When it comes to autumn spectacles, New England fall color is unbeatable. While many areas of the country sport their most dazzling displays in autumn, few come close to creating the same majesty as the tiny northeastern states.
However, if you think we’re just being biased, why not put our claim to the test, and check out New England fall color for yourself?
As with anything, timing is key, and what degree of color you’ll witness depends on the peak foliage season in each state. Here is your guide to the best of fall color in New England.
When Does New England Fall Color Peak?
The most glorious displays of fall color depend largely on weather conditions throughout the summer and early fall. According to the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, wetter warm months lead to the best displays. If this holds true, then fall of 2021 should be one of the best years yet for New England Fall color.
According to Christopher Martin, Director/State Forester, Division of Forestry, Bureau of Natural Resources, CT DEEP, early fall temperatures will also play a part, and if all comes together right, New England should see a dazzling fall display.
“Leaves will stay green longer this season, and if overnight temperatures cooperate, dipping into the low 30’s a few times toward later September, we should expect everything to come together all at once, synchronized for a dazzling foliar display mid to late October,” said Martin. “Later September/early October overnight temperatures will be the most influencing factor this year.”
Since cooler temperatures tend to rule the northern states earlier than those in the southern areas, it stands to reason that Connecticut’s peak color will arrive later than states such as Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire.
If you’re in search of the best New England fall color for your trip or even if you plan to head out for a weekend drive, here are the best resources for finding current fall foliage reports:
For up-to-the-minute guidance on the state of Connecticut’s fall foliage, you can view the state’s Interactive Connecticut fall foliage map.
The State of Maine provides weekly updates on the progression of fall color through their fall foliage conditions report.
While the state of Massachusetts doesn’t have an official fall foliage site, don’t let their lack of reporting fool you into thinking the state is lacking in fall splendor. Western areas in particular are rich in fall color. You can find the best times to visit utilizing resources such as Leaf Peepers and Yankee Magazine’s peak foliage map.
To find the best fall color in New Hampshire, you can visit the state tourism site’s fall foliage tracker.
New England Fall Color Road Trips
One of the best ways to experience fall color in New England is by simply hitting the open road. We recommend striking out in any direction that leads into rural areas, but if you’re looking for a more guided excursion, here are some of the best bets by state.
Connecticut Fall Color Drives
Once you move away from the coastline, it’s really hard to drive anywhere in the state without finding yourself surrounded by riotous fall colors. That’s because the demographic of the central and northern parts of the state is largely rural, leaving plenty of room for tree growth and fall beauty.
One of our favorite drives heads west on Route 44 out of Hartford, through the white steepled town of Avon and into the more rural climes of Canton and Winsted. You’ll find yourself climbing into higher elevations as you reach the historic town of Norfolk. Follow signs to Haystack Mountain for a short excursion to the Haystack Mountain Lookout. From the top of the tower, you’ll see color as far away as neighboring New York state.
Continue back to route 44 and wind your way out to Route 7. Here, a right turn will take you into southern Massachusetts and eventually, the Berkshires, but a left turn will lead you along the magnificently picturesque Housatonic River and into the town of Cornwall Bridge. If you make a quick left turn onto Route 128, you can snap a few shots of the town’s covered bridge amidst the backdrop of leafy color.
Continuing on Route 7 will eventually lead you to the junction of Route 202 and an eastward journey through the colors of Litchfield before eventually back to Avon.
Maine Fall Color Drives
Maine makes it easy to find the best of New England Fall color with several scenic byways. The Grafton Notch Byway travels along the Bear River to scenic Grafton Notch State Park. A quick side jaunt to Screw Auger Falls and Mother Walker Falls are the highlights of this journey.
When it comes to fall color in Maine, it’s hard to beat the Rangeley Lakes region, so why not take advantage of the Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway to view it all? Moose are rumored to be plentiful, so watch your speed and take some time to soak up the glories of falls you travel around Rangeley Lake to plateau views.
Massachusetts Fall Color Drives
We have several favorite fall drives through Massachusetts, so it’s really hard to narrow in on just a few. If you’re the type to stick to well established roads, you’ll enjoy the journey through time on MA20, also known as the Jacob’s Ladder Scenic Byway.
It’s easiest to pick up the route in Westfield and head west past Westfield State University. You’re only a stone’s throw from Interstate 90 at this point, but civilization fades quickly as you wind through tree-covered roadways alive with a canopy of color.
Soon, you’ll begin to catch glimpses of the Westfield River and more treelined vistas. You’ll travel through 2 state forests as you make a gradual incline toward the Berkshires. For an historic excursion, consider a stop at Becket Quarry, where workers walked off the job decades ago, leaving the site exactly as it was on the final day of excavation.
If you stay with the byway long enough, you’ll end up in the Berkshires. To make a day of it, head north on Route 7 and view the revival of old mill towns such as Pittsfield, before reaching the junction with Route 2. A steep switchback leads to valley views of New England fall color before meandering through bucolic towns such as Florida and Charlemont. You’ll commune with the wilds of the primitive Savoy Mountain State Park before hitting areas such as Shelburne Falls with its famous Bridge of Flowers, and eventually Interstate 91.
