Touring New England in search of autumn’s changing colors has become so popular it has grenerated its own subculture of “leaf-peepers.”

While admiring the leaves during foliage season is possible everywhere in the the region, here’s one road trip that will immerse you in the best of those glorious colors.

New England’s best fall-foliage road trip

Trip length: 5–7 days; 424 miles (682km)
Best time to go: Late September to mid-October
Essential photo: Kent Falls set against a backdrop of autumnal colors
Top experience: Zip-lining through the tree canopy in Bretton Woods

New England Fall Foliage map

Scarlet and sugar maples, ashes, birches, beeches, dogwoods, tulip trees, oaks and sassafras all contribute to the carnival of autumn color in New England. But this trip is about much more than just flora and fauna: expect to embrace the harvest spirit makes at family outings at pick-your-own farms, leisurely walks along dappled trails and tables groaning beneath delicious seasonal produce.

1. Lake Candlewood, Connecticut 

With a surface area of 8.4 sq miles, Candlewood is the largest lake in Connecticut. On its western shore, Squantz Pond State Park is popular with leaf-peepers who come to amble along the pretty shoreline. In Brookfield and Sherman, quiet vineyards with acres of gnarled grapevines line the hillsides; at White Silo Farm Winery, the focus is on specialty wines made from farm-grown fruit. For the ultimate bird’s-eye view of the foliage, consider a late afternoon hot-air balloon ride with GONE Ballooning in nearby Southbury.

The drive: From Danbury at the southern tip of the lake, you have a choice of heading north via US 7, taking in Brookfield and New Milford (or trailing the scenic eastern shoreline along Candlewood Lake Rd S); or heading north along CT 37 and CT 39 via New Fairfield, Squantz Pond and Sherman, before reconnecting with US 7 to Kent.

mist clings to the surface of a lake in Connecticut as red, orange, yellow and green leaves are reflected in its surface from a hill behind. New England fall foliage road trip
The Litchfield Hills of Connecticut have some of the best fall colors in the world © DenisTangneyJr / Getty

2. Kent, Connecticut

Picturesque Kent ranks among the top spots for fall foliage in all of New England. Situated in the Litchfield Hills on the banks of the Housatonic River, the village is surrounded by dense woodlands. For a sweeping view, hike up Cobble Mountain in Macedonia Brook State Park, a wooded oasis two miles north of town. The steep climb to the rocky ridge affords panoramic views of the foliage against a backdrop of the Taconic and Catskill mountain ranges.

The 2175-mile (3500km) Georgia-to-Maine Appalachian National Scenic Trail also runs through Kent and up to Salisbury, on the Massachusetts border. Unlike much of the trail, the Kent section offers a mostly flat five-mile walk alongside the Housatonic, the longest river walk of the entire trail. The trailhead is accessed on River Rd, off CT 341.

The drive: The 15-mile drive from Kent to Housatonic Meadows State Park along US 7 is one of the most scenic drives in Connecticut. The single-lane road dips and weaves between thick forests, past Kent Falls State Park (with its tumbling waterfall, visible from the road) and over West Cornwall’s picturesque covered bridge, which spans the Housatonic.

3. Housatonic Meadows State Park, Connecticut

During the spring thaw, the churning waters of the Housatonic challenge kayakers and canoers. By summer, the scenic waterway transforms into a lazy, flat river perfect for fly-fishing. In the Housatonic Meadows State Park, campers vie for a spot on the banks of the river while hikers take to the hills on the Appalachian Trail. Housatonic River Outfitters runs guided fishing trips with gourmet picnics.

Popular with artists and photographers, one of the most photographed fall spots is the Cornwall Bridge (West Cornwall), an antique span that stretches across the broad river, framed by vibrantly colored foliage.

The drive: Continue north along US 7 toward the Massachusetts border and Great Barrington. After a few miles, you’ll leave the forested slopes of the park behind you and enter expansive rolling countryside dotted with large red-and-white barns. Look out for hand-painted signs advertising farm produce – and consider stopping overnight in Falls Village, which has an excellent B&B.

Fall colors fill a picturesque Massachusetts valley as a small village peeks through; New England fall foliage road trip
The Berkshires turn crimson and gold, making for a spectacular fall in the hills of Massachusetts © DenisTangneyJr / Getty

4. The Berkshires, Massachusetts

Blanketing the westernmost part of Massachusetts, the rounded mountains of the Berkshires turn crimson and gold as early as mid-September. The effective capital of the Berkshires is Great Barrington, a formerly industrial town whose streets are now lined with art galleries and upscale restaurants.

It’s the perfect place to pack your picnic or rest your legs before or after a hike in the nearby Beartown State Forest. Crisscrossing its 12,000 acres, hiking trails yield spectacular views of wooded hillsides and pretty Benedict Pond. Further north, October Mountain State Forest is the state’s largest tract of green space (16,127 acres), also with ample hiking trails. The name – attributed to Herman Melville – gives a good indication of when this park is at its loveliest, with its multicolored tapestry of hemlocks, birches and oaks.

