Look out, Vermont Route 100, the Mohawk Trail, and the Kancamagus: The leaf peepers are coming. Color-worshippers tend to choose the same routes year after year, in spite of the fact that New England is awash in color. Even traveling souls like us are guilty of taking the same photos of the same sugar maples every single year. Don’t let this happen to you!
Here’s a look at the places that the leaf peeping hordes haven’t discovered yet, as shared by local tourism folks. Because, frankly, bumper-to-bumper traffic isn’t exactly scenic. (Warning: You may have to hop into a gondola or a kayak to experience these off-the-beaten-path locales.)
When it comes to fall color, the Green Mountain State is an Instagrammer’s dream of white-steepled churches and rustic farmhouses juxtaposed with fiery foliage. Alas, there are no secret scenic spots here — or are there? Caleigh Cross of the Vermont Department of Tourism & Marketing was kind enough to share some less-known (but gorgeous) locales. “Groton State Forest is a beautiful drive, rich with the bright colors of the season,” she notes. Comprising more than 26,000 acres, the forest (https://fpr.vermont.gov/groton-state-forest) is home to seven state parks, located within the towns of Danville, Groton, Marshfield, Orange, Peacham, Plainfield, and Topsham. The color-drenched forest is dotted with eight lakes and ponds, and features unique environments like Peacham Bog Natural Area. Roads, fire lookouts, and picnic shelters were built by the Civilian Conservations Corps during the Great Depression. A bonus: “Groton is close to Montpelier and Barre, both historic downtowns with lots to offer in terms of arts, culture, and food,” Cross notes.
Runner-up: Vermont’s Route 15 stretches from Danville to Winooski, making it a great roadway for exploring the state’s lushly forested Northeast Kingdom. Route 15 runs near the pretty, tourist-friendly towns of Stowe and Waterbury, Cross adds.
Or consider this: Head north on US Route 5 to Lake Willoughby in Westmore (Northeast Kingdom). “The fjord-like lake is tucked into the mountains, with breathtaking foliage views,” Cross says. Hike Mount Pisgah or Mount Hor, alongside the lake, for views of distant, color-dappled peaks, or rent a kayak and paddle the lake, one of New England’s most enchanting settings. www.VermontVacation.com
Surprise! You don’t need to head into Maine’s western mountains to see fine fall foliage. “People think they need to head inland or north, but the southern Maine coast is delightfully, unexpectedly colorful,” says Steve Lyons, director of the Maine Office of Tourism. The region is more famous for its beaches than its fall color, “but if you were to start in York Village and head west and north to Mount Agamenticus, you’d enjoy a great drive and see beautiful scenery,” including color-drenched views from the top of the 692-foot mountain. Seaside towns lined with old homes and mature trees offer as much New England charm as one can handle, and exploring is more relaxed in autumn, after the summer tourist crowd has decamped.
Runners-up: A river runs through it — fall foliage, that is. Lyons recommends following the Saco River on local roads from Saco up to Fryeburg. Take in seaside communities of Saco and Biddeford, winding through historic small towns like Salmon Falls and Cornish, en route to the outdoorsy burgs of Brownfield, Hiram, and Fryeburg. Plan time for a hike on 1,232-foot Mount Cutler in Hiram, for glorious lofty views. Another option: Travel up the 109-mile Penobscot River from Bangor to Millinocket, as Henry David Thoreau did in 1846 (he also climbed 5,269-foot Mount Katahdin — not required!) www.visitmaine.com
Or consider this: the Amtrak Downeaster. Skip the driving (even if that means missing Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen at the service plaza!) and settle into a cushy seat for a 3-hour, 25-minute journey from Boston’s North Station to Brunswick, Maine. Stops include Old Orchard Beach, Freeport, and Portland. From $30 round-trip. www.amtrak.com
The Kancamagus (NH Route 112) is a popular route, but (psst!) you can take the less-used Bear Notch Road and still enjoy colorful vistas while bypassing traffic in Conway and North Conway. This tip comes from Sabastian Wee of Drive Brand Studio, representing the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce. Heading toward Bartlett, you’ll go past Bear Notch Road View and Attitash Trailhead on this two-lane country road, which eventually becomes Albany Avenue before it reaches Bartlett and the White Mountain Trail (NH Route 302.) Take a left on Route 302 toward Crawford Notch, a major pass through the White Mountains. Consider a stop at 5,775-acre Crawford Notch State Park (www.nhstateparks.org) to stretch your legs — the hiking is first-rate for every level.
