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New England fall foliage road trip ideas

I’m dreaming of a road trip to see the fall leaves in the next few years. I’m just starting my research, but I’m thinking 7-10 days, flying into/out of Boston (from the west coast) and renting a car. It would be my husband and me, maybe for our 25th anniversary in 2023. Maybe 2024. My husband has never been to the east coast, and I’d like to spend a couple days in Boston before or after the road trip.

I’d love to hear from locals or people who have done this kind of tour. Any specific areas to see/avoid? Best time to go?

Posted by
752 posts

Although I’m not from New England, I have spent numerous fall vacations timed for the foliage and Maine’s Fryeburg Fair.

Since the weather governs the leaf changes, we have always used the local foliage reports to pick our drives. In general we like the first 3 weeks of October.

Perhaps you already know Yankee Magazine? It’s a great resource for foliage drive ideas and trip planning. Check out the September and October issues.
https://newengland.com/yankee-magazine/

I hope this helps. There are several frequent Forum contributors from New England who will no doubt chime in.

Posted by
697 posts

Some good ideas in this thread:

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/beyond-europe/sept-oct-ny-ne-trip-planning

Best time to go is always variable, but you're likely to find something in peak somewhere in New England during the first three weeks of October. Each year is different; this year, where I am (northern VT), because of rain and wind, the leaves are dropping early and we don't have as much color as other years. But it's still beautiful.

Happy planning!

Posted by
3979 posts

We are also west coasters who are in New England now to experience fall color. We flew in to Manchester, NH because we are based in central New Hampshire for 3 weeks but I like your idea to see some Boston historical sites too. This is our second multi week trip here in the past 3 years. We plan our foliage drives, up through or around the White Mountains for weekdays. We look for local festivals on the weekends. This year a few were cancelled but at least 3/4 of the October festivals are happening, all outdoors. The second to third week of October are usually ideal but it can vary. Columbus Day weekend can be busy.

EDIT: we are staying in the Lakes Region near Lake Winnipesaukee.

Posted by
1462 posts

If you have New England Ancestors, look them up on Find a Grave, www.findagrave.com . The older cemeteries can be in very scenic and historic locations. Leaves and spooky Halloween fun!

Posted by
849 posts

@DebVT - I'm from Newport, we're probably related!

@Travel4fun - best drive in VT is really on any non interstate road, but rt 100, bottom to the top, is the best. Color comes early in the Northern part of the state, so plan accordingly. Stowe is gorgeous, but everyone thinks so, so if other tourists are not your thing, head to Island Pond/Brighton, Norton, etc., in the far Northeast of the state.

Posted by
6113 posts

We went the first week of October a few years ago and there was little colour until we headed further north. We were based in Camden and took a great boat trip out of there and then drove up to Acadia NP. That year, we were a week early for the colour. It wasn’t busy mid week.

Posted by
511 posts

The change to fall colors in VT, NH and ME can begin their runs in late August to mid-September. I agree that Vermont's Rt. 100 is the best for leaf peeping. Vermont's Northeast Kingdom should also be on your list.

Posted by
310 posts

For foliage in NH; the Franconia Notch area, Flume Gorge and Kankamagus Highway. In MA, the Concord/Sudbury/Lincoln area can be nice for foliage as well as there being many historic sites in that area. And as others have mentioned, drives are best mid week as weekends are busier.

Posted by
255 posts

Some years ago we did a 17 day circuit in first 1/2 of October starting from suburban Boston to western Mass, then across VT south to north, over to NH and south to Boston suburbs again. We were looking for leaves, but wanted to see worthy local attractions too.

The sights we still talk about were: Hancock Shaker Village near Lennox, Sugarbush Farm (maple syrup) in Woodstock VT, Rock of Ages Granite Quarry near Montpelier, the VT State Capitol, Shelburne Farm & Museum, the Bread & Puppet Museum near Glover VT, the NH State Capitol, and finally Lexington/Concord Natl Historic Site. Oh, and we went through a small town in VT that had an AMAZING display of scarecrows on practically every storefront and house we passed by. We were very impressed with the artistry and ingenuity of the locals to create it all. I wish I could give you the name of the town, but alas time has dimmed my memory and our written records indicate only that it was somewhere between Middlebury and Northfield. Perhaps some VT local can help out.

We also saw a lot of outdoorsy sites like local mountains etc. Mostly they are nice, but not as imposing as scenery in western US such as you are familiar with around Bend. As others have stated, the leaf situation seems to be highly variable and highly local. We noted that it seems to be affected by both latitude and elevation. Those 3 states are compact and fairly dense with places to visit. You’ve got plenty of planning time, so do your homework and pick the things most of interest to you. Leaves will be luck of the draw. Have fun.

Posted by
847 posts

In 7-10 days you can't see all of New England but you can do a loop from Boston. I would save the 2-3 days in Boston for the end of the trip. I would first head west/north to Vermont. If you leave Boston early in the day take the Mass Pike (or Rt2) west to the Pioneer Valley and maybe stop for lunch or to see Historic Deerfield and then up into Vermont. Then do Vermont and then New Hampshire and then Maine. The colors change first in northern VT and NH, a little later along the Maine coast so if you do it in this order you are more likely to get more color. Boston changes later than VT and NH. The first half of October is the best time for color but the worst time for crowds. The 'Head of the Charles Regatta' is usually the third weekend in October so you don't want to be in Boston then, but check the dates for the year you are going. Columbus Day weekend is also busy everywhere so if this is going to fall during your trip (which it probably should, to avoid it will mean avoiding the best time in New England) you need to book well in advance.

Posted by
114 posts

Two of the most underrated airports we use in NE USA are Hartford Ct, which is on North/South I-91 and Manchester Nh, close to I89 (an east/west highway through NH & VT).
Hartford’s airport is exactly 2.5 hours from our house in Vermont, 30 minutes from western Massachusetts and an hour northeast of NYC. Easy but expensive parking with great car rental services. Easy access; not many people use this lovely airport. We also use this airport for some Euro flights.

Manchester airport is small but parking is fairly cheap, ok car rental options. Only 45 minutes from Boston, 1 hour to Maine or Vt. We use this airport for domestic USA flights when we are at our houses in VT or Maine.

And don’t forget, from Boston Logan airport you can take The Dartmouth Coach bus service which serves New Hampshire. You can take that up to Lebanon Nh, rent a car from there.

Hope that helps!

Posted by
4419 posts

Seeing fall color is a lottery-you seldom win when you have to have a hotel room booked a year in advance, and in your case, airfare as well. Temperatures affect the date of the show and moisture affects the brilliance of the show Do your best to hit the usual peak dates, but plan things you will enjoy even if you miss peak season.

We went to NC in the middle of Oct in 2020 and all the trees at higher elevations had already lost their leaves. So we went to VA one week earlier this year and color hadn't really started there or at higher elevations.

Posted by
4595 posts

Cala: You are seeing fall colors the hard way. Trees need successive cold nights to set color, which in the South only happens in islands of trees above a certain altitude, at least in the early fall when the leaves are still on the trees. Going to NE or the Upper Midwest a person can just drive north or south and adjust the visit to see leaf color. In NC and VA, these small areas above a certain altitude don't offer that option to calibrate the trip.

Posted by
4419 posts

Thanks Tom _MN-but It's NC leaves we want-no plane required.

Posted by
11348 posts

Another recommendation for driving Rt.100 N to S in VT for great leaf peeping.