It was a few years ago on Shane’s 30th birthday that we learned about “leaf peeping”. I planned a surprise birthday trip to Boston – a city he’s always wanted to go to given its sports, history, and one-of-a-kind beers. Along with a couple days in Boston, I thought we could spend the rest of the week in the countryside staying in bed and breakfasts, wandering farmers markets, and exploring the many craft breweries New England has to offer.
Given that Shane’s birthday is in October, we landed in New England in prime time for fall foliage. Autumn was in full force, and we quickly learned why this part of the USA draws in so many visitors every year.
This explosion of color is thanks to the numerous maple trees in New England – specifically in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. The brilliant colours are said to be the best in North America.
Given that a couple years later I found myself again in Boston over the fall season, we decided to once again go “leaf peeping” – the colloquial term given to those who travel for, and photograph, fall foliage. It is said both with appreciation and disdain, given that these otherwise quiet rural areas get overrun with tourists.
So the following is our overview of fall in New England – as appreciated on both our trips – with all of our favourite stops:
Woodstock: The Cutest Fall Town You Ever Did See
The epitome of fall is in the picture-perfect town of Woodstock, Vermont. This small town is cute and well manicured, with pumpkin filled storefronts everywhere you look.
The local general store, deli, and shops are all worth a gander. Just walking down main street and adjacent neighbourhood roads is an attraction on its own given the festive decor.
Even the accommodation options are lovely, with many bed & breakfasts and cozy inns available for your choosing. Our favourite was the Jackson House Inn, a well furnished 1890s home decorated with antique items. The evenings in Woodstock are quiet, but the library, games, and many sitting areas in this hotel kept us entertained well into the night.
Woodstock is also home to one of Vermont’s 100 authentic wood covered bridges (more than anywhere else in North America, by the way). These quaint bridges feel like a step back in time, when bridges were just narrow enough for a horse and buggy, and required protection from the elements by a wooden roof. Now they fit only one car across, but remain preserved for historical purposes.
Route 100: The Most Scenic New England Drive
A fall foliage road trip through New England is full of well known scenic drives. Our favourite is the Route 100 Byway – a rural country road which meanders through the heavily forested part of Vermont. The best parts of the route go through the towns of Warren, Waitsfield and up north to Stowe.
On one of our trips we decided to base ourselves along Route 100 in the small town of Warren. Apart from a cute general store and small market, there is not much to see in the town itself. But Warren is located in the center of a beautifully forested area, where you can hike, explore, or just drive through the surrounding woods. The Lincoln Gap mountain pass is well worth a detour.
The other highlight of staying in Warren was the Pitcher Inn, a romantic and intimate property with rooms that each have their own eclectic decor. Our room had a wood-burning fireplace, which the staff would light just before our return for the evening. We loved spending the nights warming s’mores by the fire.
There are hikes to do in the area, which are particularly stunning at sunset. Sunset Ledge and Long Trail are often recommended, and we made sure to visit these as the sun was setting.
Stowe Mountain Town
When asking an adventurous Bostonian what they are up to for a winter weekend, they will often make mention of Stowe. The mountain resort town of Stowe is a hit in the winter given its nearby ski hill, but is equally special in the fall. The autumn colors make the town come alive, and as a city of leisure, there are many shopping, restaurant, and accommodation options to keep you busy.
My favorite part of visiting Stowe is the drive to nearby Smuggler’s Notch State Park, which is a must-see. This road to the top is enshrouded in a canopy of maple trees, and driving through during peak foliage feels truly magical. Both times we visited, we drove to the bottom and right back up a second time to take in the beauty. On our second visit it started to rain (it even snowed at the top!) but the colors were no less amazing.
Green Mountain National Forest
Though Route 100, including stops in Woodstock and Stowe, are our favourite places to appreciate New England fall, there are several other wonderful spots in the area. Two national forests, including Green Mountain and White Mountain, are also high up on the list.
Green Mountain National Forest is a little more of a detour southwest, so we only saw it for the first time on our most recent visit to New England. The initial part of the drive from Boston was nothing special, but as we neared the city of Manchester, the colors blossomed.
We stopped in Manchester and viewed some of the surrounding areas, such as Equinox Pond. There was almost no one else on these quiet country roads, and we enjoyed having the views all to ourselves.
White Mountain National Forest
The other of the two forests is White Mountain, which would be a close second to Route 100. If you can catch this national park at the right time, the colours and scenery are beautiful. The Kancamagus highway is a must-do, and there are numerous stops along the way to take in waterfalls, viewpoints, and various hikes.
Unfortunately, we’ve never quite managed to time our visit right. But seeing how beautiful it is after the leaves have already fallen, I can only imagine how amazing a visit would be in the summer or fall!
New England’s Famous Breweries
It wouldn’t be right to talk about New England without mentioning the beer. The term “New England IPA”, among other beer types, should make you realize that this part of the USA is known for its craft brews. Many of the top breweries in the USA are from this area, and the locals are proud of it.
Though the options are endless, there are a few particularly good breweries that top our list. While visiting Woodstock, Longtrail Brewing Company is worth a visit, particularly because of its location. Situated on a gently flowing river surrounded by forest, you can get comfortable sitting on an Adirondack chair with a beer in hand taking in the view. The restaurant inside also offers quite an extensive menu, though we have never eaten here.
But the real Vermont trifecta are the breweries of Lawson’s Finest, the Alchemist, and Hill Farmstead. Lawson’s Finest Liquids is located along quiet Route 100 and is known for their award winning “Sip of Sunshine”, which was previously unavailable outside of its tiny home town.
But to the beer lover, Stowe is extra special because of the Alchemist brewery. Garnered as the best brewery in the world, this once tiny brewery would entice a huge line-up of buyers every day with many people leaving empty handed as bottles quickly sold out. The now successful company has opened a large brewery in Stowe, and offers free tastings of their award winning beers (though no food – so plan accordingly!). This is a necessary stop for any beer connoisseur!
You can’t go wrong visiting any part of New England in the fall. Though some scenic routes were a highlight, you can drive your car almost anywhere and stumble upon quiet roads adorned with colorful canopies of leaves. There is no shortage of beer, farmers markets, general stores, wood covered bridges or tasty restaurants to keep you content. Having now visited this area twice in the fall season, we would not hesitate to return again in the future!