We’ve all seen that bumper sticker. Minivans, pickup trucks, compact cars. It doesn’t matter. Pretty much any vehicle that passes a state inspection is capable of earning the popular “This Car Climbed Mt. Washington” sticker.
It’s the driver who deserves the real credit, having to successfully navigate a narrow, steep, twisting road and then pretty much ride the brake pedal all the way back down again. Every time I see the sticker, I think there should be another one right next to it that reads: “Don’t worry, this car’s brakes were serviced by a professional mechanic after it climbed Mt. Washington.”
Judging by the number of bumper stickers out there, the Mount Washington Auto Road is clearly one of New England’s most popular car excursions in mountain country. And why wouldn’t it be? The auto road gives drivers access to the Northeast’s highest peak. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking it is the only car excursion worth taking. Far from it.
Scenic drives, during the fall particularly, are among the most popular outdoor activities in New England and are critical in helping account for millions of tourist visits and billions spent each fall foliage season. A seemingly endless network of country roads beckon families as they wind past classic farm stands, orchards, festivals, agricultural fairs, shopping and much more. Whether visiting friends, traveling with them or simply escaping for peaceful time away with a loved one, New England offers some of the best scenic fall auto tours in the country. Sometimes it’s about the destination but it’s always about the journey.
So hop in your car and go. Here are some suggestions for great fall road trips in mountain country.
“From the Granite State’s unrivaled beauty to our treasured history and tax-free shopping, New Hampshire has limitless ways to enjoy the fall foliage,” says Gov. Chris Sununu. “The Granite State is proud to welcome visitors from around the globe, and we work hard to ensure that every visit is better than the last.”
More than 1,000 miles in New Hampshire are designated as scenic and cultural byways covering the state from top to bottom, including and Great North Woods, White Mountains, Lakes Region, Dartmouth/Sunapee, Merrimack Valley, Seacoast and Monadnock.
These routes offer ocean views, cut through the White Mountains, twist alongside many of New England’s most picturesque rivers, ramble through timeless villages and meander past an unlimited variety of roadside attractions. Administered through the state’s Department of Transportation, these designated regions include existing roadways that highlight the beauty, culture and history that makes New Hampshire unique.
Here is a glimpse at a few of the Granite State’s most popular driving tours:
Lakes Region: This loop, approximately 134 miles, circles Lake Winnipesaukee and is the perfect introduction to this impassioned vacationland experience. From the town docks in Meredith, drive east on Route 25 to the harbor towns of Center Harbor and Moultonborough. Did you know Center Harbor is the site of the first intercollegiate sporting event in the U.S? Harvard beat Yale by two lengths in the first Harvard-Yale Regatta on the lake in 1852. Turn south from here on Route 109 to Wolfeboro, the oldest summer resort in America. Continuing east, you’ll pass Wentworth State Park to Sanbornville and then you’re on to Union and Farmington. Completing the full loop via Routes 152, 156 and 107 will guide you through the classic towns of Nottingham, Raymond, Deerfield, Epsom, Pittsfield, Barnstead, Gilmanton and Laconia. Turn onto Route 3 to return back to Meredith.
Seacoast: This 40-mile shoreline drive on the coast will direct you through the region’s colonial history and its scenic beauty. Start in the historic seaport town of Portsmouth, which thrived as one of the nation’s busiest ports and shipbuilding cities in the 18th and 19th centuries and still has a working waterfront along with a vibrant and historic downtown.
Take Route 1B from the historic district over the causeway to New Castle. This narrow route winds around the island, past the grand Wentworth-by-the-Sea and two early military fortifications, Fort Stark and Fort Constitution. Along the way to Hampton and Hampton Beach, jump onto Route 84 and know that you’re on one of the region’s earliest roads as you wind through Kensington and Exeter, one of the four original towns in colonial New Hampshire and the state capitol during the Revolutionary War.
The Kancamagus: There are several driving tours through the White Mountains that cannot be beat, and the Kancamagus Highway, a national scenic byway, is the most celebrated of them all. This 142-mile loop offers several variations. From Conway, turn west on Route 112 (the Kanc) and before you will be 34 miles of stunning mountain scenery through the White Mountain National Forest. Once in Lincoln, you can either turn north onto I-93 through Franconia Notch State Park, and then onto Route 3 to Twin Mountain … or you can continue west on Route 112 through Kinsman Notch to Route 302, which heads to Bath, Lisbon, Littleton, Bethlehem, Twin Mountain and Bretton Woods, home of the Omni Mount Washington Hotel.