New Hampshire Fall Color Drives
One of the most famous leaf-peeping roadways in all of New Hampshire is the Kancamagus Highway. Cutting a swatch directly through 34 miles of fall foliage, it’s hard to find the same depth of color and fall beauty anywhere else in New England.
The Kank as it’s called by locals, covers large elevation gains as you soar to the top of White Mountain pinnacles and then gradually wind your way down again into canopies of color. You’ll pass sights such as Sabbaday Falls, a 40-foot plunge into a tight ravine. For a sky-high view of nature’s feast for the senses, stop for a ride on the Aerial Tramway at Cannon Mountain in Franconia.
Vermont Fall Color Drives
While others might disagree, we find it hard to beat a journey through the Green Mountains for color seekers. While a major state route in its own right, Route 7 travels into the beauty of the green mountains, past waterfalls and covered bridges, always in sight of magnificent fall displays.
Roadside stands offer native delights, such as maple syrup treats, and quintessential New England towns roll out the welcome decked in the best of the fall season as you make your way up to Rutland. For a deeper forest excursion, cut over to Route 7A as you leave Bennington and pick up Route 30 to explore more of the Green Mountains.
Best Hikes for Seeing New England Fall Color
When it comes to hiking in New England, it’s harder not to see fall color than it is to find it, so finding a trail isn’t hard. What becomes difficult is whittling it down to a meager list.
One of our favorites remains the Heublein Tower hike in Connecticut. Here, a short steep climb to the Talcott Ridge offers views of Simsbury below and the far-off western hills beyond. Keep walking and you’ll soon reach the picturesque Heublein Tower. It’s part history lesson and all far-off views taken in either from the stone patio or atop the upper viewing area achieved by climbing the interior stairway of the tower.
As you look out over blankest of color, interpretive displays will explain the history of the tower itself and the family that built it. For more information on this hike, you can read our Heublein Tower blog.
For more valley views, why not hit up the Berkshires and take in the ridge top vistas from Monument Mountain near Great Barrington. A relatively short but steep hike up the mountain, aided by some stone stairs, takes you to the rocky ridge where color extends as far as the eye can see.
You can also travel north from Monument Mountain to the 3,491-foot summit of Mount Greylock where a 93-foot tower awaits leaf-seeking travelers. You’ll enjoy the views across 60 miles of countryside from the top, but even if you don’t climb the interior stairway, there is plenty of colorful sights to be seen from the ground. And if you suddenly don’t feel like hiking, take the auto road to the top.
For a nearly five-mile excursion covering nearly 1,500 feet in elevation gain, the hike to the top of Mount Sunapee in New Hampshire has it all: spectacular color, multiple viewpoints and the chance to take additional trails to nearby sights, such as Lake Solitude. And if you’re worried about logging so many miles in a day, you can always reduce the time spent hiking by jumping onto the Mount Sunapee chairlift and riding to the top, before picking up other excursions from there.
For more hiking splendor in New England, be sure to keep an eye out for our upcoming e-book on the best hidden treasure hiking trails in Southern New England.
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New England Fall Color Cruises
While cruising has largely come to a halt since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re beginning to see many excursions opening up again, especially those focused on day trips to view dramatic New England Fall color.
River Quest Cruises leave from Haddam, Connecticut and travel the tree-lined corridor of the Connecticut River. In addition to colorful views of the nearby cliffs, you might catch a glimpse of the mysterious Gillette Castle.
Acadia boat tours lets you view the incredible majesty of New England’s only national park from the water. Several boat tours around Acadia and Dessert Island are offered through Acadian Boat Tours, providing ample opportunity to find the color-peeping experience of your dreams.
For a more intimate experience, try a sail with Whistling Man Cruises. You and up to 17 other passengers will be treated to an overwater exploration of Lake Champlain, including education on sunken shipwrecks, historic battle sites and of course, the magnificent colors of the treelined shore.
New England Fall Foliage Tours
Whether you only have a short time to spend enjoying New England Fall colors or you want to make sure you see the best sights, several tour outfitters are standing at the ready to help you discover the magic of New England fall.
Tauck Tours is considered the premier provider of fall foliage tours, having invented the concept back in 1925. Today’s tours come in two varieties, the 12-day Grand New England Tour, covering everything from the tip of Mount Washington to the shores of Acadia, or the Hidden Gems of New England tour. Here, tourists will cover the amazing vistas between Boston and Berkshires, exploring some of the regions most historic spots in the process.
For a single day tour into the heart of New England fall color, try the Boston Fall Foliage Tour. The excursion leaves from Boston and heads north into New Hampshire. You’ll drive the famed Kancamagus Highway, stopping at the most colorful places, before making your way back to shore again.
New England Fall Surprises
While experiencing New England Fall color might be the major draw to an eastern seaboard visit in autumn, it isn’t the only fun thing you’ll find to do in New England. Fall activities abound from the quirky to the traditional.
Before you head out seeking colorful views, why not take a look at our New England fall guide to add some color of another kind to your itinerary.