Falling for New England: A local's guide to leaf-peeping
Massachusetts native and award-winning travel writer Susan Morrell shares her tips for this season’s fall foliage.
The beauty of New England never fails to astound me.
As a native of Massachusetts, I love every season there — yes, even the snow-battered winter — but there’s no denying that autumn is its shining moment. Fall foliage season is a magical time of year when the lush green of mountain and forest explode into burnt golds and sunset reds, before turning delightfully crunchy underfoot.
Needless to say, beauty begets its visitors. Fall is the most popular time for tourists in the region, and hotel prices typically rise from September to November, so you’ll need to book well in advance to find accommodation.
If you time your visit just right to catch the passage from summer abundance to winter hibernation, however, it’s absolutely worth it.
My own favourite way to enjoy the foliage is on a scenic drive. As the colours flit past the window, sense memories take over — the perfect reflection of trees in a glass-like lake, the Impressionist whirl of colour on a mountain canvas. I instantly feel the magic of the changing seasons, like the warming comfort of a mug of hot chocolate in my hands.
There are many routes from Boston that take in pretty villages, rolling landscapes and more — the country stores, food festivals, art museums and historic landmarks. I’ve also learned that it’s impossible to get sick of apple cider donuts and pumpkin pie in such beautiful surroundings.
For inspiration for your next foliage tour, here are my favourite roads to wander. Just grab a map, pick a winding country road and follow those changing leaves.
Into the West
Flushing Pond, Westford, Mass.
All trips from Ireland begin with a flight to Boston.
My advice: hop straight in the car and head west. My favourite drive is the 63-mile Mohawk Trail (Route 2W), a former Native American trading route. Along this road, you’ll find the historic homes and shopping of Old Deerfield, with its country store, craft fair and Yankee Candle Village. Then there’s the Bridge of Flowers and quaint downtown of Shelburne Falls followed by the cultural riches of the Berkshires.
Arts and culture abound in this stretch of the state, so check out the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCa; massmoca.org) if you need a break from the big outdoors. While you’re here, be sure to visit Sweet Brook Farm (sweetbrookfarm.com), where they sell yarn produced from the resident alpacas and maple syrup is tapped on site. You won’t want to top pancakes with anything else after you’ve tasted this sweet amber nectar, a quintessential New England treat.
Once into the Berkshires, you’re in painter Norman Rockwell’s country. The surroundings are gorgeous, with Mount Greylock dominating the horizon. Pay a visit to Rockwell’s museum in Stockbridge, then dine (and stay) at the Red Lion Inn (redlioninn.com, rooms from $109/€98), which welcomes guests to the rocking chairs on its iconic front porch and dates back to 1773.
Fall foliage in Vermont
I may be a Massachusetts girl, but I also love Vermont.
Numerous scenic byways (on which billboards are banned) offer relaxing drives here — as well as artisan shops and the lure of maple syrup and Vermont cheddar cheese. I love the town of Brattleboro for its brew pubs and antique shops. Up north, the town of Middlebury has a beautiful downtown, historic inns and distilleries to visit.
If you follow the meandering path of Route 100, you’ll enjoy a classic Vermont sampler of farms, markets and endless sugar maples in a riot of hues. Route 106 connects the picturesque town of Reading, home to Jenne Farm, considered the most photographed farm in New England, and the beloved covered bridges of Woodstock.
Next door in New Hampshire, home of the White Mountains and tax-free shopping, there are many routes, but the one that’s the most fun is the Kancamagas Highway (you can call it the Kanc for short). With the only petrol stations at either end, it’s unspoilt nature and leaf-gazing all the way.
Jordan Pond, Acadia National Park
The wilderness of Maine, meanwhile, is where to find the earliest foliage. Its seaside towns and rugged coastline are close to the mountains inland, so you can combine the coastal shops and restaurants of Bar Harbor with nature-gorging in Acadia National Park, for example. Lovers of dramatic sunrises can also climb Mount Cadillac to experience the earliest one possible in the US.
From here, head north and west to Moosehead Lake, well loved for its boating, fishing, camping and the best place for potential moose sightings. Further north, in Baxter State Park, you’ll find plentiful wildlife amid the beauty of Mount Katahdin, the state’s highest peak and northern end of the Appalachian Trail.
Nature is beautiful and unpredictable. We can’t say exactly when the leaves will turn, but that’s a part of the foliage I love — the surprise and sudden bursts of colour that light up the landscape. My top tip for touring New England?
Don’t forget to put the camera down and enjoy the ride.
Foliage season generally runs from late September through October, with the earlier part of October being the most reliable for peak colour. Leaves turn later the further south you go, and the sun sets around 6pm. yankeefoliage.com has more drive suggestions, a foliage map and a leaf-peeper’s app for your smartphone.
Connecticut & Rhode Island
These two states are well able to compete with the four to the north that tend to hog all the foliage glory. In Connecticut, try Route 169 for scenic barns and orchards or take Route 15 (Merritt Parkway) and count the Art Deco bridges. Rhode Island may be tiny and flat, but you can easily combine a foliage drive with the Gilded Age mansions of Newport or dining in Providence.
For little ones
New England’s best autumn activities are perfect for kids: hayrides, petting zoos, corn mazes and fruit picking, not to mention festivals like Pumpkin Fest in Laconia, NH (pumpkinfestival2015.org), featuring a record-setting jack-o-lantern display, pumpkin bowling and fancy dress parade. For year-round fun, try the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA (carlemuseum.org) and Ben & Jerry’s HQ in Waterbury, VT (benjerry.com).
New England is a hub of craft breweries, with most offering tours and tastings; be sure to try the seasonal pumpkin beers. Wine lovers enjoy vineyards set in beautiful locations, like the Hardwick and Nashoba Valley wineries in Massachusetts. For a crafty spirit, southern Maine is a hot spot for old-fashioned artisan distilleries these days.
Where to stay
Sunway (sunway.ie) has an eight-day escorted tour from €2,969pp. Hikers and bikers should try the Mass Central Rail Trail (masscentralrailtrail.org), and be sure to rent a cabin on Moosehead Lake for the wild Maine experience.
Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) operates daily flights to Boston, with October prices from about €595 round-trip including tax. American Holidays (americanholidays.com) has a seven-night self-drive package from €1,269 per person sharing with car hire.