Few New England foliage-season traditions are as easy and enjoyable as hitting the road for a leaf-peeping road trip. Just add the perfect fall playlist and a stop for warm apple cider doughnuts. Ready to ride? Here are fourteen of our favorite fall drives (including the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire, the Mohawk Trail in Massachusetts, and Route 100 in Vermont) in New England.
Art lovers may have a hard time with their initial momentum, as this foliage tour starts in a museum-rich corner of the state. From Williamstown, with its peerless Williams College Museum of Art and Clark Art Institute, you strike out on Route 2 (aka the Mohawk Trail) east to North Adams and the world-famous Mass MoCA. But nature’s beauty is fully present, too, from the woodland walks at Natural Bridge State Park to the mountain vistas from the Western Summit, reached via a memorably steep hairpin turn. The highest point on the Mohawk Trail, Whitcomb Summit (elevation 2,173 feet), comes in the town of Florida and offers views far into southern Vermont and New Hampshire. Start heading back west by following signs into Savoy Mountain State Forest—a worthy side trip here is a hike to Tannery Falls, an 80-foot series of plunges and horsetails—and over to East Road in Adams, a back road that runs north in parallel with Route 8, along the edge of majestic Mount Greylock. At North Adams, you’ll rejoin Route 2 for the trip back to Williamstown.
This sinuous drive along the Connecticut River begins at South Hadley’s Village Commons, across from the storied beauty of the Mount Holyoke College campus. Launch yourself north on Route 47, which soon arrives at Skinner State Park and the chance to detour to the summit of Mount Holyoke and a view of the river winding through fertile fields and dense forests. In Hadley, which has more farm acreage than any other Massachusetts town, farm stands abound; you’ll also find a great open-air flea market on Sundays from spring to fall. There’s one breath-taking view after another as you drive on to Sunderland, where you can detour onto Route 116 to motor up the summit road of Mount Sugarloaf in South Deerfield and see the whole of the Pioneer Valley. Back on Route 47, hop off at Main Street in Montague to visit the magical Montague Bookmill or continue through town and up to Turners Falls, which offers several worthy dining and shopping options. Cross the river and Route 2, head up Main Road into Gill, then re-cross the river on Route 10 to reach Route 63, which leads north to your just desserts: Northfield Creamie, which has been scooping fresh-made ice cream since 1952.
The Old Canada Road (Route 201) is set in a landscape that is not just scenic but also grandly historic, as Benedict Arnold led troops through this wilderness on his spectacularly ill-fated mission to sack Quebec in 1775. The trip today is an excursion from the pastoral into the pine forests: Starting out from Solon, you’re flanked by rolling farmland, then climb steadily into commercial timberland and the lair of moose. You’ll soon share the winding road with both logging trucks and old school buses that ferry white-water enthusiasts to some of the most popular rafting in the East, at the Forks (join them to get splendidly soaked on the Kennebec or Dead rivers). Just a few miles up from the Forks is the don’t-miss hike to 90-foot Moxie Falls, one of Maine’s highest cascades. Back on 201, you’ll pass Parlin Pond and the Appalachian Trail to reach the town of Jackman (“Last Gas in the United States”), one of Maine’s famed fishing, hunting, and snowmobiling outposts. Just south of town is Attean Lake Lodge, a family-friendly resort on a densely forested island—and, if you made reservations, a perfect place to rest your head for the night.
Make it a full day or spend the night along the way as you explore the Oxford Hills and Lakes Region. Starting from Gray, home of the kid-pleasing Maine Wildlife Park, pick up Route 26 north; just eight miles up the road is the last living Shaker community, Sabbathday Lake. Stay with 26 into South Paris—where you can bag an easy White Mountains view by detouring up Paris Hill—then motor west to Waterford via 118 and 37, and dally in its National Historic District town center. Pick up 35 north to the ski town of Bethel, a great place to refuel before heading west on Route 2 to the New Hampshire border and the scenic high point: the steep, winding, and spectacular run of Route 113 south through Evan’s Notch, dotted with trailheads for hiking to waterfalls and high mountain vistas. The drive wraps up in Fryeburg, whose attractions include Maine’s largest annual agricultural fair and its oldest covered bridge.