Dartmouth/Lake Sunapee: You can start or end this 140-mile loop in Greenfield, where a jaunt north on Route 31 through the towns of Antrim and Hillsborough will take you past the Franklin Pierce Homestead (former home of the 14th U.S. president). Windsor and Washington await (Washington known for having one of the most beautiful village greens in all of New England) and then past Pillsbury State Park. Just south of Goshen, take Route 10 to Newport and Grantham, then get on Route 114 to Springfield. Along they way you’ll go by the picturesque towns of New London, home of Colby-Sawyer College, and Henniker, home of New England College.
Exploring Vermont’s abundant scenic treasures — from its mountains and valleys, to its forests and farmland, to its historic villages and year-round recreational sites — is as easy as starting up your car. The state’s 10 designated byways, which range in length from 14 miles to more than 400 miles, give tourists access to it all. Here’s a quick glimpse of each:
Connecticut River: Also designated a National Byway, travel along this 400-plus-mile river that carves between Vermont’s Green Mountains and New Hampshire’s White Mountains, includes museums, historic sites and architecture.
Crossroad of Vermont: This 50-mile route cuts from east to west across the middle of Vermont. Historic stops include Billings Farm and Museum (an 1890s dairy farm), the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park, and the Vermont Marble Museum.
Green Mountain: Vermont Route 100 runs through the towns of Waterbury and Stowe, between the spine of the northern Green Mountains to the west and the peaks of the Worcester Range to the east.
Lake Champlain: This byway comprises 81 miles of roads in northwest Vermont along Lake Champlain, including Route 2 through Grand Isle County, Route 7 in Chittenden County and the communities of Middlebury and Vergennes, not to mention Vermont’s largest city, Burlington.
Mad River: It’s only 36 miles in length, but driving along Routes 100 and 100B through the Mad River Valley is among the most scenic stretches in the entire state. You’ll see mountain ridgelines, a winding river, hillside farms and steepled villages in Middlesex, Moretown, Waitsfield, Warren, Granville Gulf, Fayston and Buels Gore.
Molly Stark: Named after the wife of General John Stark, who led the Colonial militia to a victory at the Battle of Bennington on August 16, 1777, the Molly Stark Byway links historic Bennington in the west, to arts-oriented Brattleboro in the east.
Northeast Kingdom: This 51-mile corridor includes the communities of Saint Johnsbury, Lyndon, East and West Burke, Westmore, Charleston, Derby and Newport. The region is known for its all-season recreational opportunities, great dining and lodging, classic architecture and picturesque farmland.
Scenic Route 100: The state’s longest highway, Route 100, also known as “The Skier’s Highway,” runs along the eastern edge of the Green Mountains, traversing the entire length of Vermont. The road is the main thoroughfare for well-known resort towns, including Wilmington, Ludlow, Killington, Warren and Stowe.
The Shires of Vermont: Named for the scenic region it passes through in southwestern Vermont, this byway is anchored by Bennington (the South Shire) and Manchester (the North Shire). The region is nestled between the Taconic and Green Mountains.
Stone Valley: Named for the state’s marble and stone quarries and mills, this byway is located in west-central Vermont along Route 30 from Manchester and Poultney.
Maine has four National Scenic Byways that traverse the state’s diverse landscape from its Western Mountains to the Downeast coastline. These designated regions highlight the year-round recreation, arts and culture, wildlife and extraordinary vistas that define the state.
Acadia All-American Road: This 40-mile stretch is so special that it’s been designated an All-American Road. It begins on Route 3 on the mainland before moving onto Mount Desert Island and through the town of Bar Harbor. From there, it rolls into the primary section of Acadia National Park.
Old Canada Road: This National Scenic Byway travels 78 miles along Route 201 through Maine forests from Solon to the Canadian border. Towns such as Bingham and Jackman offer relaxing places to stop. Spectacular foliage, abundant moose and other wildlife make for enjoyable touring.
Rangeley Lakes: This National Scenic Byway offers many locations for outdoor fun including golfing, boating, fishing, hiking, wildlife watching, skiing and snowmobiling. The 35-mile route winds past clear lakes and tree-covered mountains. The Height of Land on Route 17 is one of Maine’s most picturesque overlooks.
Schoodic: Another National Scenic Byway, this trek explores the quieter, less-developed side of Acadia National Park and its neighboring communities. Visitors drive the 29-mile route through small fishing towns, sheltered harbors and dramatic coastline.
In addition to these federal routes, there are many picturesque Maine state byways. These include Blackwoods (Route 182), Fish River (Route 11), Grafton Notch, Katahdin Woods & Waters, Million Dollar View (Route 1), Moosehead Lake, Pequawket Trail (Route 113), Saint John Valley, State Route 27 and The Bold Coast.