A Gondola, a Cliff Walk, and More Ways to See Stunning Fall Foliage in New England

A leaf-peeping guide for all six states in the region.

Stowe, Vermont fall foliage from the Gondola SkyRide
Stowe, Vermont fall foliage from the Gondola SkyRide | SNEHIT PHOTO/Shutterstock
Stowe, Vermont fall foliage from the Gondola SkyRide | SNEHIT PHOTO/Shutterstock

It’s time again to hit the road to take in New England’s most hype-worthy offering: none other than its fall foliage. We’re talking all six states here—our home of Massachusetts, plus Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, and Rhode Island—with popular pitstops and lesser-known destinations that are nothing short of glorious as you meander through the stellar scenery.

As for when you can expect to see the changing colors, this year, we’re looking at peak foliage to develop in early October and lasting longer than usual. For exact dates, check out our fall foliage predictions roundup for more. So keep reading and get your plans in order as the highly anticipated autumnal season quickly hits New England.

White Mountain National Forest
White Mountain National Forest | SNEHIT PHOTO/Shutterstock

Fall foliage in New Hampshire

If you decide on New Hampshire for your fall foliage getaway, you have your pick of places, including the Great North Woods region. It may be considered less popular with leaf hunters, but the views are nothing short of breathtaking. And around these parts, you’re even likely to encounter friendly forest animals (although, no guarantee that they’re actually friendly). Along the forest route, stop at Milan State Park, which holds a 132-foot fire tower that alone is worth the visit—from there, you’ll be gazing at the red and yellow treetops all the way into Maine, Vermont, and Canada.

For added serene sights, NH’s largest lake, Lake Winnipesaukee, is a can’t miss in the fall. With hundreds of miles of hiking trails, you can explore the shoreline or climb your way up the Ossipee or Belknap Mountains. While you’re there, don’t forget to visit the mountaintop estate, Castle in the Clouds. Located on over 5,500 acres of luscious land, you can tour the historic Lucknow Mansion, dine at the Carriage House Restaurant, or enjoy a fraction of the 28 miles of hiking trails.

White Mountains
Now to New Hampshire's most legendary attraction, the White Mountains. The famous mountain range is arguably one of the most scenic destinations in New England, particularly the drive along the 35-mile Kancamagus Pass. The NH roadway, nicknamed The Kanc, takes you directly through the White Mountain National Forest, and at one point, you’ll have climbed as high as 3,000 feet above sea level all while on wheels. Just a heads up, there are really no gas stations or services along this stretch, so be sure to fill the tank up ahead of time. End the day by refueling at the Tamworth Distilling, at the White Mountains base.

If you’d prefer to take a backseat during the adventure, you’re in luck. From North Woodstock’s Cafe Lafayette Dinner Train to North Conway’s Conway Scenic Railroad, you can pick up a train ticket specifically for kicking back and taking in the fall sights.

Stowe, Vermont fall foliage from the Gondola SkyRide
Stowe, Vermont fall foliage from the Gondola SkyRide | Jay Yuan/Shutterstock

Fall foliage in Vermont

All of New England has leaf peeping that is equally fantastic, so you certainly won’t be disappointed wherever you decide. But Vermont is easily one of the most talked-about states for fall road trips.

For those having trouble deciding on a point A to point B within Vermont, Route 100, the state’s largest highway, is a more than 200-mile thoroughfare that’s popular with nature photographers and fall enthusiasts alike. Why so special, you ask? Other than it being a natural knockout, the route’s lack of billboards and close proximity to the Green Mountains are standout selling points. The other telltale reason is that the highway leads directly to some of Vermont’s most charming small towns, from Weston (which houses the revered Vermont Country Store) to Plymouth Notch (home of the award-winning Plymouth Artisan Cheese).

But the main event comes when you turn off Route 100 onto the Green Mountain Byway, which takes you from Waterbury to Stowe. This means leaf-watching against a backdrop of bucolic mountains and farmland, cider donuts from Cold Hollow Cider Mill, and a detour into the Ben and Jerry’s Factory. Lesser known is historic Route 7A, AKA the Shires of Vermont Byway, which takes you between 17 tiny towns and villages, including the historic enclaves of Bennington and Manchester. Have some extra time? Park and take the Gondola SkyRide (open through October 15) on Mount Mansfield in Stowe to get a bird’s eye view of the foliage.

One of the essential leaf-viewing spots in the state may well be atop the 306-foot-tall stone obelisk Bennington Battle Monument (open through October 31). Or you can (carefully) cruise up the hairpin-y Skyline Drive, a privately owned toll road favored by motorcyclists that winds up to the top of Equinox Mountain. There—at 3,848 feet above sea level—you’ll have simultaneous views of the Green, White, Adirondack, Berkshire, and Taconic mountains. If you’re craving a little exercise, head into Burlington and hop on some two-wheelers to tour the Burlington Greenway.

