Strolling the graceful campus at Mount Holyoke College.Photo Credit : Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism
In the new issue of Yankee, I highlight five places in New England where the weather and climate tend to make for reliably great foliage color year after year (see “The Best 5 Peak-Color Foliage Destinations in New England”). These include areas that tend to turn a little early as well as some that trend a little late, and in the article I explain why this is, based on small geographic features and microclimates.
For the expanded below, the focus is on places where the leaves turn later than they do in surrounding areas. There are many reasons for this, but it typically boils down to distinct elevation differences and/or proximity to water. So with this list in hand, you can pinpoint areas to visit later in the season if you feel like you missed the show everywhere else.
Thoughts of York usually center on the iconic beaches and lighthouses, but this southern Maine town also hosts many natural areas, large forests, a historic downtown, and lots of hiking. Its forests are among the last in Maine to peak and, due to the dominance of oak, can hold their color even into early November. The best place to take in all the colors is from the summit of Mount Agamenticus, after either a drive or hike to the top. The observation points allow you to see the ocean to the east and the White Mountains to the north (which might even be snowcapped by the time of prime colors here). Closer to the water, I love the walk across the Wiggly Bridge and the forest loop to which it leads. Peak color: Late October.
Hiking the hills above Alton can lead to some of the most iconic autumn scenes in all of New England, but many people tend to time this peak wrong. The town and its hills sit at the southeastern edge of Lake Winnipesaukee and see a significant moderating effect of area temperatures from winds blowing across the warm lake all autumn. And at night, the lake releases lots of heat as well. While most other mountains in New Hampshire peak the first or second weekend of October, the third weekend is actually when to do the popular three-mile loop up Mount Major. For those looking for a more strenuous hike, a traverse of the whole Belknap Range is doable in a day for experienced hikers. After your day exploring the hills, head north a few miles to Wolfeboro, said to be America’s oldest summer resort, for some off-season eats at local restaurants in the historic downtown. Peak color: Mid- to late October.
By the time the colors peak along the Burlington waterfront, the road through nearby Smuggler’s Notch may well be closed for the season due to ice. The 4,000-foot elevation difference has a lot to do with that, but so too does the warmth that the lake holds on to late into autumn. These two factors combine for the nearly 15-degree difference in October average temperatures that push Burlington’s foliage so much later.
One of the best ways to see the lingering peak color is to ride north out of Burlington along the Champlain Islands portion of the Lake Champlain Byway toward Grande Isle and Hero. The narrow, 14-mile bicycle causeway over the lake is one of the most spectacular rail trails in New England. Peak color: Mid-October.
Between the hill towns in Central Massachusetts and the Berkshires to the west, you’ll find the deep Connecticut River Valley, locally known as the Pioneer Valley. Compared to the highlands on either side, the soils, ecology, and microclimate here are all substantially different, which makes 2his is a great area to catch late-season fall colors. That’s not to say that all the terrain here is low-lying, as its best vantage points are the sporadic high hills that spring up in the river valley. The most prominent of these is Mount Holyoke in South Hadley, which has a winding auto road up to the summit view. Equally as accessible and with a more iconic vista is Mount Sugarloaf in Deerfield, where the view over the bend in the river remains green until late October. If you find yourself visiting the Pioneer Valley early in October, before the leaves really kick off, the Big E, New England’s largest fair, is back this year and is poised to offer your fix for all things fall. Peak color: Mid- to late October.
One of the last places in all of New England to turn, this historic coastal town checks all the boxes for a late foliage display. The combination of coastal low-elevation forests and the relatively warm waters of Narragansett Bay leads to Newport’s fall colors holding into November. The highlight of any fall trip here is the famous 10-mile Ocean Drive, which includes such sights as the Newport Mansions and Brenton Point State Park. Alternatively, you can skip the drive and focus on the Cliff Walk, a three-mile path along the town’s eastern shore. For a bit more seclusion, head across the spectacular Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge and down to Beavertail Lighthouse, which is surrounded by oak-dominated forests that turn every shade of red from crimson and rust. Peak color: Late October into November.