Despite the fact that you’ve probably noticed pumpkin spice varietals of every food and drink imaginable invading your favorite grocery stop since mid-August, the fall season glosses over New England for only a limited time. In a seasonal calendar of special offers, autumn has a more defined expiration date than winter, summer or even spring, a colorful whirl that enhances the landscapes from the mountains to the sea.
And just as soon as the wonder of foliage, jack-o-lanterns, apples and cider donuts descend upon us, a chill appears in the air, hinting that the winter months are not far behind.
Thus, enjoying the foliage season in New England requires shrewd timing and planning in order to maximize peak color in any specific location of the region. While some factors like heat and rainfall will certainly play a factor in the year-to-year expectations of when to expect peak colors at your favorite locale, it’s safe to bet reds, yellows and oranges will begin to replace the greens in the trees of northern Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine as early as the second week of September. These spots will be in peak form — the height of the foliage spectrum — by the end of September, a status bestowed upon Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island by early to mid-October.
Here are some of the best routes to take this fall in each New England state as well as some options for overnight stays and dining experiences.
The Green Mountain State’s famed “Skier’s Highway” previews its foray into winter with a winding trip through autumn, passing by a handful of Vermont ski areas that are preparing for skiing and riding season with harvest celebrations and activities. Along the way — including more than 200 miles of pristine countryside and idyllic villages — motorists will find breathtaking scenery peppered with farms, rolling hills and unparalleled vistas. Begin the journey just south of Jay Peak Resort, and find your way through the likes of Morrisville, Ludlow and Killington, running from north to south.
One of the highlights of the drive is the 11 miles passing through the Green Mountain Byway, a stretch along the northern Green Mountains that runs through Stowe and Waterbury, giving this section a wealth of eating, drinking and lodging options. Here, the stunning backdrop of Mount Mansfield provides the perfect incentive for your foliage adventure.
Points of Interest: Take a zip trip at Stowe Mountain Resort, where the ZipTour Adventure provides a majestic way to view the colors surrounding Vermont’s highest peak ($135, $186 for a Treetop Adventure combo ticket, www.stowe.com/activities/summer/ziptour). Tours run through Oct. 14. Not far from there, you’ll find the Alchemist Brewery (100 Cottage Club Road, Stowe, alchemistbeer.com), home of the famed Heady Topper. Stop by for a taste of the double IPA, a beer many consider to be among the best on earth, or one of the other samples on tap at the brewery. Continue on down the road a little further for a little more Vermont cheer, this of the frozen variety, at the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory in Waterbury (1281 Waterbury-Stowe Road, tours $4 adults, $3 seniors, free ages 12 and under, www.benjerry.com/about-us/factory-tours). For a step back in time, visit the Vermont Country Store in Weston (657 Main St., www.vermontcountrystore.com) featuring Vermont cheese, penny candy and other items of local interest. At Okemo Mountain Resort, the Adventure Zone remains open until Oct. 8, giving guests a variety of activities to enjoy in the midst of the foliage including a climbing wall, mountain coaster, trampoline and more (77 Okemo Ridge Road, Ludlow, see website for various pricing packages, www.okemo.com).
Stay: If you’re looking to pair your foliage drive with a romantic stay in a classic Vermont bed and breakfast, then the Inn at Round Barn Farm couldn’t be more ideal, featuring country settings in a quiet atmosphere that will take you further away than the distance you drove to get there (1661 East Warren Road, Waitsfield, $179-$359, www.theroundbarn.com).
Dine: Whoever decided that the best slice of pizza is from New York City hasn’t been to American Flatbread, a Waitsfield institution that has been delivering customers pizza from its wood-fired ovens for nearly 30 years, The ingredients are as local as the vibe in the joint, which makes it a perfect Vermont dining spot (40 Laureau Road, www.americanflatbread.com). At the Prohibition Pig, visitors will get a taste as to why Waterbury is considered one of the best beer towns in America, sampling from a popular menu of house drafts that pair nicely with the restaurant’s burgers, brisket and other BBQ (23 South Main St., prohibitionpig.com).
White Mountains Trail
The White Mountains Trail is a 100-mile loop that travels through some of New Hampshire’s most commanding mountain scenery, whether it be approaching Mount Washington, discovering the ruggedness of Franconia Notch State Park or feeling almost as if you’ve been swallowed up by the surroundings at Crawford Notch.
