It’s almost leaf-peeping time, and you might think you’ll find trees full of rich reds, yellows, and oranges on just about any town green or scenic highway in New England, right?
Perhaps. But why take a chance when you could take some tips from the pros? To find the most ooh- and aah-inspiring views, we asked the people who make it their business to study fall foliage for their favorite places and methods for leaf-peeping.
1. Route 88 (east of Falmouth) to Yarmouth: “Mid-October is usually when this area is in peak color, but it varies yearly due to weather,” says Sarah Long, a meteorologist at WMTW television in Portland, Maine. “Main Street in Yarmouth has some great stops for food and shopping.”
2. Route 35 along the eastern shore of Long Lake from Naples to Harrison: “It’s a beautiful drive, with hills and turns and lots of color,” Long says. “You can stay on Route 35 north of the town of Harrison all the way into the Bethel area. There are plenty of side roads and beautiful foliage mixed with fields and farmhouses.”
3. West on Route 25 from Portland to Cornish: “You’ll see some great stretches of colorful display winding through Standish and Cornish,” Long says. She recommends a stop in downtown Cornish for a bite to eat or to browse some of the antiques stores.
4. Bridgton west to Fryeburg or Cornish northwest to Conway, New Hampshire: In the Mount Washington Valley, “there are multiple back roads that will not disappoint,” says Long.
5. Route 17 in western Maine: “The Rangeley Lakes Scenic Byway passes several picturesque overlooks with lake views and the opportunity to see moose and other wildlife,” says John Burk, a photographer who drives the back roads of Maine. “It is easily combined [via US 2] with Route 26, which leads through the heart of Grafton Notch State Park. These routes are close to other scenic drives in the adjacent White Mountains and North Woods regions of New Hampshire.”
6. Acadia National Park: The Park Loop Road is a popular scenic drive with many viewing areas, including the Cadillac Mountain summit, says Burk. “After a great fire burned a large area of Mount Desert Island in 1947, deciduous species such as sugar maple, beech, red oak, birch, and aspen sprouted in the aftermath, replacing burned evergreen spruce–fir woodlands, especially on the east side of the island,” Burk says. “Over time, barring further disturbance, these woodlands will ultimately cycle back to conifers, but for now they offer colorful foliage for visitors to enjoy.”
7. The Northeast Kingdom on Route 114 from Island Pond through Norton to Canaan: In September, the area “offers some great early-season opportunities for color,” says Matt Langlais, a Caledonia and Essex counties forester. “The foliage show begins in the northern reaches of the Kingdom. Look for low-lying hardwood swamps, where cold night air settles, producing the brilliant red flares of the swamp maples.” Check out Norton Pond, as well as Little Averill and Great Averill ponds, Langlais advises, because they provide fantastic long-range views of surrounding hardwood ridges. If you go early enough, look for moose alongside the road.
8. Route 102 and the Connecticut River Valley: “Hundreds of miles of beckoning back roads wind through Barnet, Danville, and Peacham, offering the finest of Vermont,” Langlais says.
9. In New Hampshire, the 2.7-mile Zealand Trail to Zealand Falls Hut in White Mountain National Forest: Rob Burbank, director of external relations for the Appalachian Mountain Club, says this is one of his favorite foliage-viewing hikes. “It’s considered an easy hike along gentle grades,” he says, noting that the last two-tenths of a mile or so involves ascending a rocky pitch. “This hike puts you in the midst of a mixed hardwood forest that dances with color in the fall. I have found it to be one of the more consistently beautiful fall foliage spots. And just outside the hut, a cold mountain stream tumbles over boulders in a series of waterfalls.”
10. Artists Bluff in Franconia Notch in New Hampshire: “A short hike that provides great views,” Burbank says.
11. In Vermont, Groton State Forest (especially the Owls Head Trail): Harvard Forest ecologist David Foster says this trail is spectacular: “The remote mountainous landscape is brilliant in the fall and quiet.”
12. Casco Bay, Maine: Meteorologist Sarah Long swears you’ll see some of the best fall colors from a kayak here. Rent a kayak at East End Beach or sign up for a guided group paddle through Casco Bay with a stop at Fort Gorges.
13. Long Lake from Naples, Maine, aboard the Songo River Queen II. 207-693-6861; songoriverqueen.net.
14. Take a three-day fall bike tour among New Hampshire inns with Bike the Whites. 603-356-9025; bikethewhites.com.
15. Three more to finish: Anthony D’Amato, director of the University of Vermont’s Forestry Program, adds his three favorite drives: “Route 108 from Stowe through Smugglers’ Notch; Lincoln Gap Road off Route 100 in Warren and the associated overlook along the Lincoln Gap Trail; and Lake Willoughby near Westmore.”
Check the status of the foliage before you go at this clearinghouse of state maps and hotlines: tinyurl.com/leaflist.
Jamie Kageleiry is editor of The Martha’s Vineyard Times.
Top photo by Shell Ette Photography