A drive around New England in the fall is basically guaranteed to provide out-of-this-world views as the leaves change colors into the fiery reds, oranges, and yellows that the region is famous for. It requires some timing and preparation to hit the peak foliage, but you're sure to stumble across something amazing regardless of where you are.
But why leave those perfect road trip moments to chance? With a little planning, you can map out a strategic driving route through one, two, or all six New England states that is sure to take you past the best fall foliage viewing spots. And while you're in the area, you could even drive over to nearby spots such as Upstate New York, where the foliage is just as spectacular but without all of the New England tourism.
The granddaddy of all New Hampshire fall drives is this twisting mountain pass with the tough-to-pronounce name (locals simply call it, "the Kanc"). 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. The Kanc works its way from east to west, starting in the city of Conway toward Lincoln (or vice versa). There are scenic overlooks and trailheads all along the drive, so allow plenty of time to stop for photo ops and invigorating hikes around pretty ponds and to wilderness waterfalls.
Massachusetts' Best Fall Drive: The Mohawk Trail
Stunning scenes unfold as you navigate New England's first official scenic road: Route 2 in Massachusetts, better known as the Mohawk Trail. Of all the beautiful foliage drives you can take in Massachusetts, the Mohawk Trail is without a doubt the most famous, and not without reason. The trail is made up of portions of Route 2 and Route 2A, weaving for 69 miles through scenic roads that traverse the Mohawk Trail State Forest.
The route itself travels along the state highways between Westminster and Williamstown, but there are also countless backroad routes and detours that you can—and should—take advantage of along the way. If time allows, start your leaf-peeping journey by driving to the summit of Mount Greylock outside of Williamstown, one of New England's best mountains to drive. 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.
Maine's Best Fall Drive: The Road to Rangeley
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, considered one of the best drive-to spots for fall foliage views in all of Maine. The sunsets here are so stunning in the fall, even locals can't help but pull over.
Rhode Island's Best Fall Drive: The Arcadia Management Area
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 Rhode Island and you won't run into as much 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.
Vermont's Best Fall Drive: Route 100
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 for locally produced items, from maple syrup to linens.
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. If you have time to explore more of Upstate New York, there are plenty of other worthwhile routes to explore as well, from the Finger Lakes to the Hudson Valley.