Along the way, the Kancamagus Highway brings visitors to one of the Granite State’s most popular itineraries for foliage, a 34½-mile stretch of roadway from Lincoln to Conway that beckons stops at a multitude of hiking trails, waterfalls and camping sites, all from which the color of the season can be enjoyed to its fullest.
Points of interest: Sabbaday Falls is considered one of the most popular waterfalls in the entire state, and that status is further confirmed in the fall months, when the easy hike along the “Kanc” leads to a natural wonder in an atmosphere that lasts but only a few weeks (www.kancamagushighway.com/waterfalls/sabbaday_falls.htm). The Conway Scenic Railroad will do the driving during foliage season, especially aboard its notch train, a five-hour trip from Conway to Crawford Notch that covers some 60 miles of breathtaking scenery, only enhanced by autumn (38 Norcross Circle, North Conway, $59-$85, www.conwayscenic.com). At Cannon Mountain, the 80-passenger cable car can whisk you to the top of the state, a 4,080-foot mountain summit that can provide spectacular views of the colors that surround in Franconia Notch ($18 adults, $16 ages 6-12, www.cannonmt.com).
Stay: There’s no place grander to stay during the Northeast’s grandest season than the opulent Omni Mount Washington Hotel (310 Mount Washington Hotel Road, Bretton Woods, stay packages vary in price, see site for details, www.omnihotels.com/destinations/bretton-woods), an elegant stay wrapped in its own brand of seasonal charm.
Dine: Get there early for breakfast at the Sunrise Shack in Glen (644 White Mountain Highway, www.facebook.com/TheSunriseShack), where there’s bound to be a line waiting out the door as hungry patrons try to decide between one of the restaurant’s famed omelettes or breakfast bowls.
Family atmosphere and comfort food go hand-in-hand at Delaney’s Hole in the Wall, a North Conway institution that has been boasting some of the best Buffalo wings in the Northeast for almost 25 years (2966 White Mountain Highway, www.delaneys.com).
Acadia National Park
Located on the coastline, the 47,000-acre Acadia National Park is prone to peak color a bit later than some of the other neighboring communities in northern Maine. Foliage generally peaks here during the middle of October and provides a unique way to experience the beauty of New England. The fall months explode here in a kaleidoscope of color that helps bring the exquisite coastline’s wonder to another level, from the sun-splashed, rocky shoreline to tree-lined mountain ranges.
One highlight along the way is the Acadia All-American Road, a 40-mile stretch that takes three hours to travel, featuring a variety of beaches, lighthouses and ocean views. Bikers can hop out of the car and enjoy a jaunt to Mount Desert Island, while those on foot can hike one of the 26 mountains in the area.
Points of interest: Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park feature a wealth of interesting sites to behold, whether it be on foot, bike or paddle. There are a number of outfits ready to suit your needs in the area with tailored activities and tours. Visit www.visitbarharbor.com/see-do for complete information.
Stay: Featuring panoramic views of Frenchman’s Bay, the Balance Rock Inn (21 Albert Meadow, Bar Harbor, see website for rates and packages, www.balancerockinn.com) is a country-inn experience that prides on its opulent past. Each room has individual and luxurious traits that make this one of Maine’s signature hotels.
Dine: Amazing views, lobster stew and Gulf of Maine salmon are on the menu at the Looking Glass Restaurant (50 Eden St., Bar Harbor, www.barharborrestaurant.com), situated atop a hill with unsurpassed sights of Bar Harbor below. For a truly Maine lobster experience, visit the Travelin’ Lobster (1569 State Highway, Bar Harbor, thetravelinlobster.wixsite.com/seafood-restaurant), owned and operated by lobstermen and featuring a menu that has all the scrumptious simplicities of a lobster shack. Open through Oct. 20.
Labeled the first scenic road in New England, the Mohawk Trail is a 63-mile route that takes visitors along some 50,000 acres of state parks and forests in the midst of the commonwealth. The Berkshire drive follows the path Native Americans would take between the Connecticut and Hudson valleys, and features notable landmarks such as Hairpin Turn, Whitcomb Summit and Tannery Falls.
Points of interest: If the views outside aren’t artsy enough for you, stop by the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art for some of the liveliest and innovative art in the area (1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, www.massmoca.org). For those looking to add a little moisture to the foliage-viewing party, Crab Apple Whitewater (2056 Mohawk Trail, Charlemont, www.crabapplewhitewater.com) offers a variety of whitewater rafting trips on the trail’s Deerfield River and beyond.
