Our state parks are having quite the moment.
Over the past two summers, both national and state parks across the country have witnessed a booming popularity. With pandemic restrictions in place, visitors are taking advantage of the outdoors and have visited these environments en masse.
Now that the leaves are changing, don’t expect a respite.
“The fall season is a great time of the year to visit,” Rhode Island State Parks administrator Frank Floor said.
“The weather temperates itself a bit, it cools down, it’s not as hot. Really, just people enjoying being in the outdoors at a number of our different facilities.”
The fall season has become a major part of the outdoor economy in New England, where foliage is an annual calling card of the region’s beauty.
“Over the last couple years, what they call the leaf-peeper season has just grown and grown,” said Brent Wucher, public information and marketing officer for the New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation. “We’ve recognized this increasing over the last couple years, and we’re just making our season longer and longer for camping. The year keeps on pushing farther and farther. I think it’s going to continue.”
There are dozens upon dozens of state parks to choose from in all of New England, each with its own unique offerings. Here is a look at a pair from each state to use as your starting point into a special foliage tour.
Dixville Notch State Park
Within Dixville Notch State Park’s 127 acres, visitors will discover a raw environment — including Dixville Flume, a 20-foot waterfall within a narrow gorge — in which to discover some of the most vibrant colors of early fall. Close to the Canadian border, the leaves will undergo an earlier metamorphosis.
It is also, cautioned Wucher, a working forest. “Be cautious as logging operations are going on,” he said. “We are managing a large track of forest up there. The roads are being used by recreational use and also for commercial logging.”
Dixville Notch also might be affected by seasonal employment. Having staff really dictates which parks stay open later and which are going to close. “It’s a juggling act,” Wucher said. “That definitely is a challenge. We’re going through the same thing as national parks and national forests are going through with scheduling capacities during summer. During the fall it can be a problem in certain areas. We haven’t gotten there yet, but we’re coping so far.”
In anticipation, Wucher implored visitors to have a Plan B. “If a campsite is full, or your itinerary might change, visit our website (www.nhstateparks.org). There are a lot of different parks up there in north country you can visit from Dixville Notch. There are definitely a lot or trails up there.” Coleman Lodges, Stewartstown, and Mount Washington are among them.
Franconia Notch State Park
Located in the heart of the White Mountains, Franconia Notch State Park is one of New Hampshire’s most-visited locations, featuring popular attractions such as the Flume Gorge, Echo Lake, and the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway. In the fall, the burst of color gives this state park a magical aura.
Notable for being home to the famous “Old Man of the Mountain,” Franconia Notch is a wonderland even just driving through the peaks of the Kinsman and Franconia mountain ranges along Route 93. There are a number of family-friendly hikes to check out within the park, as well as the Franconia Notch bike path. (Bike rentals are offered by Sport Thoma in nearby Lincoln, and shuttle service to Franconia Notch is available). Lafayette Place Campground is the camping and hiking hub for the park (camping rate is $25 per night). It provides a great base from which to enjoy hiking, biking, fishing, swimming and many attractions in the White Mountains. Information about hiking trails, safety and the natural and cultural history of the park is available at the cabin near the campground entrance.
According to Wucher, it’s important to plan your trip, as places like Flume Gorge, the aerial tram and Echo Lake being open are very contingent on what the weather does. Park fees: $4 adults, $2 children ages 6-11.
Talcott Mountain State Park
Take a 1.25 mile trek (there is no vehicular access) to the 165-foot Heublein Tower for a panoramic view of fall’s color at this Simsbury state park, a 574-acre public recreation area located on Talcott Mountain. The structure was originally built as a summer home for a prominent Connecticut family and today houses a museum of local history. The view from the tower is over the Farmington River Valley, but visitors can spot plenty of landmarks in the distance, including New Hampshire’s Mount Monadnock, the Berkshires, and Long Island Sound. Tables, grills, and toilets are available for picnickers. The park is open from 8 a.m. to sunset. The Heublein Tower museum is open seasonally from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call the park office at 860-242-1158 for specific hours. Parking is $15 on weekends for out-of-state residents. For more, check out portal.ct.gov/DEEP/State-Parks/Parks/Talcott-Mountain-State-Park.
