New England’s Fall Spectacle

New England’s Fall Spectacle

Randy Mink

Autumn colors dapple hillsides and pretty Yankee villages

Changing leaves paint many parts of North America when pumpkin time rolls around every fall, but nowhere do branches blaze so brilliantly as in the hills of New England. Travelers from around the world flock to its storybook villages and mountain overlooks for this color-splashed spectacle, a symphony in scarlet and amber, crimson and gold.

Flaming maples frame postcard views of weathered barns, village greens and white-steepled churches. Crunchy oak leaves carpet sidewalks and trails. Farm-stands brim with fat orange pumpkins and bushels of shiny red apples. Skies are at their bluest.

Cozy and compact, the region lures nostalgia buffs with its wealth of historical treasures, antique and craft shops, and country inns. Short distances between points of interest mean a well-paced trip.

Because of fall’s crush of tourist traffic, room reservations are strongly recommended; some inns require a minimum two-night stay. Keep in mind that midweek is less hectic.

To get acquainted with the locals and experience true Yankee hospitality, some travelers plan their trips around seasonal events like apple festivals, antique shows, crafts fairs, auctions, and harvest suppers in churches and town halls.

A two-week fall foliage fling might begin in Connecticut, then move north to western Massachusetts, the mountains and valleys of Vermont and New Hampshire, and on up to Maine, New England’s largest and northernmost state.


While the joys of autumn are bountiful in Connecticut, they are sometimes overshadowed by the fabled color displays up north. To the surprise of many outsiders, though, woodlands cover four-fifths of our third smallest state, a manageable package that measures only 60 miles long by 90 miles wide. There are dozens of state parks and forests. Back roads snake under leafy awnings, curling past classic villages graced with white clapboard houses. Even the interstate highways are scenic and largely free of industrial landscapes.

A magnet for legions of “leaf peepers” is the Litchfield Hills region of northwestern Connecticut, a collection of 26 towns nestled in the Berkshire foothills. Litchfield County, with its lakes, rivers, and rolling landscapes, is the perfect place for “shunpiking,” a New England term for, in Webster’s words, “the practice of avoiding superhighways, especially for the pleasure of driving on back roads.”

Serious shunpikers will target the quintessential New England town of Litchfield, whose entire center is a National Historic District. Its wide maple-lined streets showcase well-preserved architectural gems from the 18th and 19th centuries, and its 1828 Congregational Church faces a picture-perfect town green. The 1773 house of Judge Tapping Reeve was America’s first school of law. Just outside of town, visitors can tour Haight Winery and perhaps witness the fall grape harvest.

A short drive to the east is Bristol, home of the American Clock & Watch Museum and once the leading clock manufacturing town in the world. The largest such museum anywhere, it boasts more than 1,700 American-made clocks and 1,600 watches, many of them working models that create a delightful background of ticking and chiming. Also in Bristol is the New England Carousel Museum, a treasure trove of brightly painted horses and other carved figures from the golden age of the carousel.

West of Litchfield, close to the New York State line, is one of Connecticut’s prime foliage-viewing byways, Route 7. Two highlights include the covered bridges at West Cornwall and Bulls Bridge. Spanning the Housatonic River, they are the state’s only two covered bridges open to automobile traffic and have been in continuous use for more than a century.

The quaint village of West Cornwall, adjacent to Housatonic State Forest, has several outstanding craft shops, including the famous Cornwall Bridge Pottery Store. The nearby town of Cornwall Bridge is a good jumping-off point for Mohawk State Forest, where the Lookout Tower affords fine vistas of the Catskill, Taconic, and Berkshire ranges.

Bulls Bridge is at Kent, from where a two-mile jaunt down Route 341 leads to Macedonia Brook State Park and its Cobble Mountain Trail, a favorite with fall hikers seeking vantage points high above the color-flecked valleys. Kent, noted for its restaurants, art galleries, and antique emporiums, is a short hop from Kent Falls State Park, whose staired pathway provides photo opportunities of the 200-foot-high falls.

