The splendor of New England in autumn hasn’t escaped the world. While they hit the typical fall color routes — Hello, Vermont’s Route 100 and the Mohawk Trail — there are plenty of places just as worthy but much less traveled in the fall. Bonus: These little burgs offer a plethora of seasonal events that will make the trip more festive. Here are a few places that we think are even better after Labor Day.
If you carve it, they will come
Beguiling as Chatham is in summertime, with its award-winning Main Street and beach-y vibe, this Cape Cod town turns playful in October. Kate Gould Park is taken over by pumpkin people from Oct. 19-29 — we’re talking pumpkin-headed pirates, pilgrims, Minions, you-name-it, designed by local businesses, organizations, and residents. You’re sure to get some inspiration for DIY jack-o-lantern creation. Love an oompah band and all things Oktoberfest? Plan your trip for October 26, when Chatham gets its German on, with music, a beer trailer, German fare, old-fashioned games, and a performance by Chatham’s very own town band. www.chathammerchants.com.
Stay: The fun keeps coming at the Chatham Bars Inn, even if there’s a chill in the air. Activities on tap include cooking school (with produce from the resort’s own farm), fly-fishing school with Orvis-endorsed instructors, and spa treatments (the Cranberry Crush, with locally-sourced fruit, is perfect for fall.) The outdoor fire pit at the South Lounge is a popular spot in autumn. www.chathambarsinn.com. Rates from $499.
Meanwhile, in Wellfleet . . .
Pumpkins, schmumpkins! Oysters take center stage in Wellfleet — even farther down the Cape — this fall. The town’s big, bivalve-themed bash, Wellfleet Oyster Fest, happens annually on the weekend after Columbus Day (Oct. 19 and 20 this year) along Main Street. These briny beauties taste of the sea in the best possible way; this is your chance to try them raw, stuffed, fried, frittered, in chowder, and on a stick dipped in chocolate and jimmies. (OK, maybe not that last one.) Not into oysters? They’ll be serving non-seafood fare as well, along with art exhibits, local music, and their signature event, the Oyster Shuck Off. www.wellfleetspat.org. Had your fill of oysters? Head to lovely, dune-backed LeCount Hollow Beach, or rent a bike and take in the glories of fall along the Cape Cod Rail Trail.
Stay: We know, a motel on Route 6 doesn’t sound too promising. But the Even’tide Resort Motel & Cottages (www.eventidemotel.com) backs onto five wooded acres, so it’s quieter than you’d expect, and it’s within walking distance of Marconi Beach. Motel rooms (from $159 per night) and A-frame cottages ($212) are clean and comfy. (Note: Two-night minimum applies.)
An off-the-beaten-path fall color tour (yes, they exist)
You won’t be sharing the road with busloads of leaf-peeping tourists if you head way up around Maine’s Moosehead Lake. You may encounter a few Mainers though — they know that far-northerly locales tend to have more vibrant, longer-lasting fall color. Located about six hours north of Boston, Moosehead is blanketed in a quilt of russet leaves come autumn. The contrast of ruby and gold foliage with the deep blue of 40-mile Moosehead Lake is a painter’s (or Instagrammer’s) dream. Towns like Greenville have a cool outdoorsy vibe even after the crowds of boaters and fisherfolk have decamped for the season, and the best restaurants, such as The Quarry, in Monson, remain open, with seasonal menus. So grab those chunky sweaters and fleece layers, and do some of those sporty things you meant to do in the summer but didn’t get around to doing. Such as: Paddle on Maine’s largest lake, hike Mount Kineo, take a float plane tour, ride The Kate steamboat, or go on a moose-watching safari. www.destinationmooseheadlake.com.
Stay: You can go fancy, at, say the Greenville Inn at Moosehead Lake, a restored c. 1890 lumber baron’s mansion listed on the National Register of Historic Places (www.greenvilleinn.com; from $194; rooms in the mansion, suites, and cottages), or go casual, at Kineo View Lodge (www.kineoview.com), a family-owned lodge with excellent views from your private balcony (from $109).
