How to Be a Socially Conscious Leaf Peeper

From Instagram etiquette to shopping local, here’s how to do your part to help preserve and protect the New England landscape this fall.

By Jim Salge

Aug 30 2018

The Selfie

How we experience and share travel and has changed significantly over the last decade!

Photo Credit : Ryan Knapp
New England in fall is beautiful and idyllic, and visitors come from all over the world to enjoy it. Many of the traditions that make for a classic autumn experience in the region have generations of history behind them. Visiting agricultural fairs, apple orchards and cider mills, general stores, historic inns, and quaint villages is just part of the overall autumn experience here. And while we don’t want any of that to change, the fact is that our society and habits are changing rapidly. Individually, we all just want to see the most amazing things and have the best time in doing so. But collectively, especially in the age of Instagram, we seem to overlook how we might be stressing an environment and degrading the experiences it offers. (Consider the sunflower fields that were trampled when thousands of people wanted their shot among the blooms.)
The Selfie
Our travel experiences — and how we share them — have changed significantly over the past decade.
Photo Credit : Ryan Knapp
So, how can we help preserve and protect New England’s beautiful landscape and support its cultural history this fall? Here are our best ideas.

How to Be a Socially Conscious Leaf Peeper

Support Local Businesses

If you love the small-town feel of the New England villages you visit this autumn, the best way you can show that love is to support local businesses. Chambers of commerce and other business groups are among the leading forces in keeping town centers clean and inviting, and they put on or sponsor many of the region’s most beloved autumn events.
Local Inns
Shopping and staying local can significantly affect the economy of New England’s small towns.
Photo Credit : Jim Salge
For lodging, you often can find local options at all budget levels — from grand historic inns to small bed-and-breakfasts to motels. Consider campgrounds, too, as many are run by either family owners or the local parks or forest services.

Seek Out Quiet

Every year it seems that autumn traffic increases in places like Smugglers’ Notch, the Acadia Loop, and the Kancamagus Highway — and with good reason: They are beautiful, natural places that look their best during the brief window of peak color. We see this most on social media, with so many similar shots in similar locations. (Apparently, in the Internet age, crowds bring crowds!)
Pondicherry Morning
Visiting popular places at less popular times can lead to a more rewarding experience.
Photo Credit : Jim Salge
With so many people traveling these routes, the overall experience can be lessened for individuals. If you do choose one of the most popular routes, try traveling in the early morning, or during midweek. But there are also many other beautiful spaces in New England, and seeking them out and making these new places your own can be singularly rewarding.

Buy Local Firewood

There are a number of invasive insects that pose a significant threat to our forests in New England, including the emerald ash borer, the Asian longhorn beetle, and the hemlock woolly adelgid. If you need to stock up on firewood for your rental cabin, you can do your part to stop the expansion of these insects’ ranges by buying only local firewood and heeding the any firewood quarantines in your area.

Minimize Impact at Popular Spots

At the most popular roadside locations in New England, park services, conservation groups, and local tourism officials do a good job of managing crowds. Paths and fencing at these sites — covered bridges, short hikes, waterfalls, roadside overlooks, etc. —help bring visitors to the best views while minimizing their impact on the landscape. However, visitors looking to share their experiences on Instagram often want to find the very best angle, which can lead them wandering all over and especially into other visitors’ photographs and spaces. And the wandering itself degrades the spaces around the paths, killing vegetation and leading to a less beautiful space overall. So be aware and considerate about how you choose to frame your experience!

Stay on the Trails

Hiking trails in general require significant maintenance to protect against erosion and widening. This effort is undermined when many hikers decide to take short cuts or routes around mud or down trees, which can significantly affect the environment and the experience for other hikers.
Alpine Zone
Staying on the trails, especially in fragile environments, is important to preserving our landscape and rare plants.
Photo Credit : Jim Salge
Moreover, some of the most beautiful open landscapes in New England are also the most fragile. Wandering off the trail to take pictures in bogs, near streams and waterfalls, and especially on alpine ridges can immediately change the experience for future visitors. If you want to step off the trail in special environments like these to capture a unique photo, make sure you stay on rocks, logs, and other durable surfaces.

Respect Wildlife

The phrase “a fed bear is a dead bear” is one we hear more and more as suburban sprawl creeps into natural spaces. That said, seeing a bear, or a moose, or even a red squirrel can be a keystone experience for some leaf peepers. But forcing such an experience — either by getting too close or by luring and baiting them with food — can create needless dependency or fear within wildlife populations. A goal for leaf peepers should be to leave the space as they found it, which also means letting the wildlife stay wild.
Autumn Moose
Keeping wildlife wild should be the mantra for nature-loving leaf peepers.
Photo Credit : Jim Salge

Drive Less

Traveling by car makes a lot of sense in an area where destinations are spread out and public transportation is limited. But leaf peeping doesn’t need to be done just by car. Bicycling is a great way to see places like Acadia and Franconia Notch — and bikers in prime shape may want to try to “Crank the Kanc” by riding the length of the Kancamagus Highway. Canoeing and kayaking are ideal for exploring quieter spaces during autumn. For a truly remote experience, we love Lake Umbagog in New Hampshire and Moosehead Lake in Maine, but there are thousands of other lakes, rivers, and ponds where a car-top boat can be launched.


If a particular autumn tradition has left an impression on you, a great way to feel connected is to give back. There are countless events, organizations, and places in need of volunteers to help keep the New England fall experience as we know and love it now. A weekend of trail maintenance or a day of helping at a fair, for instance, can be terrifically rewarding. It won’t be long now until visitors from all over the world begin arriving to see New England’s beautiful fall colors and join us in celebrating the changing season. We hope that our tips can make a better experience for everyone! At, we offer many tools to help you both plan your visit and stay abreast of the changing leaves as they happen. We have our peak foliage prediction map, our map of live foliage updates, a foliage app, and weekly reports throughout the season. We can’t wait to share the New England fall foliage season with you! Check out our official 2018 New England Fall Foliage Forecast

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