New England

Where to View the Best Fall Foliage in New England

by Sarah Lamagna
Updated November 28, 2021

Where to View the Best Fall Foliage in New England
Photo: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

Leaf peepin’ is a cultural pastime in the Northeast. So grab your flannel and your Dunkin’ coffee, and head up to New England for a classic autumn experience.

One of the best things about autumn in New England is how long it lasts. Unlike with the Pacific Northwest’s larch trees or Colorado’s famed aspens, New England’s trees change over the course of six weeks, or sometimes longer depending on weather and rainfall. Colors usually start changing in northern Maine by late September and last — at least in the southern coastal areas — through mid-November.

Fortunately, there are hundreds of drives and hikes for guests who want to view the region’s famous fall colors. And as a bonus, many of those hikes and drives pass jaw-dropping mountain backdrops and travel through picturesque covered-bridges and quaint small towns.

I’ve lived in many places throughout my 30-something years, including British Columbia, the Adirondacks, and Colorado, all destinations unique and incredible in their own way come fall. But nothing can compare to New England’s fall colors and the endless hues of reds, oranges, purples, and yellows. For the best fall foliage in New England, read on.

Related Read: 6 Free Camping Spots in Vermont

New England Fall Foliage: Where and When

Folks, climate change is real and unfortunately brings with it droughts and extreme weather. That can drastically change when the peak viewing times are each year, as well as how vibrant the colors are. If it’s an unusually dry summer, fall colors will peak earlier than normal. So book those quaint B&Bs with that in mind.

As far as where to begin your journey through New England’s best fall foliage, go with Maine. Northern Maine (and New Hampshire’s Great North Woods) are where fall colors first start to appear in early October. From Maine, head inland to central Vermont and the Green Mountains, the Lakes Region in New Hampshire, and the Berkshires in Massachusetts. Late-season fall colors are usually in the more southern states including Connecticut and Rhode Island, but also in coastal areas of Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.

The Best Fall Foliage in Maine

1. Baxter State Park

Baxter State Park
Photo: Paul Tessier / Shutterstock

Why you should go: To view an endless sea of colors from the top of Maine.

  • Location: Millinocket
  • Peak foliage: Mid-September to early October

There are over 200,000 acres of pure wilderness within Baxter State Park, including Maine’s highest peak. Mount Katahdin might signal the end of the Appalachian Trail, but it also marks the beginning of your fall foliage marathon throughout New England. The trail isn’t for the faint of heart and is known for being steep and challenging. Autumn is notorious for quickly-changing weather conditions and potential snowstorms, so keep an eye out and pack a rain layer if you go. But from the top, the views are incredible.

If your legs aren’t up for the trek to the top, you won’t be hurting for hiking options at lower elevations within the park, which also pass some of New England’s best fall foliage.

2. Town of Bethel

Town of Bethel
Photo: Albert Pego / Shutterstock

Why you should go: For the best secret spots to see fall colors on foot. 

  • Location: Bethel
  • Peak foliage: Late September to early October

The western interior of Maine is quite close to White Mountain National Forest, which is usually overrun with visitors from out of town. The small town of Bethel, however, has fabulous views of Whites without the hordes of tourists. The town is a great basecamp as it’s easy to access to several perfect fall foliage spots within Grafton Notch State Park. To make it easy on you: the best ones are Gulf Hagas, Mother Walker Falls, Screw Auger Falls, and Moose Cave.

Related Read: The 14 Best Places to Visit in October in the U.S.

3. Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park
Photo: Shutterstock

Why you should go: For rocky cliffs and stormy seas against a backdrop of brilliant colors.

  • Location: Bar Harbor
  • Peak foliage: Mid-to-late October

Nowhere represents the Maine aesthetic more than Acadia National Park. There’s a reason the region was snatched up by the U.S. Park Service, forever protecting it for future generations. The visuals are stunning: imagine the windblown Atlantic Ocean crashing into rugged and unforgiving cliffs. It’s lovely in photos, but nothing compares to seeing it in real life.

And fortunately, Acadia is also home to some of the best fall foliage in New England. Seeing the bright colors of autumn foliage against the already striking landscape is truly something to behold. For the best views from the best hikes, head out on the Precipice Trail or watch the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain.

Related Read: 12 Best National Parks to Visit in October

The Best Fall Foliage in New Hampshire

4. The Great North Woods

Great North Woods
Photo: Jeff Holcombe / Shutterstock

Why you should go: For the best chances at viewing amazing fall colors and amazingly large moose.