Several outfitters can provide canoes and kayaks, an option for foliage fans eager to paddle through the Housatonic’s rapids. The 10-mile float trip from Falls Village to Cornwall Bridge involves a combination of fast and flat water, while the stretch of river north of Falls Village toward the Massachusetts border is quiet and smooth, ideal for observing the golden landscapes.


Route 7 crosses into western Massachusetts, passing through major towns of the Berkshire Hills, the state’s mecca for foliage fans. The drive between Sheffield and Williamstown is scenic in itself, but most motorists stray from the beaten path for satisfying side trips.

Strung along Route 7 from south to north, the towns of Sheffield, Great Barrington, Stockbridge, Lenox, Pittsfield, and Williamstown abound with art galleries, antique shops, gift boutiques, and country inns, plus museums, theaters, and historic sites.

Perhaps the most famous town is Stockbridge, where Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), one of America’s most beloved artists, spent the last 25 years of his life. The Norman Rockwell Museum, housed in a modern building on a 36-acre estate overlooking the Housatonic River Valley, displays the largest–and only significant–collection of his original art, including many covers from the Saturday Evening Post.

From Lanesborough, just north of Pittsfield, follow Rockwell Road for 10 miles to the summit of Mount Greylock, the highest peak in Massachusetts at 3,491 feet. The Maine-to-Georgia Appalachian Trail follows the ridge of Saddleball Mountain to the summit. Atop Mount Greylock is the War Memorial Tower, a 90-foot-tall granite landmark that honors Massachusetts casualties of all wars. From its observation platform on a clear day, you can drink in dreamy views of the Hoosic Valley and, in the distance, see Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire, the Green Mountains of Vermont, and New York’s Adirondacks and Catskills.

Williamstown, in the far northwest corner of Massachusetts, is the home of Williams College, one of the nation’s foremost liberal arts colleges. Besides the Williams College Museum of Art, this cultural hub, billed as “The Village Beautiful,” boasts the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, renowned for its French Impressionist paintings, including more than 30 by Renoir.

East of Williamstown, your Massachusetts foliage foray continues on the Mohawk Trail, which runs 63 miles along Route 2 from North Adams to Millers Falls on the Connecticut River. This east-west byway, passing through 14 state parks and forests, is one of New England’s premier foliage routes and the nation’s first automobile road designated (in 1914) for scenic touring.

A must-see in North Adams is the Western Gateway Heritage State Park, a restored railroad yard with buildings and exhibits showcasing the town’s industrial heritage and construction of the Hoosic Tunnel through five miles of sheer granite in the 1870s. The first point of interest outside of town is the Hairpin Turn, where the Mohawk Trail rises sharply to the Western Summit, its observation point spotlighting the mosaic of fall colors blanketing southern Vermont and the Berkshires, including Mount Greylock. The next stop is Whitcomb Summit, the top of the Mohawk Trail (2,173 feet).

Among other trail highlights are the Bissell Covered Bridge in Charlemont and Shelburne Falls’ Bridge of Flowers, a former trolley bridge transformed into a garden walk. Worthwhile detours south of the trail include Historic Deerfield (a museum village) and Yankee Candle Company, a candle store, factory and museum in South Deerfield. The tower at nearby Sugarloaf State Reservation offers inspiring views of the Connecticut River Valley.


Roaming north into Vermont, the traveler discovers autumnal vignettes of vintage barns, covered bridges, and dairy cows grazing in velvety pastures that are truly of calendar-art caliber.

Sugar maples, which make up more than 30 percent of the state’s forests, provide rich reds and oranges as a base for the more subtle yellows of beech and birch, the purples of ash, and the browns of oaks. Evergreens and white birch trunks add to the kaleidoscopic feast. At their peak in late September and early October, the colors are absolutely spellbinding in the valleys of the Green Mountains, which form a spine down the middle of Vermont.