Runner-up: Running between Glen and North Conway, West Side Road is another of Wee’s favorite fall routes. Get off at Passaconaway Road to drive alongside the Swift River, Red Eagle Brook, and Red Eagle Pond, with a backdrop of autumn hues. “The road will take you past Boulder Loop, which then pops you out onto the Kanc,” says Wee.
Or consider this: A ride on Omni Mount Washington Resort’s gondola to the beautiful new Rosebrook Lodge. A ride in the eight-passenger gondola may well be the most enjoyable 12 minutes you spend this fall, as you take in the White Mountains drenched in autumnal hues. Yes, it’s a bit of a haul to get to Bretton Woods, so plan to spend some time at the resort, the better to enjoy the food and views of Rosebrook Lodge. Available through Oct. 11. www.omnihotels.com/hotels/bretton-woods-mount-washington; www.mtwashingtonvalley.org.
The Berkshires get all the love, but the north-central region of Massachusetts is a worthy destination when it comes to fall color. Ryan Murphy, marketing manager of Visit North Central Massachusetts, directed us to a couple of spots that will make color-seekers swoon with joy. The largely undeveloped Tully River Valley (think Royalston, Athol, and Orange), is a great destination for active foliage fans thanks to myriad options for hiking, biking, and paddling. For vivid color views, he recommends the 4.5-mile foot trail around 200-acre Tully Lake in Royalston, and the 7.5-mile option for mountain biking and hiking that runs adjacent to Long Pond. Access the trails via Tully Lake Recreation Area on Route 32, and Tully Lake Campground, at 25 Doane Hill Road in Royalston, managed by the Trustees of Reservations (thetrustees.org/place/tully-lake-campground).
Runner-up: Another Trustees property, Jacob’s Hill Reservation, wins major points from Murphy for its panoramic westerly views across the Tully Valley. The woodsy hike up Jacob’s Hill, a segment of the 22-mile Tully Trail, offers two ledges with stunning views of Tully Mountain, Mount Grace, and the Berkshire Hills. Peer down to see Long Pond and the east branch of the Tully River. A highlight: views of cascading 150-foot Spirit Falls (thetrustees.org/place/jacobs-hill/; www.visitnorthcentral.com).
Or consider this: Looking for a late-season splash of color? Consider Martha’s Vineyard. Nancy Gardella of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce says it’s the real deal. Local color-changers include red maples, beetlebungs (a local name for tupelo), sumac, sassafras, and hickory. Blueberry and huckleberry bushes, found in the heathlands, turn red in autumn too. “Foliage comes later to the Vineyard than the rest of Massachusetts,” she notes, typically, late October into early November. Top spots for color include the Menemsha Hills, the island’s south shore, and Long Point Reservation. Plus, “One of the lesser-known things about the island is the amazing network of walking, biking, and hiking trails that make leaf-peeping so much fun,” Gardella adds, recommending that Vineyard-bound foliage watchers download TRAILSMV (sheriffsmeadow.org/trailsmv-app/), a free app that reveals the island’s pristine trails. www.mvy.com
Looking for a jolt of leafy splendor in the Ocean State? The Blackstone Valley is the go-to zone. Visitors can expect to see maple, chestnut, red oak, white birch, and evergreen trees, says Dr. Bob Billington, president and CEO of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council. “The color palette is endless.” Skip the car and experience it by cycling or walking along the 11-mile Blackstone River Bikeway (tourblackstone.com/blackstone-river-bikeway/); it skirts the river and the Blackstone Canal in Cumberland, Lincoln, and Woonsocket. Or get right onto the water in a kayak or canoe. Blackstone River Expeditions Kayak Rentals (www.rivertourblackstone.com) offers rentals on Sundays through October, so guests can enjoy DIY fall foliage paddling tours. www.blackstonevalleytourismcouncil.org
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com