The Best USA Road Trip Routes

Classic New England Fall Road Trip Route

Classic New England Fall Road Trip Route
By Amy Balfour

Foliage across New England puts on a brilliant display of colour in fall, with yellow, orange and deep red leaves shimmering across forested hills.

This loop passes leaf-peeping hotspots across Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire. Foliage season runs from mid-September through mid-October.

New England fall road trip route

Approx. distance: 700 miles

Duration: one week

Suggested route: Boston, Berkshires, MA, Mohawk Trail Scenic Drive, Vermont Hwy 100, Littleton, NH, Franconia Notch State Park, Kancamagus Highway, Wolfeboro, Lake Winnipesaukee, Boston

When to go: Foliage season runs from mid-September through mid-October

White Mountain National Forest fall foliage on Kancamagus Highway near Hancock Notch aerial view Town of Lincoln New Hampshire NH USA

Fall foliage on the Kancamagus Highway, in New Hampshire's White Mountain National Forest

The route

Pick up your rental car in Boston then drive two and half hours west to Great Barrington, Massachusetts and the Berkshires. Using Great Barrington as your basecamp, spend two days exploring the towns and mountains in this lovely mountain-and-valley region. From Great Barrington it takes just over an hour to reach North Adams and the 60-mile Mohawk Trail.

Follow the Mohawk Trail east on Hwy 2 to Shelburne Falls. From here, take country roads north for 30 miles to Wilmington, Vermont. Hwy 100 ribbons north from Wilmington alongside the Green Mountains on the 145-mile drive to Stowe. You’ll pass ski resorts, trailheads, inviting small towns and the Ben & Jerrys flagship store. There are tent sites, lean-tos and a handful of RV sites at Smugglers’ Notch State Park Campground, ten miles northwest of downtown.

Littleton, New Hampshire, is about 85 miles east of Stowe. Home to a shop-lined Main Street that borders the Ammonoosuc River, downtown Littleton is a picturesque stop for lunch and an afternoon stroll. From the small-town charms of Littleton, it’s a 15-minute drive through idyllic farmlands to Franconia Notch State Park. Plan to spend a day appreciating the natural attractions across the park. B&Bs, inns and family friendly campgrounds are plentiful in the region.

It’s a four-mile drive from the southern edge of Franconia Notch State Park to Lincoln, where you can gas up, eat lunch and pick up information at the White Mountains Visitor Center. Lincoln is also the western starting point for the Kancamagus Highway. From Conway, at the eastern end of the 34.5-mile highway, it takes about an hour to reach the town of Wolfeboro on the eastern shore of Lake Winnipesaukee. Private campgrounds with loads of family friendly activities and amenities dot the shoreline. Tent campers and RVers are also welcome at Ellacoya State Park on the southwest shore of the lake. Boston is two hours south of Wolfeboro.

Note that temperatures, rainfall and altitudes vary across New England, so you won’t have consistent displays of colour while driving this loop. But you will be surrounded by beautiful landscapes anchored by inviting small towns. Thanks to higher elevations and the earlier arrival of cold weather, leaves typically change colour in northern New England before they change further south. Red maples, rust-coloured oaks, yellow ashes and birches, multi-coloured sugar maples, and dark evergreens keep the New England palette vibrant.

What to see

The Berkshires

Art, culture and mountain-and-river landscapes collide – or gently join forces – in the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts. Fall festivals celebrate the changing foliage, the local farm bounty and bluegrass music. Across the region, galleries spotlight art in all its forms while farmers markets share colourful collections of berries, veggies, artisanal cheeses and maple products. Hiking trails abound, from the gentle River Walk along the Housatonic River in Great Barrington to the 6.2-mile climb to the summit of Mt Greylock, the state’s highest peak at 3491ft and a top spot for viewing the red, orange and yellow leaves. Views stretch for 100 miles, sweeping in the Green Mountains in Vermont and the Catskills and Adirondacks in New York.

