Colorful leaves can’t hold on forever, so carve out a day and hit the road this fall. These five worth-the-drive destinations offer more than meets the eye, and they’re all just far enough away from New England’s better-known leaf-peeping spots to leave you feeling as though you’ve discovered a best-kept day trip secret.
The last practicing Shakers keep the religious order’s traditions and penchant for simplicity alive, and there’s never a better time to drop in on them than during harvest season. This community, with its gift shop filled with Shaker-made products and buildings dating back as far as the 1780s, welcomes fall wanderers. Tours of the village are available Monday through Saturday, and Sunday services in the 1794 Meeting House are open to all. Guided nature hikes on Shaker lands (September 15 or October 6) are your chance to learn about inland Maine’s plant and animal life and the Shakers’ land-use philosophy. The annual Harvest Festival (October 6) features a lineup of free activities including wagon rides to the herb gardens and demonstrations of traditional handicrafts.
Apples and pumpkins aren’t the only fruits worthy of a drive this fall. Colorful cranberries pack a nutritional punch, and when the Massachusetts state berry is harvested in abundance, it’s a sight to behold. The world’s largest cranberry grower offers fans of the tiny but mighty fruit two different tour experiences on select September and October dates. Reserve a bog-side view of a wet harvest and watch as cranberries are flooded to the surface and corralled, or learn dry harvesting techniques and handpick your own ripe, red berries to take home. Even on non-tour days, Makepeace Farms, this family-owned enterprise’s shop and cafe, is your destination for fresh cranberries, cranberry-infused gourmet foods, and Thanksgiving sandwiches. Rent a kayak or a swan- or duck-shaped pedal boat at the adjacent Nemasket Kayak Center, and leaf peep on Tihonet Pond.
The easiest way to see fall foliage in three states is to take… an elevator. That’s right: Inside Vermont’s tallest structure, there’s an elevator that stops only at the top. The 306-foot obelisk looks stark and gray from the outside, but once you reach the Bennington Battle Monument’s observation deck, you’ll have sweeping views of nature’s autumnal fireworks. There is plenty more to do and see in Bennington when you’re back on terra firma. Find five distinctive covered bridges, see art and artifacts at the Bennington Museum, and pay your respects to a New England poet who achieved unparalleled heights. Robert Lee Frost’s granite monument, in the cemetery beside Old First Church, is all the more poignant when it’s graced with a golden halo of leaves.
With its red-clay-tile roof camouflaged among the leaves, this remarkable stone castle on a hilltop overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee is just the sort of place where Mother Nature would retreat to kick back and admire her autumn handiwork. Poor Thomas Plant, the estate’s original owner, lost his fortune, but these 5,200 preserved acres remain gold, particularly in the fall, when the weather is ideal for hiking 28 miles of trails or saddling up at Riding in the Clouds. A castle tour is a must, and you’ll also want to savor lunch at the Carriage House Restaurant, where majestic lake and mountain views will feed your soul.
The New England landscape is dotted with apple orchards, but this centrally located fourth-generation farm is a standout not only for the diversity of its crop but for the stay-and-play experiences it offers day-trippers. Red Apple Farm’s high altitude allows for one of the longest apple-growing seasons in New England, with more than 50 varieties ripening on trees from late July straight through October. Once you’ve taken a hayride and picked your own bushel, you can visit the farm animals, dig your own potatoes, hike wooded trails, and reward yourself for the exertion with an apple dumpling, one of the many treats available at the Country Store. On weekends, the smoky aromas wafting from the fieldstone barbecue grill will tempt you to stay for lunch. And, if you visit by October 5, be sure to stop by the Brew Barn for an Apple Ale, crafted in collaboration with neighboring Moon Hill Brewing Co.
Where are your favorite New England fall day-trip destinations?