Stay: The Porches Inn, located at MASSMoca, provides an intimate stay at a 47-room boutique property that can claim its artsy decor as inspiration from the museum next door (231 River St., North Adams, www.porches.com).
Dine: The Gypsy Apple Bistro (66 Bridge St., Shelburne Falls, www.gypsyapplebistro.com) is one of the area’s top dining spots, with a rotating menu that features fine cuisine in an intimate atmosphere. For a decidedly more relaxed atmosphere, the Cold River Cafe, Market and Package is a local favorite for pizza, burgers and seafood specials (31 Main St. Charlemont, coldriverpackage.com).
Feel free to ditch the car and rent a bike to explore this 14-mile, winding drive that delivers fantastic views of the Atlantic Ocean and Fort Adams State Park. The glamor of the Newport mansions beckon nearby, but their splendor is nothing compared to the color and certain level of quiet that descends upon the Newport area during the fall.
Points of interest: Fort Adams State Park (1 Lincoln Drive, Newport, www.fortadams.org) provides great views of Narragansett Bay, not to mention a busy calendar of events all year long. Newport’s Cliff Walk (www.cliffwalk.com) might be a little chillier this time of year, but the ocean breezes will pair well with the stunning architecture of the mansions and college properties, plus spectacular views of the bay and Jamestown Island. Swing by downtown and Bannister’s Wharf (www.bannistersnewport.com), which might not be as jovial or busy as it might have been during the summer months but is still the place to visit in order to experience the heart of Newport.
Stay: Located on Goat Island, only a stone’s throw from the docks, Gurney’s offers seclusion while in the heart of downtown Newport. The grounds offer 360-degree water views, and what is generally regarded as one of the best spas in the Ocean State (1 Goat Island, www.gurneysresorts.com/newport).
Dine: In the midst of a bevy of seafood restaurants offering the day’s catch, The Mooring (1 Sayer’s Wharf, Newport, www.mooringrestaurant.com) always gets top reviews for its offerings and service in Newport. For what might perhaps be a more authentic Rhode Island seafood experience, head to Flo’s Clam Shack (4 Wave Ave., Middletown, flosclamshacks.com) for some of the best clam cakes and stuffed quahogs in the entire region.
Mystic County and the coast
It’s one of the southernmost routes in all of New England, which gives it the added calling card of being there for those foliage fanatics who might be late to the party. Peak viewing along the coast of Connecticut is estimated to last all the way into early November, which means you can still go leaf-peeping even as the snow guns are beginning to work their magic at ski areas to the north. From New London to Old Mystic, this Nutmeg State trail gives those insisting to hang on to fall a great way to spend their time with gorgeous views of the Connecticut coastline and plenty to do along the way.
Points of interest: The 10th annual Harvest Festival takes place Oct. 27 in New London, offering tours of the Old Town Mill (8 Mill St.) featuring interactive children’s activities and holiday shopping with craft vendors on site. History is abound everywhere in New London, including at the Nathan Hale Schoolhouse (19 Atlantic St.), where visitors can tour the one-room school where Nathan Hale taught before the American Revolution. A visit to quaint Mystic isn’t complete without either a stroll through the Olde Mistick Village or a visit to the Mystic Aquarium (55 Coogan Blvd., www.mysticaquarium.org), arguably the best tribute to marine life in all of New England.
Stay: An 11-room luxury inn, the Steamboat Inn (73 Steamboat Wharf, $205-$310, two-night minimum most weekends, steamboatinnmystic.com) also serves as the only waterfront lodging option in Mystic. Both Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos are a short drive away, but you might not want to budge from the romantic setting along the Mystic River, steps away from downtown shopping and dining.
Dine: Seafood is, unsurprisingly, the focus at Latitude 41 (105 Greenmanville Ave., Mystic, www.coastalgourmetct.com/latitude41) with a menu that boasts pan-seared scallops, local oysters and lobster pot pie. Then again, what’s a visit to Mystic without a visit to the restaurant that made it to the big screen? Mystic Pizza (56 West Main St., www.mytogo.co/Mystic_Pizza_Main) remains a local favorite, whether or not you’ve seen the movie, with simple favorites that pair perfectly with a quick visit through town, all along a journey of color and acceptance of the change in seasons.