Kennebunkport, Maine
Kennebunkport | Lamar Sellers/Shutterstock

Fall foliage in Maine

According to New England’s fall foliage reporter for Yankee Magazine, Jim Salge, this year, some of the best fall foliage can be found in Northern and Southern Maine. Cue Route 1, giving you that double whammy of water and foliage views. If you wanted, you could start in Kittery and spend hours winding your way up the coast toward Bar Harbor.

But for the sake of worthwhile pit stops, Ogunquit offers a leaf-peeping stroll along the Marginal Way, while Kennebunkport offers a colorful drive through Cape Porpoise and along Goose Rocks Beach and the Bridle Path invites you to bike through the foliage. Wells Reserve lets you add a little bird-watching to your leaf-peeping, and there’s a more active hike to be had on the Eastern Trail in Arundel.

Acadia National Park
Salge also predicted that DownEast toward Acadia will be another hot spot for 2023 foliage—therefore, Acadia National Park is a must. Accessible via car or ferry, this “Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast” spans nearly 50,000 acres, and, if you’re driving, 27 miles worth of oceanside cliffs and mountainous forests, including the 3.5 mile drive up to Cadillac Mountain, the park’s tallest mountain. Just make sure to go early as it’s the only attraction that can be reached by car, meaning that it can get quite busy, especially during the fall season.

When you’re done exploring the mountains, peruse the many restaurants in Bar Harbor, with quality seafood at Geddy’s and Side Street Cafe, something on the finer side via Havana, and the beloved Travelin Lobster, a fisherman-owner counter-serve stand that serves up the best lobster around (season ends October 15). We also highly recommend Mount Desert Island Ice Cream, which serves up homemade scoops year-round.

West Cornwall Covered Bridge
West Cornwall Covered Bridge | Dan Hanscom/Shutterstock

Fall foliage in Connecticut

The Last Green Valley is a National Heritage Corridor and a no-brainer for foliage hunters. Its land comprises 77% of either forest or farm, which means a whole lotta psychedelic leaf patterns and few commercial builds to distract. The 36-town-strong route also offers all manner of classic New England autumnal fun: apple- and pumpkin-picking at Buell’s Orchard, wine-tasting at Sharpe Hill Vineyard, and hiking at Macedonia Brook State Park.

Come fall, Litchfield Hills and its 26 charming towns actually get their moment in the fading fall sun, owing to the truly singular foliage along Route 7. The roadway also shows you two gorgeous covered bridges (West Cornwall Covered Bridge and Bulls Bridge) and leads toward the working farm Kent Falls Brewing. Detour a bit more to hike up the Heublein Tower in Simsbury—the 165-foot-tall relic grants you one of the best panoramic views in the state.

Autumnal Mountain Landscape in the Berkshires, Massachusetts
Berkshire County, Massachusetts | Albert Pego/Shutterstock

Fall foliage in Massachusetts

Route 2 is the state’s foliage highway. The drive through Central and Western Massachusetts takes you through the need-no-introduction Berkshires, where the prismatic flora is truly breathtaking. By the time you hit the 42-mile Mohawk Trail, you’ll be at a loss for words over the scenery—then doubly astounded as you maneuver the infamous hairpin turn just before North Adams. If you’re looking to get out of the car, The Clark Art Institute’s 140-acre grounds are open 24-7 for hikes, picnics, and a perusal of the outdoor art installations—and leaves, of course. If you can’t get enough art, there’s also a self-guided artwork tour throughout Berkshires County.

But you’d be sorely missing out to discount the Cape in the fall. Once you cross the Sagamore Bridge, detour over to Route 6A for a leisurely, color-speckled meander through the towns you typically pass by on the way to Provincetown. The Old King’s Highway also invites foliage-friendly stops at the Heritage Museums & Gardens and the stone Scargo Tower in Dennis—the latter a little-known lookout. In the meantime, still-open farm stands along the route let you stock up on fall veggies and decorative gourds. One last thing: Don't forget about the many apple-picking options near Boston—leaf-peeping close to town is a perfectly fine option.

West Greenwich, Rhode Island
West Greenwich, Rhode Island | Triana Kidar/Shutterstock

Fall foliage in Rhode Island

Start in Woonsocket on Route 146, taking time to grab a candy apple at Jaswell’s Farm, and continue through Providence for a double-dose of autumnal vistas and classic New England architecture. Then turn onto Route 114 and meander into Portsmouth for a leafy pedal aboard the Rail Explorers. Eventually, you’ll end up in “America’s First Resort” for two archetypal leaf-peeps: a slow car crawl down Ocean Drive and a stroll along the Cliff Walk (which is actually maneuverable in the fall).

Or take I-95 south to Blackstone Valley for a twofer of leaves and water. The Scituate Loop is a favorite, taking you around much of the serene Scituate Reservoir (just brake for bikers, as it’s a favorite motorcycle ride).

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTikTokTwitterFacebookPinterest, and YouTube.

Jillian Hammell is a contributor to Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Meaghan Agnew is a contributing writer. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.