Of all the New England states, Vermont seems to own fall foliage season. As the Green Mountains trade their namesake color for the vivid shades of autumn, Vermont scenes take on a kaleidoscopic quality with changes occurring almost before your eyes. The state's mix of elevations allows leaf peepers to actively chase optimum color as fall progresses. Peak color arrives first in the northern third of the state, where Mount Mansfield—Vermont's tallest peak—sometimes sports a light coat of autumn snow to contrast with the carpet of colorful leaves below.
By the second half of October, the show has moved south and begun to fade, but Vermont remains a destination where everything autumn is concentrated in one place, from red barns and apple orchards to roadside pumpkin stands and corn mazes. It's a perfect time to hike or to visit some of Vermont's best breweries while enjoying the season.
An exhilarating drive awaits this fall when you turn south onto VT-108 in Jeffersonville, Vermont, bound for the state's most famous ski town: Stowe. You'll be driving a narrow, winding, seasonal road through Smugglers' Notch: a mountain pass named for the sneaky folks who used this route to illegally bring goods from Canada into Vermont in the early 19th century. Alcohol was run through Smugglers' Notch during Prohibition in the 1920s, too. You'll want to obey posted speed limits as you navigate this road on the eastern flank of Mount Mansfield, particularly when blindingly bright fall leaves are an added distraction. You'll find plentiful fall activities in Stowe including the Percy Farm Corn Maze.
When you want a spectacular fall backdrop for biking or hiking, you want to head to Vermont's remote Northeast Kingdom. Here, in and around East Burke, Vermont, you'll find a network of 100-plus miles of trails for non-motorized, multi-use recreation. The Kingdom Trails network is unique in that it traverses private properties and would not exist without the generosity of both landowners and volunteers. For the cost of a day pass, you can bike or hike through rural expanses and rugged woodlands, past old barns, streams, and mountain peaks.
Whether you climb the 0.75-mile trail or take the easy route and drive the summit access road, you're in for a treat of a fall view when you reach the top of Mount Philo in Charlotte, Vermont. The centerpiece of Vermont's oldest state park, Mount Philo may be just 968 feet tall, but it looks out over a remarkable scene of Lake Champlain—New England's largest lake—and New York's storied Adirondack Mountains, dressed in glittery fall shades. Throw on an extra sweatshirt and ascend the mountain in time for sunset, when the sky puts on a colorful show of its own.
Your spirits will soar on a journey high above the leaves at Vermont's Killington Ski Resort this fall. Climbing aboard the K-1 Gondola is an amazing way for families to leaf peep. Unlike in winter, when this lift serves a practical function, when autumn tints Vermont's Green Mountains in shades of amber, rust, and red, the ski resort's eight-passenger Gondola becomes one of New England's most thrilling rides. When you reach Peak Lodge at 4,241 feet, you can enjoy a light, farm-fresh lunch with a panoramic view.
Located east of Woodstock, Vermont, Quechee Gorge doesn't quite live up to its "Grand Canyon of the East" hype, but this glacier-carved chasm—through which the Ottauquechee River flows—is super attractive when the trees along the riverside shine red, orange, and gold. There are two ways to view this natural wonder. Quechee Gorge Bridge on Route 4 carries vehicles and pedestrians over this splendid fall scene. Even better: Park and walk the Quechee Gorge Trail for an up-close look. It's one of the best hikes in Vermont.
From Woodstock, Vermont—a popular fall home base—it's just a quick skip south to Reading for a visit to one of New England's most photographed farms. Jenne Farm isn't an attraction, really: It's a private home. So, be respectful if you decide to pull off the dirt road that leads to this bucolic scene to snap a few shots. You probably won't be alone. Foliage paparazzi flock to this spot, which you may recognize from magazines and movies like "Forrest Gump."
With its historic inns, shops, farms, and fly fishing streams, Manchester, Vermont, is a popular fall destination. If you find yourself in this picture-perfect town, you'd be making a mistake if you didn't hop in your car and drive a half-hour east and north, via Routes VT-30, VT-11, and VT-100, to the Vermont Country Store in Weston. Always dressed up for fall, this eclectic store is a delightful place to shop for Vermont-made gifts, home goods, and products that will take you back to your childhood. But first, on VT-11 in Peru, you'll come upon a scene that makes practically every driver pull over. The Mount Bromley Overlook offers one of the best fall foliage vistas in the Green Mountains. You're not likely to miss it, but if you want to be sure, set your GPS for the Lodge at Bromley Mountain (4216 VT Route 11, Peru), which looks out at this view. If you'd like to linger a while in this pretty spot, check out the rides and attractions at Bromley's Mountain Adventure Park.
This is not your typical toll road if you're from Massachusetts or New Jersey. The fee you'll pay to access the Mount Equinox Skyline Drive is your ticket to a spot 3,848 feet in the air. To reach the viewing center and enjoy soaring views of fall foliage in the Green, White, Adirondack, Berkshire, and Taconic mountain ranges, you'll drive a zigzagging road up the mountainside for 5.2 miles from the entrance, south of Manchester in Sunderland. It takes about 20 minutes to reach the summit, and if your windows are down, you'll feel the air getting brisker by the minute. You could enjoy your visit without knowing the story behind this preserved mountain expanse, but you'll appreciate the journey even more if you visit the little museum, where you'll learn about Dr. Joseph George Davidson and why he donated the 11 square miles of Mount Equinox he acquired to America's only Carthusian monks.
In the lovely southwestern town of Bennington, Vermont, fall colors arrive a bit later than up north, and visitors can easily combine leaf-peeping with covered bridge spotting. The obelisk that towers over the town is the Bennington Battle Monument: Vermont's tallest structure. When the elevator to the observation level is open, you can ascend and look out at breathtaking views of three states: New York, Massachusetts, and Vermont. Before you leave town, pay your respects to New England's best-loved poet, Robert Frost. His gravesite is at Old Bennington Cemetery, which is poetically strewn with fallen leaves this time of year.