Driving through Vermont is a scenic experience at any time of year, but the state's foliage undeniably makes fall the winning season. Visitors come from around the world every autumn to drive along one of the many scenic highways and backroads across the state and take in the annual display of colors.
Foliage typically begins to change in mid-September and hangs around until mid-October, although the exact timing depends on numerous factors including spring and summer weather, rainfall, and nighttime temperatures. Up-to-date fall foliage reports are available online throughout the season for Vermont and neighboring states.
For many Vermonters, it is actually the post "peak foliage" season that offers the best scenic driving. Days grow short and low-lying November light can almost create mirages through the open trees, illuminating rarely seen mountain views in cascading shades of brown and orange. Often referred to as "value season" by Vermont inns and bed and breakfasts, many lodging properties offer deep discounts in the latter days of October up until Thanksgiving. Some even extend these deals into the early part of December.
Whether you choose the touristy peak fall season or the Vermonter value season, Vermont's scenic byways are an excellent place to start.
Scenic Route 100 Byway
The Scenic Route 100 Byway truly begins when you follow Route 8 from Clarksburg, Massachusetts, north across the state line into Stamford, Vermont. Known as Vermont's "Main Street," it snakes through the entire length of the state up until the town of Newport, right at the Canadian border.
Arguably one of the most scenic routes in the state, it is also the longest, taking well over five hours without stops to traverse the full length. Route 100 is thus divided into several shorter regional scenic drives between commercial centers where Vermonters conduct their non-tourism related business.
- The Green Mountain Byway runs from Waterbury on Route 100 north to Stowe and includes portions of Routes 100 and 108 farther north.
- The Killington Region's stretch of the Scenic Route 100 Byway runs from Ludlow north to Pittsfield.
- The Mad River Byway horseshoes from Middlesex Village on Route 2 south on Route 100B onto Route 100 in Waitsfield, then down to Warren, back north to Route 17, and up to the Appalachian Gap.
Connecticut River Byway
The Connecticut River Byway on the eastern side of the state connects Vermont and New Hampshire via both shores of the Connecticut River. On the Vermont side, the byway uses Route 5 but frequently crosses the state line to Route 12 in New Hampshire, with delightful stops in small river towns on each side. You can even drive across the longest covered bridge in New England, the Windsor-Cornish covered bridge, which spans the Connecticut River and connects the towns of Cornish, New Hampshire, and Windsor, Vermont.
The Connecticut River Byway begins in South Hadley, Massachusetts, and ends in West Stewartstown, New Hampshire, but the majority of it runs along the Vermont shore of the Connecticut River. In fact, it's the only designated National Byway in Vermont. Apart from enjoying the foliage, be sure to make frequent pitstops in the charming river towns along the way for an authentic taste of New England culture.
The Molly Stark Byway connects the southern Vermont towns of Brattleboro in the east to Bennington in the west across Route 9, which is mostly rural apart from the quintessential New England village of Wilmington. Brattleboro is known for being an artsy town with a great restaurant scene, while Bennington is full of Revolutionary-era history and monuments. The drive between them is only 40 miles and takes about an hour, so it's an easy route through an agricultural region with lots of trees to admire.
Another east to west scenic drive is the Crossroad of Vermont Byway. Follow Route 4 to crisscross the state between White River Junction and West Rutland, stopping in Quechee, Woodstock, Killington, and Mendon with a detour to the picturesque Jenne Farm if time allows. The route is nearly 50 miles and takes just over an hour to complete, not including the many pitstops you'll surely want to take.
Shires of Vermont and Stone Valley Byways
The Shires of Vermont Byway is on the western side of the state and begins on Route 7 in Pownal after it reaches into Vermont from the Berkshires in Massachusetts. From there, it connects with historic Route 7A in Bennington, continuing north through Arlington and into Manchester Center. Here, it turns into the Stone Valley Byway, which takes Route 30 in Manchester through Dorset past Lake St. Catherine and up to Castleton, covering much of the ground of the state's slate and marble quarrying history.
The route is located directly inside of the Green Mountain National Forest, one of the most scenic places to enjoy fall foliage in the entire state of Vermont. Once the byway ends, you can either continue the drive north up toward Burlington or easily cross the state line and explore the autumn colors of Upstate New York.
Luke Champlain Byway
The Lake Champlain Byway extends much of the length of Lake Champlain beginning in the north on Route 2 in the Champlain Islands and heading south to Route 7 near Burlington. Continue into the Lower Champlain Valley to Middlebury, where you'll have a choice of two distinct drives. The first option is to take Route 30 south past Whiting and then to Orwell via Route 73, looping back onto Route 74 near the New York state border and then back to Middlebury through Shoreham and some of Vermont's most glorious farmland.
The second option is to head directly south to Route 125 into the Green Mountain National Forest, which leads through the wooded village of Ripton and over the Middlebury Gap onto Route 100 in Hancock. While not a designated byway, a crown jewel of fall foliage drives in Vermont takes you south on Route 100 from Hancock to the village of Rochester, then west onto Route 73. The high road leading up and over the Brandon Gap is renowned for its high cliffs, wooded roadside trails, and occasional moose sightings. From there, proceed down into the artistic village of Brandon.
For another memorable fall driving experience, begin early with breakfast in Montpelier—Vermont's capital city—then head into the Northeast Kingdom via Route 12 or Route 14. When you reach Route 15, just keep going north, get lost, and find yourself in Vermont's backcountry with the most eclectic collection of small towns and country stores. Apart from the remarkable colors of the native trees, this is also one of the best areas to try local maple syrup, snap photos of covered bridges, or go for a scenic hike in the rollings hills of the Kingdom Trails.
Bring a flannel shirt to keep warm and blend in with the locals, and definitely don't forget a device with GPS and a paper map. Cell phone coverage can be spotty in this rural area, so a map may end up being a life-saving accessory.