Joining the throngs of leaf peepers who descend upon the New England region each fall? You're sure to stumble across great spots to pull off New England's scenic, winding highways and byways to savor a picnic or to capture special photographs or just to breathe in the crisp autumn air and appreciate the beauty of nature's dazzling display.
But why leave those perfect road trip moments to chance? With a little planning, you can map out a strategic driving route through one or all of the six New England states that is sure to take you past the best fall foliage viewing spots.
Use this guide to find the best fall foliage drives and motorcycle rides in New England's six states: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont, plus neighboring New York. From out-of-the-way country lanes to famous roads that climb through the White, Green, or Catskill Mountains, these drives would be pretty any day of the year, and on peak fall days, they're spectacular.
The granddaddy of all New England fall drives is this twisting mountain pass with the tough-to-pronounce name. Head to New Hampshire's White Mountains, and be prepared to tap your brakes often along Route 112—the Kancamagus Highway—which offers 34 miles of stellar fall foliage views typically starting in late September and holding on through the first three weeks of October. There are scenic overlooks and trail heads all along the drive, so allow plenty of time to stop for photo ops and invigorating hikes around pretty ponds and to wilderness waterfalls.
Stunning scenes unfold as you navigate New England's first official scenic road: Route 2 in Massachusetts, better known as the Mohawk Trail. If time allows, follow these directions to start your leaf-peeping journey by driving to the summit of Mount Greylock, one of New England's best mountains to drive. If you believe "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling, this mountaintop is home to America's own school of wizardry. As you travel eastward through the Mohawk Trail region, keep your eyes on the road at the famous hairpin turn, and don't miss the chance to park and stretch your legs in Shelburne Falls, where you can walk across the Bridge of Flowers and see the famous glacial potholes.
Connecticut's Best Fall Drive: State Route 169
If you drive only one tree-lined Connecticut road this fall, make it State Route 169, starting in North Woodstock and traveling south to Newent. The state's first National Scenic Byway connects picture-perfect towns in the still-rural northeast corner, which is part of New England's "Last Green Valley." Along your drive, you'll pass classic churches, orchards, stone walls, cute shops, fairgrounds, and nearly 190 homes built before 1855 including pink-painted Roseland Cottage, which is open for tours June through mid-October.
Start in Portland or in Bethel, and explore the mountains and lakes of western Maine during this pinnacle season of the year. On your way to Rangeley Lake State Park, you can detour to visit Maine's most painted and photographed covered bridge, pan for gold in Coos Canyon, and marvel at the scenery from Height of Land, named one of the best drive-to spots for fall foliage views in all of New England. The sunsets here are so stunning in the fall, even locals can't help but pull over.
True fact: America's tiniest state may be known for its ocean beaches, but Rhode Island is actually two-thirds forested. That means two things: You can plan a leaf-peeping drive in RI, and you won't run into the traffic that sometimes clogs popular scenic routes in the northern part of New England. Your best bet is to drive into Rhode from Connecticut on Route 165, then turn right and follow Arcadia Road south through the largest state-owned forest: the Arcadia Management Area. In Wyoming, Rhode Island, you'll connect with Route 138 West to loop back to the Connecticut state line. Expect to see serene ponds, stone walls, and woodlands painted with fall's distinct palette along this off-the-beaten-path drive.
The beauty of Vermont's Route 100 Scenic Byway is that it cuts straight up the middle of the state, running 146 miles from the Massachusetts border all the way to Canada. Drive all of it, and you'll see leaves at various color stages as you change latitude and altitude. The road—well-known to skiers—takes you alongside the Green Mountain National Forest and right through popular mountain towns like Killington, where you can soar high above the leaves on a gondola ride. Nothing in Vermont is terribly far off this central highway, so you can detour and meander as serendipity dictates. The Vermont Country Store—right on Route 100 in Weston—is a must-stop.
Rip Van Winkle slept away years of his life in the Catskills, but this 52-mile drive through New York State's storied and oft-painted mountains is an exhilarating way to leaf-peep. The designated byway sticks mostly to New York State Route 28 and links bucolic towns from Shokan to Andes in the central heart of the Catskills. Be sure to stop in Mount Tremper to visit the world's largest kaleidoscope: an attraction that is guaranteed to be colorful. You might want to extend your trip to Cooperstown, where the Baseball Hall of Fame celebrates America's game.