’s ride north, mostly on scenic Vermont Route 100, is the quintessential New England town of Woodstock, home to Billings Farm, an outdoor rural heritage museum and working farm. Special events this fall include the Harvest Festival on Oct. 12-13. You’ll find traditional activities including a husking bee, cider pressing, demonstrations on harvesting root vegetables and a barn dance. At the Family Halloween on Oct. 27, pick your own pumpkin from the pumpkin patch and have fun carving it, take a tractor pulled wagon ride, enjoy doughnuts on a string and a costume parade, listen to Halloween tales and experience the joys of being on a real farm.
Want to learn how to grow a giant pumpkin? If so, the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest is the place to be. This 10-day festival in Maine, culminating on Columbus Day weekend, provides an educational opportunity to learn the science of growing giant pumpkins. There are many highlights to the weekend, including a pumpkinboat regatta with hollowed-out 400- to 700-pound pumpkins, paddled or with motors attached, racing in Damariscotta Harbor; a Pumpkin Derby with small (under 20 pounds) non-motorized pumpkins racing a 50-yard course; giant pumpkins dropped from a crane 180 feet high onto junk cars; a giant pumpkin parade where you’ll see the largest pumpkin in Maine on display; and a pumpkin pie-eating contest.
Waterville Valley Resort hosts Fall Foliage Fest from Oct. 12-14. To complement the brilliant fall foliage, join Waterville for a weekend of family fun, including free outdoor concerts, merchant tent sales, ski swap, 5K road race, 1.6 km fun run, 10-mile trail race and more activities such as kids’ games and pumpkin painting.
Corn mazes are always a fun feature of fall on farms throughout New England. They come in all shapes and sizes, from small-kid friendly to adult challenging. In Connecticut, check out Foster Family Farm in South Windsor and get lost in the adventure in one of the interactive mazes covering 4 miles of trails. Sherman Farm in Conway, N.H., has gotten top ratings for its labyrinth of corn featuring three phases of varying abilities. Other activities there include corn boxes, the Moo Express, a petting area with friendly goats and pigs, a mini-maze for the littlest kids, hayrides and, new this year, bouncing on the pumpkin pad. Sherman Farm is open weekends from Sept. 21 to Oct. 27.
The maze at Connors Farm in Danvers, Mass., is open Sept. 7 to Nov. 3 every day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. with special Flashlight Mazes Friday and Saturday nights through October plus Sunday, Oct. 6 and Halloween.
At the Great Danville Maze in Vermont, the Big Maze covers an amazing 24 acres and requires some hilly hiking, so come prepared to spend at least a couple of hours in the maze and bring some snacks. The more leisurely Scenic Maze has some beautiful views and can be solved in about 40 minutes.
In today’s world, many young people have never traveled by rail. A scenic train ride during the fall foliage season is a great way to experience train travel and view autumn colors at their flaming best. For family fun, the Edaville Railroad in Carver, Mass., is a 2-mile, narrow-gauge ride that the youngest kids will enjoy. In Essex, Conn., you can experience a 2½-hour journey on the Essex Steam Train & Riverboat tour that takes you through the heart of the Connecticut River Valley. Vintage coach cars are pulled by a steam engine as they steam through beautiful New England towns. For the boat portion you are escorted onto the multi-decked Becky Thatcher riverboat for a cruise along the Connecticut River, past scenic coves and marshes with wildlife viewing along the rocky shoreline.