LACE UP YOUR BOOTS FOR A PEAK FALL EXPERIENCE ON THE FRANCONIA RIDGE TRAVERSE.
I get strong waves of ambition this time of year and find myself saying stupid things like “I should do something fall tomorrow.”
When I misinterpret this signal, I can easily find myself waiting in a long line for cider doughnuts, wondering how I thought a cider doughnut and, maybe, the $12 corn maze next door was what I was talking about. But if the whisper hits me right, there’s a decent chance I’ll call a buddy and head for Franconia Ridge.
Of the big, iconic high-summit hikes in the White Mountains that you can pull off as a day trip from Boston, the Franconia Ridge Traverse is one of the easiest to get to, bed to trailhead. It’s just off Interstate 93 north of Lincoln, New Hampshire. Rise early, and you can easily be tying your hiking boots at the base of the ridge as the sun comes up behind the mountains you’re about to summit. That’s one of the reasons it’s so popular; the other is that it is spectacular, famously so in fall.
The centerpiece of the hike is the ridgeline, which runs almost perfectly north to south, all of it above tree line, with huge open views of the White Mountains at their preening best. Each time I’ve gone across Franconia Ridge, it has delivered something grand, even if the star of the show was the weather. One Columbus Day, I set off in 70-degree temperatures at the trailhead and later nearly lost my black dog in a whiteout on the ridge.
The trail traverses three peaks and begins in the parking lot at the Lafayette Place Trailhead with a long, slow climb up to the top of Little Haystack, the toughest stretch of the day. But if the weather is clear, the reward at the top is hard to oversell: the beginning of the ridgeline that you will walk along for nearly 2 miles due north, up and over Mount Lincoln, toward the summit of Mount Lafayette. In the right weather and lighting, the ridgeline can be magic for 360 degrees.
At Lafayette, you begin the trek down on the Greenleaf Trail. A friend once told me that this is the point at which you’re allowed to start talking about what you’re going to eat when you get back to the car, and I believe it is a good rule.
The hike is strenuous but certainly doable if you’re in decent shape and pack smart and read up. There’s nothing too technical. It really is just walking, though it’s amazing how difficult mountains can make that. At 8.9 miles in total, it’s a long, solid effort that will eat up a large chunk of the day (and you’ll, of course, want a headlamp, among many supplies, just in case it’s more).
But when you do start the car, the Woodstock Inn, Station & Brewery (603-745-3951, woodstockinnnh.com) is about 15 minutes down the highway, and they have legit burgers and a brewery that makes an autumn beer that will, in that moment, taste very much like fall.
— Billy Baker
SIX GREAT HIKES IN NEW ENGLAND
1. Mattabesett Blue Trail, Connecticut
Distance: 10.4 miles
This National Scenic Trail takes you up Mount Higby and offers views of wildflowers and the Quinnipiac Valley and is accessible from April until October. Walk along the Metacomet Ridge — prehistoric ocean floor plates and volcanic basalt — at the summit.
2. Chimney Pond Trail, Maine
Distance: 11 miles
Located on Mount Katahdin, the highest peak in Maine, the trail affords great views of Baxter State Park and Chimney Pond and is accessible from May until October. Stay the night at the campground, equipped with outhouses and a 10-person bunkhouse.
3. West Middlesex Fells Reservation Bike Loop, Massachusetts
Distance: 6.7 miles
Located close to Boston, this easy hike is a perfect way to escape the city. The trail features an observation tower with great skyline views as well as brooks, wooden bridges, and beautiful views of the lake.
4. Mount Major Trail, New Hampshire
Distance: 3.8 miles
This popular loop is heavily trafficked, and for good reason: Views of Lake Winnipesaukee and the ruins of an old stone hut make this a perfect trail for humans and dogs alike. In season, blueberries can be found growing at the summit, but not in the fall unfortunately.
5. Tillinghast Pond Loop, Rhode Island
Distance: 2.3 miles
For hikers of all abilities, this short loop is used for hiking, walking, trail running, and birding, and it features an observation deck that juts out over the pond and has many benches. Hundred-year-old hayfields, still in use, can be seen from the trail.
6. Mt. Philo Trail, Vermont
Distance: 2.7 miles
This baby mountain in Vermont is great for those looking for a quick hike and scenic views. At 2.7 miles, the trail takes you to a beautiful summit with breathtaking vistas, yet it’s located close to Burlington for easy access. Mount Philo is Vermont’s oldest state park, opening in 1924. — Marisa Dellatto
COLOR WHEELS: THREE SPECTACULAR BIKE RIDES IN BRUNSWICK, MAINE
To my mind, there’s no comparison: The autumn foliage near Boston comes nowhere close to the breathtaking forests of Maine. To appreciate this difference, why not take your bike and head to Brunswick for the day? On the coast, 30 miles north of Portland, the town is a cyclist’s paradise, with well-paved roads traversing the surrounding woods, farmlands, and coastline. Here are three routes to try:
1. Quick Trip to the Bay | 8 miles
To get out into the countryside and glimpse the coast, follow Maine Street south past Bowdoin College, veering right onto Maquoit Road after about a mile. Another 2 miles on, you’ll come to Wharton Point, a breathtaking vantage on Maquoit Bay. After a quick hill, head back to Brunswick on Woodside Road to Church Road, a flat route dotted with farmhouses.
2. The Long(er) Way Home | 19 miles
Extend your ride from Wharton Point and take a left onto Bunganuc Road until it turns into Flying Point Road and hooks right. This hilly loop passes through conservation land and forested hunting grounds, the road lined with tall evergreens mixed into the dramatic palette of birch, beech, and oak. (If you have the energy, take a left on Wolfe’s Neck Road and dip down a couple of miles to Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park for a peek at Casco Bay.) Return to Brunswick via a right turn onto Pleasant Hill Road, which is part of the East Coast Greenway.
3. Point Taken | 15 miles
Ride out to Mere Point for a particularly flat, kid-friendly jaunt. Take Maine Street south from downtown and turn left onto Mere Point Road after about a mile. It’s a straight, tree-lined shot to Mere Point Boat Launch or Paul’s Marina, where you can grab an ice cream and gaze at the tree-covered islands across the bay. Back in Brunswick, reward yourself with a slice of quiche Lorraine or spinach and feta quiche at Wild Oats Bakery & Cafe (207-725-6287, wildoatsbakery.com) or a lobster roll at Libby’s Market (207-729-7277).
Brunswick, Maine, is a two-hour drive from Boston, or three hours by Amtrak’s Downeaster train from North Station (1-800-872-7245, amtrakdowneaster.com).
Amtrak allows bikes on certain trips for a fee, so check the schedule before buying tickets.
If you’d rather rent your wheels, there are two shops near Brunswick Station: Gorham Bike and Ski (207-725-1100, gorhambike.com) and Center Street Cycles (207-729-5309, centerstreetcycles.com). Both encourage calling ahead and are closed on Sundays.
— Shawn Musgrave