The drive: Drive north on US 7, the spine of the Berkshires, cruising through Great Barrington and Stockbridge. In Lee, the highway merges with scenic US 20, from where you can access October Mtn. Continue 16 miles north through Lenox and Pittsfield to Lanesborough. Turn right on N Main St and follow the signs to the park entrance.

5. Mt Greylock State Forest, Massachusetts

Massachusetts’ highest peak is not so high (only 3491ft / 1064m) – yet a climb up the 92ft-high War Veterans Memorial Tower rewards you with a forested panorama stretching up to 100 miles across the Taconic, Housatonic and Catskill ranges and over five states. Even if the weather seems drab, driving up to the summit may well lift you above the gray blanket, and the view with a layer of cloud floating between tree line and sky is simply magical.

Mt Greylock State Reservation has some 45 miles of hiking trails, including a portion of the Appalachian Trail. Frequent trail pull-offs on the road up – including some that lead to waterfalls – make it easy to get at least a little hiking in before reaching the summit.

The drive: Return to US 7 and continue north through the quintessential college town of Williamstown. Cross the Vermont border and continue north through the historic village of Bennington. Just north of Bennington, turn left on Rte 7A and continue north to Manchester.

6. Manchester, Vermont

Stylish Manchester is known for its charming architecture. For fall-foliage views, head south of the center to 3828ft-high Mt Equinox, the highest mountain accessible by car in the Taconic Range. Wind up the 5.2 miles – with gasp-inducing scenery at every hairpin turn – seemingly to the top of the world, where the 360-degree panorama unfolds, offering views of the Adirondacks, the lush Battenkill Valley and even Montréal’s Mt Royal

If early snow makes Mt Equinox inaccessible, visit 412-acre Hildene, a Georgian Revival mansion once home to the Lincoln family. It’s filled with presidential memorabilia and sits nestled at the edge of the Green Mountains, with access to eight miles of wooded walking trails.

The drive: Take US 7 north to Burlington. Three miles past Middlebury in New Haven, stop off at Lincoln Peak Vineyard for wine tasting or a picnic lunch on the wraparound porch.

7. Lake Champlain, Vermont

With a surface area of 490 sq miles and straddling New York, Vermont and Québec, Lake Champlain is the largest freshwater lake in the US after the Great Lakes. On its northeastern side, Burlington is a gorgeous base from which enjoy the lake. Explore the lively city by foot, then scoot down to the wooden waterfront promenade, take a swing on the four-person rocking benches and consider a bike ride along the 7.5-mile lakeside path.

For the best off-shore foliage views, we love the Friend Ship sailboat at Whistling Man Schooner Company, a 43ft-sloop that accommodates a mere 13 passengers. Next door, ECHO Lake Aquarium & Science Center explores the history and ecosystem of the lake, including a famous snapshot of Champ, Lake Champlain’s mythical sea creature.

The drive: Take I-89 southeast to Montpelier, passing Camels Hump State Park and CC Putnam State Forest. At Montpelier, pick up US 2 heading east to St Johnsbury, where you can hop on I-91 south to I-93 south. Just after Littleton, take US 302 east to Bretton Woods.

The sweeping view of the White Mountains from the 2nd floor of the Omni Mount Washington Resort in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire
The Omni Mount Washington Resort in Bretton Woods has sweeping views of the White Mountains © Rudy Mareel / Shutterstock

8. Bretton Woods, New Hampshire

Unbuckle your seat belts and step away from the car. You’re not just peeping at leaves today: you’ll be swooping past them on zip lines that drop 1000ft at 30mph. The four-season Bretton Woods Canopy Tour includes a hike through the woods, a stroll over sky bridges and a swoosh down 10 cables to tree platforms.

If this leaves you craving even higher views, cross US 302 and drive six miles on Base Rd to the coal-burning, steam-powered Mount Washington Cog Railway at the western base of Mt Washington, the highest peak in New England. This historic railway has been hauling sightseers to the mountain’s 6288ft (1916m) summit since 1869.

The drive: Continue driving east on US 302, a route that parallels the Saco River and the Conway Scenic Railroad, traversing Crawford Notch State Park. At the junction of NH 16 and US 302, continue east on US 302 into North Conway.

A locomotive on the cog railway on Mt Washington, New Hampshire
Conclude your foliage road trip with a trip up New Hampshire’s Mt Washington on the historic cog railway © Miro Vrlik Photography / Shutterstock

9. North Conway, New Hampshire

Many of the best restaurants, pubs and inns in North Conway come with expansive views of the nearby mountains, making it an ideal place to wrap up a fall-foliage road trip. If you’re traveling with kids or skipped the cog railway ride up Mt Washington, consider an excursion on the antique Valley Train with the Conway Scenic Railroad, a short but sweet round-trip ride through the Mt Washington Valley from North Conway to Conway, 11 miles south. The Moat Mountains and the Saco River will be your scenic backdrop. First-class seats are usually in a restored Pullman observation car.

This article was first published September 2019 and updated October 2023

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