Sweeping panoramas of fiery colors captivate drivers who cruise highways like Route 100, a north-south corridor that stretches almost the entire 151-mile length of Vermont, practically from Massachusetts to Canada. A fall foliage route second to none, the two-lane road rides the shoulders of one mountain after another, rolling through tranquil farmland, deep forests, and unspoiled villages. Side trip opportunities are endless.

Particularly scenic in south-central Vermont are Amherst, Echo, and Rescue lakes between Plymouth and Ludlow. Stop in the rural hamlet of Plymouth Notch to tour the birthplace, boyhood home, and gravesite of Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States. Other buildings include a museum, general store, cheese factory built in 1890 by Coolidge’s father, and barn with pre-1900 farm implements.

Follow Route 100 north a few miles to the Killington ski area, where leaf peepers ride the gondola for spectacular aerial views of the season’s multi-colored majesty. Ski lifts also cater to sightseers at Vermont winter resorts like Sugar-bush, near the idyllic towns of Warren and Waitsfield in the Mad River Valley, another foliage-season magnet along Route 100.

Autumn’s apple harvest in Vermont gives folks a chance to stop at cider mills to buy freshly made juice and tangy cider. At Cold Hollow Cider Mill on Route 100 in Waterbury Center, visitors can sample the product and watch the presses in action. Nearby is Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory (tours available) and the annex store of Cabot Creamery, famed for cheddar cheeses. And who could leave Vermont without a bottle of pure maple syrup or maple sugar candy? In Montpelier, the state capital, tourists can learn all about syrup-making at Morse Farm Sugar Works, which offers tours and tastings.

Route 100 runs right through the northern Vermont resort town of Stowe, where gondolas climb to the top of Mount Mansfield, at 4,393 feet the highest peak in Vermont. Visibility ranges from 50 to 70 miles, encompassing parts of New Hampshire, New York, and Quebec. Among Stowe’s many fine hostelries is the Austrian-style Trapp Family Lodge, operated by descendants of the singing family featured in the Sound of Music.


East of Montpelier, cross the Connecticut River and you’re in New Hampshire. Route 10, one of the state’s best touring roads, winds along the river through some of the prettiest towns in New England.

A good starting point is Hanover, where the campus of Dartmouth College is alive in fall with students and old grads in town for weekend football games. Then journey north to Lyme, Orford, Haverhill, and Woodsville, at which point a good alternative is to pick up Route 302 into picturesque Bath with its old general store (the Brick Store) and covered bridges. Continue on to Lisbon and then, via Route 117, to Sugar Hill, home of Polly’s Pancake Parlor (a great place to stock up on maple syrup) and Harman’s country store, known for its cheddar cheeses and preserves.

Now you’re close to Franconia Notch, the most famous gap in the White Mountains, the Granite State’s largest and most popular vacation region. In fact, the notch contains New Hampshire’s most visited tourist attraction–Old Man of the Mountains, a granite profile formed by a series of five ledges. For memorable views of the patchwork panoramas of evergreens punctuated by multi-hued hardwoods, ride the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway, located a half mile north of the craggy face. At the southern end of Franconia Notch is the Flume, a granite-walled chasm cut by a rushing stream that forms a series of waterfalls and pools. Take the shuttle bus to the gorge entrance and then follow a boardwalk into the canyon.

Not far away is the most celebrated of New Hampshire’s scenic byways, the Kancamagus Highway, a 34-mile ribbon that runs east-west through White Mountain National Forest between Lincoln and Conway. Scattered along the way are viewpoints with waterfalls and picnic sites. Gondolas transport visitors up Loon Mountain in Lincoln.

In the Conway area, bargain hunters shop the outlet stores for discounted brand names. A favorite foliage excursion is aboard the Conway Scenic Railroad, a smoke-puffing antique steam train that chugs through the Mount Washington Valley.

Within sight from North Conway is 6,288-foot Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast. The coal-fired, steam-powered Mount Washington Cog Railway makes a three-hour roundtrip to the bare granite summit. Clear days reward passengers with views of Vermont, Maine, Quebec, and the Atlantic shorelines of New Hampshire and Maine.