The southwestern part of New Hampshire is fondly called “the Currier & Ives Corner,” and this long fall drive down narrow country roads and through storybook villages will show you why. Starting from Peterborough (the model for Thornton Wilder’s Our Town), take Route 202 north to Route 136 and follow it to the historic towns of Greenfield and Francestown, the latter filled with structures over 200 years old. Route 47 west leads past the Crotched Mountain ski area and appealing views of distant color-filled hills on the way to Hancock via 202 south and 137 west. With its manicured town green and central pond, Hancock is hard to beat for atmosphere—until you reach Harrisville, about eight miles southwest via Hancock Road, a painstakingly preserved mill town with a general store that’s worth the trip in itself. Pop down Dublin Road to say hi at Yankee’s headquarters before looping west on 101 to 124 south, which pays off in jaw-dropping views of Mount Monadnock’s southern slopes. Stay on 124 through Jaffrey Center (where Willa Cather is buried) and into Jaffrey itself before turning north on 137 and returning to Peterborough.
Though this trek through shoreline towns is hardly off the beaten path, it’s a long-standing fall favorite for its wealth of pit-stop options and its bursts of color reflected in the water. Start from Alton Bay at the southern tip of Lake Winnipesaukee and motor west on Route 11 to Mount Major, where you can take a 1.5-mile hike up to dazzling views of the lake and the Ossipee and White mountains. Reward your efforts with ice cream at Kellerhaus in Weirs Beach before picking up Route 3 north, or hold your appetite until you reach Meredith and detour to Moulton Farm for apples, pumpkins, and homemade baked goods. Continue on Route 3 toward Squam Lake, which you’ll loop around via Route 113 and 109, hitting the scenic burgs of Holderness and Center Sandwich along the way. In Moultonborough, the c. 1781 Old Country Store & Museum awaits, its aisles packed with knickknacks, penny candy, maple products, and more. Pick up Route 109 again, and continue along the northern shore of Winnipesaukee for the 18-mile stretch to Wolfeboro, with its bustling Main Street and water-view eateries. Then it’s down Route 28 to Alton Bay and a final scenic lookout with outstanding views of the lake and mountains.
No list of foliage drives would be complete without the Kancamagus Highway, aka the 35 miles of Route 112 between Conway and Lincoln. Before getting under way, make time to stop at the Saco Ranger Station (the most-visited ranger station in the White Mountain National Forest) for a parking pass, hiking maps, or savvy foliage advice. Then you’ll ascend into a spectacular color scene on a two-lane road that holds no stores, no gas stations, and no signs except for those pointing to hiking trails and campgrounds. The pull-offs look out over the national forest, waterfalls, and mountains. Two favorite stops: the Albany Covered Bridge, over the Swift River, and Lincoln Woods, where you can photograph the views from a suspension bridge or stroll along old railbeds once used by logging railroads.
You’d need an entire day to explore Litchfield—said to be New England’s finest surviving example of a typical late-18th-century town—but that’s best saved for another time, when the Litchfield Hills aren’t glowing their autumn best. So from the village green, crowned with its immaculately white Congregational church, head north on Route 63 to the village of Goshen—smaller and more typical of this rural northwestern region than its famed neighbor—where you’ll take a left onto Route 4. Passing placid Tyler Lake, you’re soon motoring past a mix of foliage-covered hills, pastures, and forest. At the four-way intersection outside Cornwall, take 128 north: After about three miles and a formidable decline, there’s the picture-perfect West Cornwall covered bridge, built in the 1860s, waiting to bring you across the Housatonic. From there, jog north on Route 7, aka Ethan Allen Highway, for a 12-mile run through some of the trip’s most colorful and scenic vistas; zip into Canaan and head east on 44, where the businesses soon thin out again; and point the car toward Haystack Mountain Park, which offers an easy 1.8-mile loop hike to the top and views into Massachusetts. Back on 44, you’ll pass through stately Norfolk, a favored 19th-century summer resort, on the way to Winsted, which has dining options aplenty as well as easy access to the region’s busy north-south artery, Route 8.
The spine of Connecticut’s “Quiet Corner,” Route 169 also happens to be one of New England’s prettiest roads—most of it is in fact a National Scenic Byway. The start of this quick and easy drive is Woodstock, just a stone’s throw from Interstate 395; before setting out, be sure to check out the town’s watermelon-pink National Historic Landmark, Roseland Cottage, a grand Gothic Revival house built in 1846 by a local boy made good. Next stop is Pomfret, home of Mashamoquet Brook State Park and the ivied buildings of Pomfret School (plus the chance for antiques lovers to make a quick side trip via Route 44 to next-door Putnam’s 20,000-square-foot Antiques Marketplace). Continuing on 169 brings you to Brooklyn, a town steeped in agricultural history and where bison as well as cows can be seen grazing the fields. A side-trip option here: Logee’s Greenhouses in Danielson, where more than a thousand rare tropical and subtropical plants are cultivated. Returning to the curves and hills of the main route, you’ll pass through historic Canterbury and, after the final stone wall–lined stretch, wind up in Lisbon, where the National Scenic Byway ends.
