New England is the holy grail of fall foliage in the U.S., and one of the best ways to view it is from the water. The Northeast is abundant with lakes and rivers, lined with shade-shifting sugar maples, red oaks, and dogwood trees. Come mid-October, their leaves will put on an unrivaled spectacle of orange, crimson, and gold. Hop on one of the region's countless boat tours and cruises for an up-close look.
In 2020, many tours and cruises have been canceled or altered. Check the websites of organizers for updated information.
Cruise Lines With New England Itineraries
Several major cruise lines offer New England and Canada sailing itineraries that coincide with peak fall foliage times. The routes are typically similar, but durations vary between six and 14 days. These cruises hug the Atlantic coastline: Some visit the Maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia, while others travel to or from Quebec ports via the St. Lawrence River.
- Celebrity Cruises: The Celebrity Summit travels from Boston to Portland, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec City, and back over 12 days. These cruises depart periodically, but the best one to board for top views of foliage sets sail in early October.
- Holland America: Bar Harbor, Prince Edward Island, Halifax, Montreal, Quebec City, and Nova Scotia are stops on this seven- or 14-day excursion. On shore, you can take a horse-drawn carriage through Maine's autumnal Acadia National Park.
- Norwegian Cruise Lines: NCL offers seven-, nine-, and 10-day cruises from Boston (or New York City) to Canada, some including ashore time in Portland, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and ports in Quebec.
- Princess Cruises: Fabulous fall foliage sights are provided on the deck of your Princess ship when you choose a five- to 24-day cruise to ports like Quebec City, Halifax, Bar Harbor, and Newport.
- Royal Caribbean: Royal Caribbean offers a vast variety of Canada and New England cruise itineraries, sailing from New Jersey, Montreal, or Quebec City. Ports of call include Bar Harbor, Portland, New Brunswick, Halifax, and Prince Edward Island.
Fall Boat Tours in Connecticut
Both the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound offer prime, foliage-packed cruising options.
- Cross Sound Ferry Lighthouse Cruises: Leaf peeping is a side note on this Sea Jet cruise, which provides a narrated tour of eight New England lighthouses. Still, though, you'll see ample color decorating the Connecticut shore. The top deck is an ideal location for picture taking. In 2020, Cross Sound Ferry's fall lighthouse cruises have been suspended.
- Essex Steam Train & Riverboat: Though organized by a steam train company, the one-hour, 15-minute Becky Tatcher Riverboat cruise is one of Connecticut's most beloved. First, you travel by old-school locomotive for an hour to Deep River Landing, where you board the tri-level riverboat for a voyage showcasing Gillette Castle, Goodspeed Opera House, the Haddam Swing Bridge, and the pristine nature along the water's edge.
- Lady Katharine Sunday Brunch Cruises: Take your leaf peeping with brunch and live entertainment aboard the Mystique, departing from Haddam, Middletown, or Hartford. In 2020, Lady Katharine's Brunch Cruises have been canceled.
Fall Boat Tour in Rhode Island
Blackstone Valley Explorer Riverboat Tours hosts boat trips along Rhode Island's Blackstone River, the scenic and historic waterway that once powered America's Industrial Revolution. Tours center around birding, storytelling, and sometimes even food. Trips are usually offered on Sunday afternoons through late October. However, no dates have been set for the fall 2020 season.
Fall Boat Tours in New Hampshire
Board the M/S Mount Washington for a graceful jaunt along Lake Winnipesaukee, surrounded by trees for optimal leaf peeping. The boat departs from Weirs Beach, Wolfeboro, and Alton Bay. There's either a two-and-a-half-hour Sunday champagne brunch cruise for morning people or a two-hour evening foliage dinner cruise for night owls. In 2020, fall cruises have been suspended.
Fall Boat Tours in Maine
A fall cruise in Maine will make you choose between zoning in on shade-shifting leaves or passing seals. You can board a humble Hardy Boat for an hour-and-a-half lesson on local nature and history, or a bigger schooner belonging to the Maine Windjammer Association. These antique vessels offer two- to six-day fall foliage cruises in September and early October.