Festival attendin’, waterfall chasin’, scenic drivin’, and train ridin’ are just a few of the activities that await you in New Hampshire in the fall.
Flannel shirts and floppy hats are encouraged but never a requirement while touring New Hampshire in the fall. Honestly, there’s not one “best time to visit” since all seasons are incredible in New England. But there is something magical about being in the Granite State in the autumn. You won’t understand how vast the color spectrum is until you’ve seen the changing leaves throughout the state.
And you won’t fathom the amount of things to do in the fall, either. Perhaps you’re a fan of colonial history? Or a lover of wildlife? Or perhaps an artist looking for inspiration? Doesn’t matter — you’ll find so many things to do in New Hampshire in the fall season that you can theme your trip around whatever hobbies and interests you like.
Side note: if seeing the vibrant, fall colors is what you’re after, make sure to hit up these ten spots before you do anything else. Then start checking off the list below of the best things to do in New Hampshire in the fall as you make your way around the state.
Related Read: Where to View the Best Fall Foliage in New England
1. Drive the “Kank”
If you’re looking for the classic fall colors that draw travelers to New Hampshire by the thousands, don’t mess around: head straight to the Kank. Grab your keys, a pumpkin spice latte, and your best wool sweater and head up to White Mountain National Forest. Just before the town of Conway (or Lincoln, depending which road you take north), you’ll turn onto Route 112, otherwise known as the Kancamagus Highway.
The locals call it “the Kank” (rhymes with “bank”) and it’s the quintessential scenic drive not just in New Hampshire, but really in all of New England. The 34.5-mile paved road brings you up and over mountain passes, along the cascades of the Swift River, and through iconic New England hardwood forests. If you’re not near that part of the state, there are several other good scenic drives throughout New Hampshire.
Pro tip: Go early in the morning on a weekday. The colors are bursting as the sun tips over the mountains and there aren’t nearly as many tourists. If you go midday on a weekend, well, hope you like crowds.
Related Read: The Top 10 Best Campgrounds in New Hampshire
2. Chase Some Waterfalls
It’s hard to choose from the plethora of waterfalls scattered throughout the Granite State. Even in the fall when there’s no snowmelt, New Hampshire’s cascades are flowing thanks to frequent autumn rainfall. On that note, bring a rain jacket. New Hampshire’s autumn weather is always changing hour to hour, even if there’s not a cloud in the sky at the start.
Sabbaday Falls is a quick hike with big payoff, plus a section that meanders along a picturesque wooden walkway. But be warned: it’s a popular hike. A 160-foot plunge makes Arethusa Falls the tallest single cascade in New England, and both Glen Ellis Falls and the magical Cloudland Falls are quite beautiful for photographers. But if you’re after the best place to view waterfalls, head to the dramatic Flume Gorge, where the narrow canyon’s towering cliffs put on quite the show of nature’s force.
Pro tip: Many of these things to do in New Hampshire in the fall, waterfall viewing included, are actually the best on rainy days. Tourists will be at a minimum and the cloudy skies provide the perfect conditions for colors popping in photos. Just be careful of slippery and muddy rocks.
Related Read: 9 Must-See Waterfalls in Maine You Can Hike To
3. Go Exploring for Moose
Head on up to Moose Alley in the Great North Woods of northern New Hampshire (near the Canadian border) for the best potential to see some moose. One of the best things to do in New Hampshire in the fall is look for the moose in Dixville Notch State Park (though it’s rutting season, so watch out).
You’ll also want to take the short and steep walk to Table Rock overlooking the valley below for some epic views from above. The views are unparalleled, especially on a crisp, clear autumn morning. Avoid this area if it’s rained a lot recently as the trail is known for heavy mud.
Related Read: The 14 Best Places to Visit in October in the U.S.
4. Find a Little Magic Under a Covered Bridge
When you think of New Hampshire in the fall, what do you picture? Most likely, it’s a river landscape with red, orange, and yellow hues covering the bank. Perhaps there’s a covered bridge in the background? Well, good news: New Hampshire has that in spades.
Many people flock to New Hampshire for the many covered bridges, and the best way to view the historic sites is by taking a drive along the Currier & Ives Scenic Byway. The road is named after artists Nathaniel Currier and James Merritt Ives, both of whom painted several famous scenes along this stretch in the 1800s. If you’re feeling artistically inclined, consider taking on suggestion number five below.
Related Read: 11 Best Places to Snowshoe in New Hampshire
5. Take a Stab at Plein Air Painting at Artist Bluff
There are plenty of walking paths in the White Mountain state, but some have views particularly well-suited to autumn visits. One such view is at the end of the short hike to Artist Bluff. Because it’s near the Franconia Highway and relatively easy hike, Artist Bluff Trail is popular, especially in the fall. But since it’s short, that also makes it easy to carry up your painting supplies or a gourmet picnic. It’s only .75 miles to the summit.