Dennis Hill State Park
Gifted to the state by a New York surgeon in 1935, this 24-acre estate in Norfolk features a summit pavilion at an elevation of 1,627 feet, perfect for catching the kaleidoscope of colors that fall brings to the Nutmeg State (it has been described as an “autumn wonderland.”) Visitors can either drive (until Nov. 1) or hike to the summit to take in views as far as New Hampshire and Vermont. Picnic shelters and bathrooms are available. The drive to the summit is open weekends only from Oct. 4 through 26. There is no parking fee. More info at portal.ct.gov/DEEP/State-Parks/Parks/Dennis-Hill-State-Park.
Fort Adams State Park
Catch an unparalleled view of Newport Harbor and Narragansett Bay at the often-bustling Fort Adams, where you’ll find a wide range of activities (fishing, boating, picnicking) to accompany your foliage chasing in the Ocean State. Fort Adams also is known to be home to the best sunset in all of Newport.
“When you get to Fort Adams you’re looking into Newport Harbor, or up the bay you can get an awesome vantage point of the Newport Bridge,” Floor said.
Constructed between 1824 and 1857, the fort was the largest and most complex of its kind in the United States. It was designed to mount 468 cannons and house 2,400 troops. It was active through World War II. Visitors can experience the historical significance of Fort Adams via a weekend guided tour (11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m.; $15) On the tour, guests will experience more than 190 years of American history, military culture, architecture and engineering and explore some of the most complex land defenses in the United States.
There is always a busy schedule of events to pay attention to at Fort Adams. Keep up to date with all that’s happening this season at fortadams.org.
Goddard Memorial State Park
This state park, located in Warwick, is known for being Rhode Island’s busiest metropolitan park. That’s not only because of its proximity to Providence, but also due to its serene atmosphere that makes for a picturesque escape. There are a variety of trees from all over the world at Goddard — including 62 deciduous and 19 evergreen species — which makes it particularly attractive to visit during foliage season. Visitors can stroll the beach along Greenwich Bay or explore 18 miles of trails. The golf course also remains open through the end of November (weather permitting).
“Goddard is a multi-use facility,” Floor said. “So you can walk along the water down by the beach, you can walk the moss trails in the woods, and catch some of the foliage. There are some vantage points out across Greenwich Bay or Greenwich Cove and you see the opposite shoreline. So it’s a really nice place to be, or just relax in one of our fields.”
Skinner State Park
Catch breathtaking views of the Connecticut River Valley from the summit of Mount Holyoke at this state park in Hadley. The summit can be reached either by hiking (Skinner offers more than 40 miles of hiking trails) or via auto road, open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Hikers are welcome from sunrise to sunset. The historic summit house was a popular hotel in the 1800s. Today, guests can tour the grounds during a one-hour tour on weekends (11 a.m. and 2 p.m., open through mid-October). On Saturdays, visitors can learn more about the hawks in the area, discovering their importance to the range and the annual fall migration (10-10:30 a.m.) Parking for Massachusetts residents is $5; parking for non-residents is $20.
Wompatuck State Park
This Hingham state park boasts 3,526 acres with more than 40 miles of forest trails. There are 260 campground sites (half with electricity) and 12 miles of non-motorized roads to discover. In the fall, it’s an ideal spot to check out the foliage, not that far from the center of Boston (22 miles). Bikers will want to check out the paved Whitney Spur Rail Trail, or any of the many singletrack trails that filter through the woods. Fishing is allowed in Cohasset Reservoir, while nearby Nantasket Beach offers the brave a chance to tackle the chilling waves of fall.
Camping at Wompatuck State Park is $17 per night for state residents and $54 per night for non-residents. Camping season typically runs from early May until Columbus Day weekend. Reservations for camping are required. Each campsite is furnished with a picnic table, pedestal grill and a fire ring. More at www.mass.gov/locations/wompatuck-state-park.