Get ready for a roller-coaster foliage ride through the heart of the Green Mountain State. Head east on Route 17, which winds past farmland through New Haven and climbs to views of South Mountain and Mount Ellen before reaching Bristol. (This downtown area is a National Historic District filled with an eclectic mix of local businesses, so you may want to tarry awhile.) Leaving Bristol on Route 17, you’ll climb nearly 2,000 feet in elevation to the top of Appalachian Gap; at the summit, stop and soak in views of the Mad River Valley to the east, the Champlain Valley to the west, and the Adirondacks in the distance. On your descent, you’ll pass Mad River Glen ski area, which on fall weekends offers foliage rides on its iconic single-chair ski lift. At Irasville, you’ll start following the scenic Mad River north: first on Route 100 and then on Route 100B. At Middlesex, take Highway 2 to the state capital, Montpelier, where you’ll spot Ceres, Roman goddess of agriculture, gracing the gold dome atop the Vermont State House.
Considered by many to be the best foliage drive in Vermont, Route 100 stretches some 200 miles from Massachusetts to Lake Memphremagog. But for a leisurely day-trip, a third of it will do. Heading north on 100 out of Wilmington, you’ll be hugging the eastern edge of the Green Mountain National Forest all the way to Weston, which boasts one of the loveliest town centers in the state as well as the original Vermont Country Store. From there it’s on to Ludlow, where an optional detour up Route 103 yields a hidden-gem picnic spot, Buttermilk Falls. Water features also figure into the final portion of your drive, as a string of lovely little lakes—Lake Rescue, Echo Lake, and Amherst Lake—run along Route 100. At the end is the bucolic President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site, situated atop a hill in Plymouth Notch and surrounded by a dramatic bowl of mountains.
In addition to boasting the most covered bridges of any town in the nation, Montgomery is an ideal home base for exploring this corner of Vermont, where Franklin County’s dairy lands meet the forests of the Northeast Kingdom. The region’s signature mountain, Jay Peak, is your first stop via Route 242; here, you can ride an aerial tram to the nearly 4,000-foot summit and see vistas that encompass Quebec’s Eastern Townships, Mount Mansfield, and Lake Champlain. From there, plunge into the heart of the Kingdom by heading east on 242 to 101, south to Troy, and then east on 100 to Newport. On the shores of the border-straddling Lake Memphremagog, soak up the scenery and refuel at the Northeast Kingdom Tasting Center downtown. A circuitous return to Montgomery via Highway 5, Route 14, and Route 58 pays off in the final stretch between Lowell and Montgomery Center, an unpaved tunnel through dense hardwood forests that reaches a nearly 1,800-foot crest at Hazen’s Notch.
From busy Interstate 295, strike out west on Route 44, aka Putnam Pike, and into the heart of Rhode Island apple country. Among the orchards to tempt you here are the c. 1899 Jaswell’s Farm (legendary candy apples) and Appleland (extraordinary cider), both just a few miles off the main route. Motor west on 44 until you reach Chepachet, a historic riverside village where you can pick up penny candy at one of America’s oldest general stores, Brown & Hopkins, or go for a hike in 1,200-acre Sprague Farm Town Forest in nearby Glocester. From Chepachet, head south on Route 102, Rhode Island’s best foliage drive, and be reminded of the fact that the Ocean State is actually 52 percent forested. At West Greenwich, exit 102 and dogleg east through the dense forest of the Big River Management Area as you head back to Warwick—i.e., civilization. But even inside city limits there’s one last burst of color waiting, at Goddard Memorial State Park, where the grounds include more than 60 species of deciduous trees.
Its southern coastal location makes this one of the last foliage drives to turn, with color lingering through October (sometimes even into November). From Aquidneck Island, cross the Sakonnet River Bridge and then drop south into Tiverton to begin a ramble through a stretch of Rhode Island and Massachusetts where farmland rolls to the ocean and inlets are bordered by towns settled as far back as 1616. Route 77 curves past Nannaquaket Pond on the way to Tiverton Four Corners, an 18th-century village filled with shops and other distractions, including the justifiably famous Gray’s Ice Cream. Make your way east via Meetinghouse Lane to historic Little Compton, which boasts the state’s only official town common, before zigzagging on local roads northeast to Adamsville, with its monument to the Rhode Island Red chicken. Hop the state border to reach journey’s end, Westport, which has a pristine Trustees of Reservation property to explore (Westport Town Farm) as well as the award-winning winery Westport Rivers, set on a 435-acre farm.
Have a favorite New England fall drive that’s not on our list? Let us know in the comments below!