Mohawk Trail

Kicking off near Mt Greylock, this 60-mile scenic drive follows Route 2 across a former Native American footpath. From west to east, the drive rolls out of Williamstown along the Hoosac River, climbs the Hoosac Range to North Adams, tackles the 180-degree Hairpin Turn then climbs to the 2100ft-high Western Summit. Next up is Mohawk Trail State Forest, a mixed hardwood and evergreen forest ideal for hiking and camping. Just east the Hail to the Sunrise statue memorialises the Five Indian Nations of the Trail. Families can climb, paddle and zipline at Zoar Outdoor Adventure Resort outside Charlemont. More than 500 varieties of flowers adorn the 400t-long Bridge of Flowers from spring through fall in Shelburne Falls.

Vermont Hwy 100

A contender for the top foliage drive in New England, Highway 100 spins north from Wilmington to the Canadian border, unfurling for 200 miles along the Green Mountains and the Long Trail. The drive curves past ski resorts, country stores, farmers markets and quintessential New England villages, with a delicious stop for ice cream at the Ben & Jerry’s Factory in Waterbury. In fall, the mountain slopes are a soft kaleidoscope of yellow, orange, red and green.

Stowe & Mount Mansfield

Cute-as-a-button Stowe, with its boutiques, galleries and 18th-century buildings is a comfy central location for exploring northern Vermont. Its namesake ski resort has runs on Spruce Peak and Mount Mansfield. The latter is the highest mountain in the state. In warmer months, take your pick of hiking trails to the summit, where you can see Lake Champlain to the west and Mt Washington to the east. The 5.3-mile Stowe Recreation Path is a picturesque walking trail from town year-round. The Von Trapp family, of Sound of Music fame, operates a high-altitude lodge, outdoor centre and beer hall a few miles west of downtown.

Franconia Notch State Park

For a bird’s-eye view of the foliage in northwestern New Hampshire, climb inside the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway, which lifts passengers to the 4080ft-high summit of Cannon Mountain in about ten minutes. On the summit, hike the Rim Trail to the observation deck, where you can see across four states and into Canada. It’s also possible to hike up to the summit and ride the gondola back down. If you’re not up for a climb, take a stroll or bike ride on the 8.8-mile paved Recreation Trail, which runs from the base of Cannon Mountain to the entrance of Flume Gorge, where a narrow stream powers through soaring rock walls.

Kancamagus Highway

Another candidate for the best fall foliage drive in New England, this 34.5-mile scenic byway swoops through White Mountain National Forest and its thickly forested slopes. You won’t find any commercial distractions or stoplights along the way, but you will find a covered bridge, scenic viewpoints, surging waterfalls, tumbling waterways, forest campgrounds and hiking trails. For a pleasant riverside stroll, try the Lincoln Woods Trail. The short trail to Sabbaday Falls ends at cascades crashing through narrow granite channels. For a sweeping canopy of colours, stop at one of the overlooks atop Kancamagus Pass (2855ft).

Lake Winnipesaukee & Squam Lake

Forested mountains hug Lake Winnipesaukee, the largest lake in New Hampshire, and its neighbour Squam Lake. One hotspot for leaf-peeping in Squam Lake is the West Rattlesnake Trail, a family friendly climb through the woods that ends at a rocky overlook above the island-dotted lake. North of Lake Winnipesaukee, you’ll see swaths of red, orange and yellow from the grounds of Castle in the Clouds, an historic mansion perched above Lake Winn in the Ossipee Mountains. For sweeping views of foliage from the southwestern shore, make the 1.5-mile climb to Mt Major.

Classic New England Fall Road Trip Route

Amy Balfour

Amy has authored or co-authored 26 books on the USA for Lonely Planet. Her articles and essays have appeared in Backpacker, Every Day with Rachael Ray, Houston Chronicle, Redbook, Southern Living, Women’s Health, Vegetarian Times, the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post.

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