A double treat awaits autumn travelers who venture into Maine. They not only get a salty taste of the state’s sea-faring traditions but also experience the same kind of mountain splendor found throughout the rest of New England.

Taking Route 2 across the New Hampshire border, fall wanderers find much to explore in southwestern Maine, officially called the Western Lakes and Mountains region. In the Sunday River area around Bethel and Newry, follow Route 26 to Grafton Notch State Park and see Screw Auger Falls. Moose sightings are almost guaranteed at dawn or dusk on drives through the park.

Near Newry, the Sunday River Bridge (also known as Artist’s Bridge) is the most painted and photographed of Maine’s nine covered bridges. Chairlift rides at Sunday River ski resort provide ringside seats for the brilliant fall color show. The historic town of Bethel, close to White Mountain National Forest, is noted for its craft studios, gift shops, and Bethel Inn golf course.

The town of Rangeley also makes a good foliage-viewing base. Cruise almost any road for heady doses of postcard autumn scenery. Tableaus of mirror-like lakes fringed with glowing trees and studded with islands are right off an artist’s canvas. One foliage trail leads northeast to the village of Stratton and the Carrabassett Valley, which is surrounded by the highest concentration of 4,000-foot mountains in Maine.

Northeast of Rangeley, the Old Canada Road Scenic Byway, a newly designated National Scenic Byway, traces the route of generations of travelers between Maine and Quebec. Remote and unspoiled, this inviting segment of Route 201 winds along the Kennebec River, Wyman Lake, the Dead River, and vast forests.

Mountains and coast come together in the fashionable Bar Harbor resort area, where Acadia National Park occupies Mount Desert Island. Dominating the forested park is Mount Cadillac, at 1,530 feet the highest point of land on the Eastern Seaboard. One could spend a full day exploring the 20-mile Park Loop Road, which affords vistas of cliffs, islands, and sea. Don’t miss the side road to Cadillac’s summit. A popular hiking path is the Jordan Pond Nature Trail, an easy one-mile loop from Jordan Pond House, where afternoon tea with pop-overs and strawberry jam is a tradition.

A bracing blend of fiery leaves and rolling surf enthralls motorists on roads all along Maine’s rockbound coast. Lighthouses, lobster traps, and dockside diners add to the maritime mystique. In resort towns like Boothbay Harbor, excursion boats glide past hillsides dappled with fireballs of red and gold, offering a fresh perspective on the season’s electric extravaganza.

Farther south on the coast are Portland, the largest city in Maine, and Kennebunkport, where former President George Bush has his summer home. Fall tourists in Kennebunkport swarm the colorful shopping district around Dock Square, shuffling through crispy red maple leaves. On surrounding streets, art galleries, boutiques, quaint churches, and white frame homes huddle under the trees’ protective arches.

Kennebunkport and other towns on Maine’s south coast are only two hours from Boston, a tempting urban stopover on your fall ramble. After a day touring colonial sights in the city of Paul Revere and the Boston Tea Party, head southwest toward the Connecticut border and lose yourself in the 1830s at Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts’ best living history museum. Soon you’ll be back in little Connecticut, where your autumn-in-New England odyssey began.


For free travel information on the New England states, contact:

Connecticut Office of Tourism, 505 Hudson St., Hartford, CT 06106; (800) CT-BOUND;

Maine Office of Tourism, 33 Stone St., Augusta, ME 04333; (888) MAINE-45;

Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism, State Transportation Building, 10 Park Plaza, Suite 4510, Boston, MA 02116; (800) 447-MASS;

New Hampshire Office of Travel and Tourism Development, P.O. Box 1856, Concord, NH 03302; (800) FUN-IN-NH;

Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing, 6 Baldwin St., Drawer 3, Montpelier, VT 05633; (800) VERMONT;

COPYRIGHT 2001 World Publishing, Co. (Illinois)

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group