New England

Favorite Ways to Go Leaf Peeping | New England Foliage

Leaf peeping is so much more than just looking at leaves, so why not have fun with it? Here are some of our favorite “new” ways to go leaf peeping.

By Jim Salge

Aug 30 2017

Foliage Trains

The Conway Scenic Railroad Through Crawford Notch, New Hampshire

Photo Credit : Jim Salge
Labor Day Weekend has passed, marking the unofficial end of the summer season. A brief round of cool crisp weather accompanied it, a clear harbinger of things to come. In far northern New England, temperatures fell into the lower forties; only slightly below normal, but a refreshing respite this year. We look forward to more weather like this to as autumn approaches.
Hints Of Color Emerging In Wetlands Already This Autumn
Hints of color are already emerging in wetlands this autumn.
Photo Credit : Kevin Talbot
Since then though, we have been enshrouded in the effects of tropical storm Hermine, which remains parked off of our coast. It was a near miss, and while we certainly could have used the rain, we’re glad we didn’t get the wind. Hermine’s biggest effect has been a new push of warm, muggy air back over the region. This is not ideal at this time of year, as we will need a nice stretch of cool nights to really kick-start the coming colors. Fortunately, it looks like after this pesky, lingering storm pulls away from our coasts this weekend, seasonable temperatures will move in once again.   In some places though, they (sort of) already have. With the ongoing drought conditions, we’re primed for an early autumn, and the brief blast cool weather before Hermine brought out pops and patches in our most-stressed trees. Swamp maples and rock ledges normally turn first, and this year, add to that list recently planted trees in developed landscapes, south-facing trees on the edges of forests, and trees used to growing in wetter soils. All are showing some early color, though they remain the exception rather than the norm.
Hints Of Early Foliage Color Is Emerging This Year Along Rocky Outcroppings
Hints of early foliage color are emerging along rocky outcroppings.
Photo Credit : Kenneth J Hamilton
While waiting for the rest of the foliage, it looks like a great weekend to visit our local orchards, opening now for picking, hayrides and amazing cider donuts. Or, if a northwest breeze develops, you might get in the fall spirit by visiting a hilltop hawk-watch, and see the head of the broad-winged hawk migration through the region. You could even combine these activities at Carter Hill Orchard in Concord, NH! Soon enough though, the holding pattern will give way to peak color, and New Englanders will be joined by visitors from all around the world,  participating in the time tested tradition of leaf peeping. To the uninitiated, it might just sound like an endless and mindless task, driving and looking for the best leaves. But in truth, it’s so much more. Leaf peeping is the art of enjoying autumn in New England, and all the fairs, festivals, traditions and spaces that we look forward to all year. Leaf peeping is the act of celebrating this most colorful season. Some of our favorite foliage-viewing opportunities, in fact, don’t require an automobile at all.


By Foot:Taking in the fall foliage from a remote rocky outcropping, with views dotted by distant, quaint villages with white steepled churches, is only one reward of a fall foliage hike. The hike itself, through crisp air and whispering forests, or along bubbling streams filled with swirling leaves, is one of the more anticipated autumn activities in New England.  SEE MORE:5 Best Scenic Hikes in the Whites
You Can't Beat Hiking To An Overlook At Peak Autumn Color Is
As peak color arrives, few activities are as rewarding as a hike to an overlook.
By Bike:   The bicycle remains a staple for touring in New England, especially in the autumn season. The carriage roads that wind through Acadia National Park are arguably the best way to see the park. Paved rail trails like the Causeway near Burlington, Vermont, the Franconia Notch Bike Path in New Hampshire, and the Cape Cod Rail Trail in Massachusetts all allow you to take a slower approach to leaf peeping. In many areas, rental bikes are available if you can’t bring your own! By Boat: Canoeing through this mist at dawn’s first light, kayaking next to calling loons, or cruising along our rocky coasts — there are so many ways to see the foliage from the water in New England. Many of our largest lakes also have popular tour boats which port in some of our most scenic summer getaways. The insider secret is that these tours are even more lovely in autumn. Try the Songo River Queen in Naples, Maine, or the MS Mount Washington on Lake Winnipesaukee. SEE MORE:New England Cruises | Fall Foliage From the Water
Seeing Fall Foliage From The Water Is A Special Experience
Seeing fall foliage from the water is a special experience.
Photo Credit : Jim Salge
By Chairlift / Gondola: Many New England ski resorts spin the lifts before the snow hits to accommodate leaf peeping tourists. Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway in New Hampshire is perhaps the most famous of these, but resorts from Wachusett to Wildcat also provide opportunities. The gondola ride at Stowe is a great way to see the foliage en route to a stunning trip through Smuggler’s Notch. By Train:Passenger rail service still thrives in New England, and brings you through some areas of beautiful fall foliage. Popular routes include Maine’s Downeaster as well as the Vermonter along the Green Mountains. Scenic tourism train routes include Connecticut’s Essex Steam Train, the Cape Cod Scenic Railroad, and the Winnipesaukee or Conway Railroads in New Hampshire. You can even take the Cog Railway to the top of New England’s highest peak during peak colors, so long as the tracks stay snow free!   SEE MORE:Fall Foliage Train Tours in New England
The Conway Scenic Railroad Through Crawford Notch, New Hampshire
The Conway Scenic Railroad through Crawford Notch, New Hampshire
Photo Credit : Jim Salge
By Zipline:Possibly the fastest growing attraction in New England, adventure courses have popped up near every tourism hub and at many ski resorts. Many let you soar through or just above the forest canopy, ablaze in our famous peak color. The mile-and-a-half long zipline at Gunstock Ski Resort in New Hampshire is the longest in New England, and perhaps in the country.  SEE MORE:New England Foliage Zipline ToursBy Ferris Wheel: Fall is fair season in New England, and while many look forward to the agricultural shows, demolition derbies, and of course, the food, it’s hard to beat the nostalgia of taking in the view from atop a ferris wheel.
Fair Rides Provide Excitement, Nostalgia, and Great Foliage Views
Come fair season, amusement rides provide excitement, nostalgia, and great foliage views.
Photo Credit : Jeff Sinon
By Air:  There are so many options for getting above the foliage in New England. Many of the smaller airports throughout the region offer tours by plane or helicopter. Private companies offer hot air balloon flights throughout the autumn season. The Franconia Soaring Association, though, offers one of the most unique options — a towed flight above the highest summits in New Hampshire in an engineless glider.  
A Glider Soars Over Foliage in New Hampshire's White Mountains
A glider soars over foliage in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.
Photo Credit : Kevin Talbot
For so many New England families, touring the autumn leaves is a tradition, and many look forward to their favorite leaf peeping pairing every year. Others look at fall as an opportunity for adventure, for trying something new and seeing new places. There are so many ways to take in our autumn colors. As we get closer to autumn, continue to check in at for updates on foliage forecasts, observations and conditions. We have many tools to help you plan your foliage adventure, including interactive foliage maps, a foliage app, and weekly reports.   Not long now, we’ll see you soon!