Road lined with perfect autumn color await leaf peepers this fall.
Photo Credit : Jim Salge
Autumn’s advance in New England is rarely gradual, instead it is punctuated by a few sharp swings from cool to warm and back again. We’ll experience many more such swings throughout September, but eventually, we’ll see it see the cool nights win out, and the beautiful colors come in!
When the foliage does arrive (check out our 2017 New England fall foliage forecast to learn more about this year’s color predictions), locals and travelers alike will take part in the age old New England tradition, leaf peeping. It’s an activity that sounds passive, but is usually paired with other activity. The foliage takes top billing, and also serves as a backdrop to fall hikes, bike rides, scenic train rides, boat tours, gondola rides, zip lines, and rounds of golf. Leaf peeping might take you to known locations, to traditional family places, to fairs, farms or festivals. Or it might be an opportunity to explore, to get lost and to see new things.
At New England.com, we know of many popular foliage routes in every New England state, each with special autumn attractions along the way. And as the season evolves, we’ll let you know where the leaves will be peaking each weekend in our weekly foliage reports.
What will be up to you is what to pack, and how to prepare for your leaf peeping adventure.
We brainstormed with our staff, and came up with the essential leaf peeping kit.
WHAT TO BRING LEAF PEEPING
A GPS device has become the standard tool for finding the most efficient way to get somewhere. But when taking in the autumn colors, the goal is often to go nowhere, or at least nowhere in particular. To explore the beautiful back roads and to take the least efficient route, or to discover you are near a covered bridge, you still need a good map, or better yet, a state gazetteer.
In the age of selfies and cell phone cameras, a stand-alone, single function camera is still the gold standard for the highest quality printed images. Most of these cameras allow for the addition of filters to the front of the lens, and there’s still no digital equivalent that makes your autumn images pop quite like a circular polarizer filter. Get one before you go!
The digital revolution created many online tools that can enhance your leaf peeping experience. Our own Fall Foliage App, Leaf Peepr, is a county-by-county crowd-sourced foliage map and guide that allows you to report conditions and upload images while you travel. Apps like Instagram have geotagging, allowing you to see images and check conditions of places you intend to visit, and post your own from the road with the hashtag #MyNewEngland. Increasingly, I find weather apps are indispensable on the road. A fair warning though, service in the more rural hills and valleys can still be spotty.
New England’s abundant wildlife is very active in the fall. You can visit more than a dozen hilltop observatories, set up specifically to count migrating hawks. Deer and moose are in the rut and on the move, looking to mate before winter. Bear are preparing to hibernate, feeding actively on summer’s lingering bounty. Eagles are increasingly abundant throughout the region. And we forget that even our adorable common red squirrels aren’t terribly common south of New England. But primarily, of course, you’ll want binoculars just to get a closer look at the beautiful leaves.
Fall weather in New England is usually beautiful, but can be temperamental. The brightest fall foliage is usually brought on by cool mornings and warm, sunny days. Those looking to spend a day or weekend traveling around the countryside or through the mountains should bring everything from t-shirts and shorts to sweatshirts, hats and gloves. And don’t forget the rain gear, just in case.
Fall mornings in New England are special. The air is often crisp and still. Layers of fog and mist can really make for special images, especially as the sun filters through. A touch of frost can make the whole world sparkle. And fall foliage always looks the brightest in the softest light! Get up early, or miss the best scenes of the day.
Mosquito and tick activity drops off precipitously throughout the autumn, especially after the first frost. I almost never encounter these pests by late September or October, and their numbers are low in this drought year anyway. But, it’s definitely something that is better brought and not needed than needed and not brought. Lyme Disease and West Nile Virus make terrible souvenirs of a beautiful New England vacation.
Some of the best, most authentic momentos and experiences of a leaf peeping adventure come from the smallest shops and attractions. The small farm may have the best maple syrup, and you can talk to the folks who actually collected the sap. Country stores and family orchards often have the best produce, and baked goods and cider donuts to sweeten your stay. Yard sales are often planned during busy leaf peeping weekends, as locals know the traffic increases. And county fairs … good luck using plastic at any of these places, so have some old-fashioned money in hand.
Lastly, don’t forget to bring along the gear for your favorite activities that can be paired with leaf peeping. Your hiking boots, your fishing rod, your golf clubs … all these things are arguably best in autumn.
Did we miss anything? Let us know!
This post was first published in 2016 and has been updated.