Camden, minus the crowds, plus art
Seaport towns don’t get much cuter than Camden, Maine, which explains why this midcoast locale is slammed with tourists all summer long. Around Labor Day or so, poof! They vanish, leaving charming Camden (and lovely neighbors Rockport and Rockland) for the rest of us to enjoy. The Camden Hills provide a colorful backdrop for your visit; even better, climb or drive up Mount Battie and enjoy the lofty, Crayola-hued vistas. Back in the village, knock around Camden’s shops and galleries and inviting Harbor Park (it even has a little waterfall, and a rolling green hill that kids love to roll down). www.camdenrockland.com.
Stay: The AAA four-diamond rated Samoset Resort wins loads of awards (recently, Best Hotel/Resort for 2019 by the readers of Down East magazine), thanks to its plush digs, long list of amenities, and oceanfront setting. After the family crowd has headed back to school, fall brings couples and golfers, who wander down the jetty to the lighthouse, dig into lobster bisque in the tavern, and enjoy the golden sunlight on a lounge chair-with-a-view. www.samosetresort.com; from $289.
It’s the great pumpkinfest, Charlie Brown!
Yes, we’re getting a little heavy on Maine here, but how could we omit the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest & Regatta? C’mon, these people race hollowed-out 700-pound pumpkins, and do a 180-foot pumpkin drop with a crane. Held on Columbus Day weekend, Oct. 12-14, this beloved event draws as many as 15,000 visitors to tiny Damariscotta (pop. 2,000-something), on Maine’s midcoast. An ode to the Atlantic Giant Pumpkin and the agricultural science required to grow it, the Pumpkinfest began in 2006 and has evolved to include a Giant Pumpkin Parade featuring the winning pumpkin (a.k.a. the largest fruit in the state of Maine), a Pumpkin soapbox-style Derby, a Pumpkinboat regatta (people race hollowed-out giant pumpkins powered by motors or paddles on the Damariscotta River), a pumpkin dessert contest, a pumpkin pie eating contest, and a display of 65-plus carved and decorated pumpkins along Main Street — not to mention the giant pumpkin drop. Nothing says “Fall Fun” like punkin’ chunkin’! It takes a crop of 400 volunteers to pull this off. www.mainepumpkinfest.com.
Stay: Your best bet is Boothbay Harbor, about 14 miles away. There, you’ll find several inns and B&Bs; we like Bayberry Houses Bed & Breakfast (www.bayberryhousemaine.com; from $189), a c.1886 property with four guest rooms and two suites.
A deserted beach, a glass of wine . . .
There’s bustling, yacht-y Newport, and then there’s the seaside farming community of Little Compton. Bordered by the Sakonnet River on one side and Massachusetts on the other, Little Compton is the definition of bucolic New England countryside. Seventeenth-century buildings add grace to the village, amid a landscape of stone walls and farmstands. Don’t see what you’re looking for at the farmstands and pick-your-own farms? Try C. W. Wilbur General Store (c.1893); they carry everything from clothing to condiments. On the same block in Little Compton’s tiny town center is The Commons Lunch, a misnomer since the diner also serves lunch until dinnertime. (For breakfast, order the johnnycakes.) Best souvenir we saw (at the diner): A T-shirt that reads “Straight Outta Little Compton.” Wine lovers find their way to Carolyn’s Sakonnet Winery, the oldest winery in the state, for a tasting. But the signature experience here, at its absolute best in the fall, is a walk along Goosewing Beach Preserve, owned by The Nature Conservancy. You’ll park at South Shore Beach, the town beach, and keep walking, crossing a small creek to the preserve. In autumn, it’s likely to be just you, a few hardy surfers, and a smattering of shorebirds. www.littlecomptonri.org.
Stay: Spring for the Stone House, a 2.7-acre historical property situated on Sakonnet Point. Once the private home of a Civil War hero, the c.1854 manor house was converted to an inn in the 1920s. A $12 million renovation brought it into the present; 14 guest rooms. From $200; www.newportexperience.com.