Gifford Woods State Park
Dramatic autumn colors at the base of Killington and Pico mountains are the calling card for this Vermont state park, a longtime favorite for hikers with its proximity to the Appalachian and Long trails. The Civilian Conservation Corps began development of the 285-acre park in 1933, and today Gifford Woods contains one of the few old-growth hardwood tree stands remaining in Vermont. There are four cabins ($51 per night for non-residents, minimum two-night stay), on wooded sites. Boating and fishing is available at Kent Pond. In addition, there are 21 tent/RV sites situated in two camping loops. Each loop has a restroom with flush toilets, hot and cold running water, and coin-operated hot showers. Day hikes are available, and there is an easy hook-up with the Appalachian Trail. Entry fee for adults is $4, $2 children ages 4-13. More at vtstateparks.com/gifford.html.
Coolidge State Park
Known for its rustic feel, Coolidge State Park, the centerpiece of the 21,500-acre Calvin Coolidge State Forest, is the largest state-owned land holding in central Vermont. It provides what some campers have called the best views in all of Vermont. It is the only park in the state to feature an entire loop of lean-to campsites (sturdy, dry shelters with a storm-proof overhead), some of which have sweeping views of the Black River Valley and the Green Mountains from the hillside. There also are miles of hiking trails to explore, along with restroom facilities with showers, a hilltop picnic area with log picnic shelter, and a group camping area.
Nearby is the village of Plymouth Notch, the birthplace of Calvin Coolidge, 30th president of the United States. Visitors can learn all about the park’s rich history and its connection to the CCC and Perry Merrill (often referred to as the father of Vermont’s state parks and skiing) at the nature center. Open until the second Monday in October, the park’s entry fee for adults is $4, $2 children ages 4-13. More at vtstateparks.com/coolidge.html.
Baxter State Park
In 1930, Maine Gov. Percival P. Baxter decided to give his state a new park. And as with many things in Maine, he went big. Baxter bought almost 6,000 acres of landscape in northern Maine — including Mount Katahdin, Maine’s tallest mountain. What is now Baxter State Park contains 209,644 acres of streams, ponds and lakes, and more than 40 mountain peaks. But what Baxter is most known for is its rustic authenticity. This is not a glamping site, but a state park known more for being a retreat to nature. There are no hot showers. Outhouses are the only restrooms. Be forewarned, there won’t be any electricity or any other sort of modern amenity. That all affords Baxter the sort of peace you might not find at other foliage destinations.
Activities abound within the massive property. There are 215 miles of trails to explore, plenty of ponds and streams for fishing and boating, and hunting is allowed in about 25 percent of the park. Canoes and kayaks are available to rent at a number of pondside campgrounds, and rock climbing in the Chimney Pond area offers a truly unique way to soak up the colors of fall. Day-use parking reservations are necessary to utilize Katahdin Trailheads. More at baxterstatepark.org.
Mount Kineo State Park
Rising some 1,789 feet above Moosehead Lake, Mount Kineo is vintage Maine, providing 360-degree views of the widespread landscape. The mountain’s cliff face rises dramatically 700 feet above the lake surface, while gentle slopes can be found off to the northwest. The hiking trails on Mount Kineo range from easy to moderate, all leading to the summit, where hikers will discover a converted fire tower, used until about 1960 by the Maine Forest Service. Views here include Little Kineo, Big and Little Spencer mountains, the Lily Bay Mountains, Big Moose, the peak of Coburn in the southwest, Boundary Bald Mountain, and, of course, unparalleled views of Moosehead Lake below.
There is no road access to Mount Kineo. All visitors must access the state park via boat launch in Rockwood. Shuttles are on the hour, every hour, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., through October. The final trip back from Kineo is at 4:45 p.m. The crossing takes about 10 minutes and passengers must pay in cash aboard the boat ($13 per person, round-trip. Kids ages 5 and under, as well as dogs, are free). More at visitmaine.com.