  • Location: Colebrook, Columbia, or Pittsburg (among others)
  • Peak foliage: Late September to early October

If wildlife is what you’re after, look no further than New Hampshire’s Great North Woods. The woods’ remoteness both keeps the crowds at bay and encourages wildlife to freely roam. Unlike the White Mountains’ rocky terrain, the Great North Woods encompasses hundreds of thousands of acres of forests with wetlands dotted between. It’s an ideal habitat for moose and other wildlife, which thrive in the area. Due to its size, you might not get a chance to see the entirety of the Great North Woods, so if you’re limited on time, prioritize the route along Moose Alley.

5. The Kancamagus Highway

Kancamagus Highway
Photo: Shutterstock

Why you should go: For unique, fun pit stops through the beautiful White Mountain National Forest.

  • Location: North Conway to Lincoln
  • Peak foliage: Early to mid-October

Don’t expect a secluded drive on the Kancamagus Highway, especially on weekends. The Kank, as the locals call it, attracts thousands of visitors and hundreds of tour buses annually. And for good reason: the drive itself is absolutely stunning and the pull-offs along the way are even better. Some of the best spots to stop are Sabbaday Falls, Lower Falls, Rocky Gorge, or the Pemigewasset and Sugar Hill overlooks.

Related Read: 10 Best Places to Visit in the Fall Across the U.S.

6. The Lakes Region

The Lakes Region
Photo: Wangkun Jia / Shutterstock

Why you should go: For twice the color: fall foliage on land and reflected in the water.

  • Location: Meredith and Wolfeboro (among others)
  • Peak foliage: Mid-to-late October

Say farewell to kayaking and canoe season in the best way possible: with a float along one of central New Hampshire’s many lakes. The lakes are an easy subject for novice or expert photographers, thanks in part to the vibrancy of the leaves on the still water. Early mornings usually bring a crisp fog that never quite hits the water’s surface, creating an eerily beautiful sensation across the ripples. But even the fog can’t drown out the saturated hues of the hardwood trees that circle most of the lakes in the region. Bring a wide-angle lens (and a warm jacket if you’re doing a morning paddle).

Related read: 10 Things to Do in the Fall in New Hampshire

The Best Fall Foliage in Vermont

7. Town of Montgomery

Town of Montgomery
Photo: Joshua Lehew / Shutterstock

Why you should go: More covered bridges than you can count on one hand.

  • Location: Montgomery
  • Peak foliage: Mid-to-late September

Okay — maybe there aren’t more covered bridges than you can count technically, but the town of Montgomery is the Covered Bridge capital of Vermont, so you’ll at least need two hands. The town earns the title due to the six covered bridges within city limits, plus the one the border with nearby Enosburg.

Decades ago, there were actually 13 covered bridges, built over the town’s many streams and rivers, but some have been replaced with more modern bridges. Montgomery also tops many of the lists of best fall foliage towns in New England, so don’t skip this one — and don’t forget to grab some apple cider (or an apple cider donut) from the Montgomery Place Orchards farm stand.

8. Mad River Byway

Mad River Byway
Photo: Shutterstock

Why you should go: To cruise through quaint villages and experience the definition of small-town charm.

  • Location: Middlesex to Warren
  • Peak foliage: Late September to early October

The Mad River Byway is one of the most scenic byways in the Green Mountain State and shouldn’t be missed if passing through in the fall. As you follow the Mad River along Route 100, you’ll pass cute towns like Waitsfield, Warren, Moretown, and more. Come fall, each town turns into a beautiful autumnal wonderland, with stunning backdrops of foliage against churches, memorials, historic buildings, and red barns. Give yourself plenty of time to make pit stops since it’ll take you the whole day to complete the 39 miles. It’s not a drive you want to rush.

9. The Shires of Vermont Byway

The Shires of Vermont Byway
Photo: Shutterstock

Why you should go: To search for hobbits fall foliage in southern Vermont.

  • Location: Manchester to Bennington
  • Peak foliage: Mid-to-late October

No, this isn’t that Shire (any “Lord of the Rings” fans out there?), but it might as well be. The surrounding forest along the drive looks like it may be hiding a hobbit or two, but one thing it won’t be hiding is fall foliage. The vibrant autumn colors are easy to spot.

The Shires region is in southwestern Vermont along the historic route 7A. You’ll pass through 17 towns along the way, and each is worthy of a stop over. Be sure to make a stop at Bennington’s 306-foot-tall Bennington Battle Monument. You can see views for miles of the Green Mountain National Forest from the top.

The Best Fall Foliage in Massachusetts

10. Mohawk Trail

Mohawk Trail
Photo: Nina Alizada / Shutterstock

Why you should go: A relaxing drive through the heart of the Berkshire Mountains.

