Is there anything finer than autumn in New England?
Shimmering leaves, cider doughnuts, hayrides, apples, pumpkin-spiced everything. It’s glorious. But if you’re anything like me, you want to immerse yourself in nature’s finery while it lasts, soaking up every last crimson and ochre-hued leaf before the cold, gray days of winter draw near.
So we’ve put together a list of places where you can leaf-peep surrounded by the great outdoors. Whether you prefer your views with a side of crunchy leaves underfoot, amid gorgeous, salt-scented vistas, or from high up in the trees themselves, we’ve got you covered.
Foliage by Land
Whether you’re a hiker, biker or rail-bike (more on those later!) enthusiast, the Northeast is packed with options this fall.
Go right to the transcendental source and check out Walden Pond in Concord, Mass. You can wander around the same trails as Henry David Thoreau, while checking out a replica of his one-room cabin, the original foundation and the site of his bean fields. It’s a serene spot to witness nature’s finery – and you don’t have to stay for two years, two months and two days like Thoreau did.
For pure adrenaline and rewarding vistas at the top, scramble to the top of the Beehive in Acadia National Park in Maine’s Mount Desert Island. Traipse through 3 miles of granite stairs and iron rungs and ladders and emerge with stunning views of Sand Beach and the Maine coast. The summit also makes a perfect spot post-hike lunch or snack. Just a warning: It’s not for children or folks afraid of heights. It gets steep in many places.
City-slickers might want to take advantage of Central Park’s fall foliage tree map (find it at centralparknyc.org). It takes you through the most colorful of the park’s more than 20,000 trees, from ginkos and elms to cherries, crabapples, sweetgums, maples, oaks and more.
If you’re looking for something a little different, check out a rail explorer. These pedal-powered bikes on old railroad lines let you see the foliage in a whole new way. Rail Explorers has two locations in the Northeast: one in Portsmouth, R.I., where two trails afford gorgeous views of Narragansett Bay, and one in the Catskills that skirts the Esopus Creek.
Head to Okemo Mountain Resort in Ludlow, Vt., for sightseeing with a decidedly techie bent: Segway tours. You can choose from a gentle asphalt path to a little more scenic version that travels though the mountain and Jackson Gore areas.
Want more mountain fun? Zip through the fall colors on Attitash Mountain Resort’s mountain coaster and alpine slides. And, of course, you can’t go wrong with an excursion on the nostalgic Cog Railway, which winds its way up New Hampshire’s Mount Washington. You can choose from a steam-powered train or the more conventional biodiesel. (No extra costs for the stunning views, however.)
Foliage by Sea
Maybe you’d like your foliage with some water views and a mimosa in hand. SeaStreak offers Hudson River cruises with a buffet breakfast, as well as an all-day cruise up to Cold Spring, N.Y.
For more active city views, rent a kayak from Boston Paddle and ply down the Charles River. Or take a paddle through Waterplace Park and see the Providence, R.I., skyline from a whole new vantage point with the Providence Kayak Company.
Take a nostalgic view of the Connecticut River Valley scenery by combining a steam train ride with a riverboat excursion on Essex Steam Train and Riverboat’s full-day Haddam swing bridge fall special. The day starts with a steam train ride in Haddam, Conn. Visitors explore the quaint towns of Haddam and East Haddam, shopping, dining and then taking a lunchtime river cruise on the Connecticut River before heading back to Essex Station on the train.
Head up north for a historic journey through the Portsmouth, N.H., harbor and inner river area with a Portsmouth Harbor Cruises tour. The two-and-a-half-hour cruise takes riders through the industrial waterfront area and historical shipyards before heading to inland estuaries and beautiful views.
Foliage by Air
My vote for best foliage tour (second only to climbing the Beehive!) goes to Zoar Outdoor, which offers a fantastic Zoar Gap raft and zip line package in the Berkshires for us outdoor junkies. Day one features a somewhat gentle whitewater rafting excursion down the Deerfield River, complete with a stop for a hearty lunch. You camp out in a raised cabin tent for the night (bring a sleeping bag!) and then head out on a zip line adventure through the trees that morning. A weekend spent rafting, camping and zip lining? Pure bliss!
Or maybe a hot air balloon is more your style? You’ll find rides galore at Above the Clouds in Middletown, N.Y., where you can soar above the lower Hudson Valley to view the bejeweled trees from up high.
Or get right into the thick of things at the TreEscape Aerial Adventure Park in Vernon Township, N.J. Climb through aerial obstacles, rope walks, zip lines and more, all suspended amid the forest canopy.
AAA Travel Editor’s Favorite Foliage Spots
“My favorite place for leaf peeping is actually right near our office. Sometimes, on my lunch break, I like to stroll past the mansions along College Hill to see the historic streets burst into colors of red, orange and yellow. Benefit Street becomes a fiery backdrop of maple and elm trees transforming with the season. I also enjoy walking along Providence’s Riverwalk to see the cityscape accented by fall colors.”
— Jamie Coelho, associate editor, Rhode Island Monthly
“I have had some of my best leaf-peeping experiences in the New Hampshire Lakes Region around Lake Winnipesaukee. It may not be as jaw-dropping as driving the Kanc, but I love that there’s such a variety of peeping options, with lots of fun stuff to do, too (I need my cider donuts with my leaves!). There are winding back roads, high vantage points (like Castle in the Clouds in Moultonborogh) for scenic photos, and boat rides like a Lake Winni scenic cruise on the M/S Mount Washington or nature cruise on Squam Lake through the Squam Lake Science Center. All so fun.”
— Aimee Tucker, senior digital editor, Yankee Magazine and NewEngland.com
“I absolutely LOVE doing fall foliage drives through the Finger Lakes in upstate New York, especially around Seneca Lake, where there are lots of wineries that make for good stops along the way.”
— Shelby Vittek, associate editor, New Jersey Monthly
Find more Northeast fall adventures at AAA.com/Foliage.