The Ultimate New England Fall Foliage Road Trip
I grew up in Southern California where we don’t really have seasons. So when I first discovered fall colors, I was hooked. I’ve since, made it an annual tradition to chase fall foliage at their peak. So when I discovered that New England has some of the best fall foliage in the US, I had to make this trip.
If exploring New England in the fall is not on your bucket list yet, add it immediately! This is a must-visit for anyone who loves fall.
So after a year of waiting, researching, planning, and working on my photography skills, I finally got to experience this fall wonderland! Not much is better than the fall leaves, cool weather, and pumpkin spice lattes. The small towns across New England look like they’ve been pulled from a storybook.
In this blog, I’m sharing when to go, how to get there, and a break down of what to see.
What is New England
New England is made up of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.
All of these states are close together, so it’s easy to explore most if not all of them on your New England fall foliage trip.
When To See Fall Foliage
Fall foliage changes North to South, so plan your trip accordingly. Generally, the colors start changing in late September and continue through mid-October.
My trip was from September 30th through October 12th. I ended up being there at the perfect time, right when I arrived the colors peaked in many areas.
Fall colors peak at slightly different times each year. The best way to experience them is to be a little flexible with your timing and itinerary. The downside of planning more last minute is that some of the cabins stay and nicer hotels do sell out for that time of the year. But if you don’t mind where you stay, you can be more flexible. I planned the trip more last minute and never had an issue finding a place to stay.
When I did this trip, I marked where I wanted to explore on a Google Map and then planned day by day when I arrived so maximize experiencing the areas that are peaking.
I flew into Boston International airport, rented a car, and then drove to the different areas I’ve explored. Another option is to fly into JFK in New York.
Shop around for different flights to several different airports around here. Since everything is so close and you’ll be driving around exploring the fall colors anyways, look for the cheapest flight that fits your schedule.
How Long To Go For
If you’re short on time, then I recommend planning your trip for 4 to 5 days. If you have more time, then plan for 7 to 10 days. Since everything is so close together, it’s so easy to see most of it in a short amount of time.
This was a change compared to taking road trips across the western side of the US. It takes a day just to drive through California! I drove maybe 1 hour to 3 hours from destination to destination.
I was on this trip for almost 2 weeks, but the fall colors reached their peak the last few days of my trip and I ended up just hanging out around Boston. You can also extend your trip in general and spend time in Boston and New York City. If this will be your first time on the East Coast, I highly recommend making time to explore these two cities. I love the mountains and nature, but sometimes it’s fun to dress up, experience more city vibes, get good food, and go shopping. In New York City you can also go to the ballet and see a broadway show.
Where to See Fall Foliage
There is something amazing to experience in every state! Each one has it’s local charm and beautiful locations.
My best tip for experiencing fall foliage in New England is to create a rough itinerary and do the research before leaving home. I created a Google Map and marked all the locations I wanted to see. But since things peak at different times, play it day by day! Once I arrived, I headed north and then day by day decided where I was going to explore based on what was peaking and even the weather! It rained on and off my entire trip, so I was flexible and planned accordingly.
After I landed in Boston, I picked up my rental car and drove to the northernmost part of New Hampshire. Since fall colors change from north to south, I wanted to follow the same pattern. And I’m so glad I did!
Start at Dixville Notch State Park. It’s a really cute area that passes through the beautiful fall foliage. There are photo opportunities everywhere! Plan to hike the Table Rock trail which is a 1.5 mile round-trip hike with 700 feet of elevation gain. But at the top, you get 360 degree views.
After you’ve finished exploring, you can stay at Colebrook nearby or drive down to the White Mountains like I did. I spent the night in Lincoln and got up bright and early to drive along the Kancamagus Highway. It’s 37 miles through the White Mountains. There are stops and hiking trails along the entire drive so there is so much to see and do. Use All Trails to research specific trails that match your fitness level and interest you.
Along this road, take Bear Notch Road to North Conway. Bear Notch Road is a cute little road with a bunch of places to take stunning fall colors among the leaves.
North Conway is a cute little town with a train you can take! I didn’t have time to take the train on this trip, but it looks so fun. There are trips that are hour-long or five hours long! In North Conway, I highly recommend stopping at Chef’s Bistro and Peach’s Restaurant for breakfast and at Chef’s Bistro for lunch.
I ended up doing a couple of circles through the White Mountains. Next, I recommend stopping by Franconia Notch State Park and visit Flume Gorge and hike the Artists Bluff Trail. It’s well known for its waterfalls and red covered bridge. Since I went during COVID-19 times, advanced reservations were required to visit Flume Gorge so I ended up skipping it. Usually, you can do walk-ups.
While you’re in the White Mountains area, stop by Crawford Notch State Park and hike the Mount Willard Trail for beautiful overhead views of the changing leaves.
From here, you can go further north to Mt. Washington. You can hike it or take a train to the top. Mt. Washington is the tallest mountain on the northeastern side of the US at 6,289 feet. If you are into peak bagging, this is one you’ll definitely want to do.
If you want to hike a section on the Appalachian Trail, here is your chance! Just note that the hardest sections of the AT go through New Hampshire and Maine.
Vermont feels like it was pulled right out of a storybook. The houses and farms are so adorable. Just remove the cars and it’s like you’re transported back in time.
You can start in northern Vermont and spend some time exploring Smuggler’s Notch, which is a pass that goes through Vermont and gives you stunning views and Stowe. Stowe is full of cute shops, has one of the longest ziplines in the country, and has festive activities like corn mazes. Smuggler’s Notch has a pass that goes through Vermont
From there head to Sleepy Hollow Farm and Woodstock. This was my favorite part of Vermont. There are photogenic farms and homes throughout Woodstock. Plus you can support some of the local farms by grabbing some maple syrup! Woodstock is also a cute town to explore in itself. There are several restaurants and shops to enjoy wandering through.
I was completely blown away by the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. Do not miss your chance to explore this area! The trees turn to beautiful shades of yellow, orange, and red. The hardest part about exploring this area is keeping your eyes on the road instead of on the trees!
You can stay in Lake Placid, which is known for its winter Olympics venue. It’s also a cute mountain town! There are a variety of restaurants, bars, hotels, shops, and things to do. There are also so many places to hike in the area and you can go kayaking or canoeing on Mirror Lake. Lake Placid is also close to the High Peaks, which are the highest mountains in New York. If you’re into peak bagging, look into these! Just be mindful of the weather and dress accordingly.
A hike I really recommend doing is to Indian Head which overlooks Lower Ausable Lake. It’s a 10.5 mile round trip hike with around 1,700 feet of elevation gain and roughly takes 5 hours to finish. If you want to get beautiful photos, I suggest doing this hike towards sunset. Make sure to bring a headlamp so you’re not completely hiking back in the dark. Another thing to be aware of is that it can get very windy at the top. I ended up getting something into my eye which turned into an eye infection because I was facing the wind when taking photos. I just needed to use antibiotic eye drops for a week and everything was thankfully fine with my eye, but in hindsight, I should have worn sunglasses when facing the wind to shield my eyes a bit.