The hardwood forests blanketing the landscape will leave you speechless and hopefully inspire some creativity. Bring your own art supplies as there aren’t too many stores near the park. Consider building your own “tiny art” kit if you’re short on space in your backpack.
Pro tip: Do this at sunrise — you won’t regret it.
6. Check Out What Remains of a Castle
Bring your Elsa dress or perhaps a sword to slay the dragon (metaphorically; don’t actually bring a weapon) to Madam Sherri’s “castle.” This spot is less well-known than many others around the state. It doesn’t have the majestic vistas of the White Mountains or the sweeping views of the river valleys, but it’s still worth the stop, especially if you visit on a slightly overcast day.
The hike is short but the castle ruins create an enchanting and almost eerie vibe on gloomy autumn days. This is one of the best places to go in the fall in New Hampshire on weekends if you prefer solitude on your hikes.
Related Read: 12 Best Spots to See New York’s Fall Foliage
7. Ride First Class through the Mountains
The Conway Scenic Railroad has several excursions from North Conway into the valleys and mountains. If you don’t have much time, or maybe have little kids who can’t sit for very long, you can join the Conway Valley Train through the Heritage Rail Excursion — it’s less than an hour round-trip.
More time to spare? Take the Mountaineer on the Crawford Notch Scenic Trail ride to fully immerse yourself in the Granite State fall experience. It’s nearly six hours long and has a rating of “VERY SCENIC” — yes, all in caps.
Pro tip: Book your trip early. Hitching a ride on the rail is one of the most popular things to do in New Hampshire in the fall. Peak foliage is usually around the first two weeks of October. Try to book the Upper Dome as it offers the best views of autumn colors through the all-glass ceiling.
Related Read: 12 Best National Parks to Visit in October
8. Go Back in Time in Portsmouth
Okay — maybe you won’t get that classic New England fall vibe at the seacoast town of Portsmouth. But the town is chock full of historic ambiance. It’s streets and buildings are very similar to how they were during its founding in the 17th century, but instead of horse poop on the sidewalks or men donning bowler hats, you get quirky shops and contemporary cuisine.
If you’re a history buff, touring the Strawberry Banke Museum will be one of the best things to do during your fall New Hampshire trip; the living museum tells the story of Portsmouth’s founding. Foodies will want to grab breakfast at La Maison Navarre, lunch at Liar’s Bench Beer Company, dinner at Cava (the best tapas in town), and dessert at Fezziwig’s Food and Fountain. Fashionistas can peruse the racks at Inside Out and Sault. If you’re with kids, head over the bridge to Kittery and pick up a gift for an outdoorsy kid at Kit Supply + Co.
9. Stuff Your Face with Funnel Cake
Love county fairs and the tasty snacks that come with them? Then you’re in luck, because there are plenty to choose from in the fall. The Hopkinton State Fair (Labor Day weekend), is the largest and most comprehensive of the bunch, but even attending the smaller fairs can be a fun thing to do in the fall, especially if you’re with kiddos or a group of pals. The Deerfield Fair is especially fun, offering programming ranging like sheep-shearing competitions, an alpaca obstacle course, a pig scramble (what even is that?) and an excavator rodeo, which is exactly what you think it is.
Other outdoor festivals are easy to find in the fall, too. The Exeter UFO Festival surrounds the history of “The Incident at Exeter” in which Norman Muscarello reported a UFO sighting (which many claim was a legit UFO; the sighting was confirmed by police). Or unleash your inner Scottish clansman and head to NH’s Highland Games to try your hand at the caber toss, which is essentially the equivalent of throwing a 100-pound wooden beam. If beer is more your thing, grab your pint glass and attend the annual New Hampshire Brewfest, held every October.
Related Read: 12 Best Spots to See Pennsylvania’s Fall Foliage
10. Go Apple Pickin’
Throughout the late summer and fall, there’s plenty of “Pick Your Own blank.” You can find basically any fruit or veggie you want from farms and orchards. They’re so plentiful that you really have no excuse for not swinging by at least one apple orchard come autumn. Here’s a handy chart of what’s in season when.
Aside from picking, other offerings at farms usually include sipping hot apple cider, chowing down on apple-cider donuts, and maybe petting some baby sheep and piglets. Do all three, and you’ve hit the trifecta. DeMeritt Hill Farm and Butternut Farm are favorites for locals in southern New Hampshire and perfect for kiddos, with hayride and family activities aplenty.
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