  • Location: North Adams
  • Peak foliage: Early-to-mid October

The road along the Mohawk Trail used to be a busy trade route for the Indigenous communities that called this area home. It’s now a 63-mile scenic route through the Berkshire counties of Massachusetts. The best place to get out of your car is at the Mohawk Trail State Forest in Charlemont. It’s where you’ll find the state’s largest old-growth forest, filled with maple, birch, beech, and ash trees. It’s the perfect recipe for a New England fall foliage-viewing roadtrip.

11. Route 6A

Route 6A
Photo: Shutterstock

Why you should go: Tour fall foliage in beachside towns without the summer crowds.

  • Location: Sagamore to Brewster
  • Peak foliage: Mid-to-late October

Cape Cod is a tourist destination in the summer, but it’s a seaside dream in the fall. Take Route 6A from the Sagamore Bridge (which crosses over the Cape Code Canal) to reach some of New England’s best fall foliage towns, including the Cape’s oldest: Sandwich. When you get to Brewster, make sure to check out Nickerson State Park. You can bike the Cape Cod Rail Trail or take an easy walk along one of the many trails past the area’s ponds.

The Best Fall Foliage in Connecticut

12. Gillette Castle State Park

Gillette Castle State Park
Photo: Alexey Stiop / Shutterstock

Why you should go: See fall foliage against the backdrop of a legitimate historical castle.

  • Location: Lyme
  • Peak foliage: Mid-October to early November

It might be the birthplace of a tick-borne disease, but the town of Lyme also has some good things going for it, including the historic Gillette Castle. The medieval-looking marvel sits atop the “Seventh Sister” hill (there are six others along the mountain chain). It was built by the actor, director, and playwright William Hooker Gillette.

The state purchased the estate in 1943 as Gillette himself wanted. He knew how beautiful the grounds and home were and even put in his will that he didn’t want the land controlled by “some blithering saphead who has no conception of where he is or with what surrounded.”  And it’s true. The land surrounding the castle is quite beautiful, especially when the surrounding acreage turns orange and red. You can tour the castle on select weekends in the fall, which is a nice offering for non-hikers or history buffs. Just make sure you’re not one of those “blithering sapheads” that doesn’t know true beauty when you see it.

13. Litchfield Hills Region

Litchfield Hills Region
Photo: Jennifer Yakey-Ault / Shutterstock

Why you should go: It’s where you’ll find the “mountains” of Connecticut (and a pretty nice waterfall).

  • Location: New Milford to North Canaan
  • Peak foliage: Mid-to-late October

Take a drive along Route 7 in Connecticut’s northwestern region along the Housatonic River. The road is lined with rolling hills and dense, hardwood forests. You can stop and stretch your legs at one of the many natural wonders along the route including Pond Mountain Natural Area or Kent Falls State Park, neither of which is ever too crowded (at least by New England fall foliage standards).

The route is also somewhat known for it’s quirky antique shops, so consider making a few stops if you like vintage items. It’s actually part of the Connecticut Antique Trail, which has maps and suggested routes passing the best stores.

The Best Fall Foliage in Rhode Island

14. Blithewold Mansion, Gardens, and Arboretum

Blithewold Mansion, Gardens, and Arboretum
Photo: blithewold.org

Why you should go: Massive gardens in a tiny state not exactly known for endless forests.

  • Location: Bristol
  • Peak foliage: Mid-to-late October

Built by the Van Wickles, a wealthy Rhode Island couple who were both born into money and made even more money in coal, the Blithewold Mansion, Gardens, and Arboretum is a perfect place to take in the fall colors. The historical home dates to the 1890s and is open for tours.

Be sure to spend time in the arboretum. It’s incredible year-round, but especially in the fall. The former owners planted exotic trees well-loved by visitors for decades. Stone fountains dot the grounds and the incredible architecture will make you feel as if you’re in a Jane Austen novel. The bright fall foliage scattered across the property’s 33 acres is just the icing on the cake.

15. Blackstone Valley

Blackstone Valley
Photo: Mike Fig / Shutterstock

Why you should go: Take your pick between hiking, biking, and kayaking beneath fall foliage.

  • Location: North of Providence
  • Peak foliage: Mid-to-late October

There are no shortages of natural areas offering spectacular fall colors in and around Blackstone Valley, in the northern part Rhode Island. There isn’t an exact route to take; it’s more of a region you can explore at your leisure. The region is recognized as the “birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution” but is now known for its plethora of outdoor recreation opportunities.

Lincoln Woods State Park has 627 acres of forests and trails ranging from family-friendly to heart-pumping. You can look for wildlife in the 2,000-acre reserve at Buck Hill Management Area, or kayak along the Blackstone River in the Canal Heritage State Park. There are plenty of ways to see fall foliage in the area without having to do any long road trips.

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