With New England's most dramatic mountains and nearly 1,000 lakes, New Hampshire is a beautiful place to explore year-round. It's never more glorious than in the fall, though, when foliage glows hot red and bright gold, with some orange sprinkled in to really punctuate the landscape. Whether you drive down famed byways and highways, get out on the water, ride the rails, or embark on one of New Hampshire's best hikes, you'll love how autumn's palette accents the granite peaks and tumbling waterfalls of the White Mountains, reflects in the Lakes Region's blue pools, and turns the Great North Woods into a paint-splattered wilderness.
Look for peak fall color to arrive in the highest elevations and northernmost parts of New Hampshire first, with the first two weeks of October typically offering the best chances of walking in an autumn wonderland. Later in October, you will still find fall foliage colors lingering in the Merrimack River Valley and along the state's abbreviated Atlantic shore. This guide highlights 10 of New Hampshire's best places not only to see the best fall foliage scenes but to truly experience New Hampshire's "Live Free or Die" spirit.
If you're looking for strong fall color in the earliest part of the season, head to New Hampshire's Great North Woods, where you'll share spectacular roadways with fewer cars and more moose than anywhere else in the Granite State. One of the most gorgeous drives of your life awaits if you follow Route 26 from Errol to Colebrook through Dixville Notch, where the storied Balsams Resort is being reimagined as a vacation ownership property. Stop at Dixville Notch State Park to stretch your legs on the tenth-of-a-mile hike to see Dixville Flume: a small but quite pretty waterfall.
If you choose to continue north from Colebrook on Route 3, you'll be driving a route known as Moose Alley through Pittsburg and all the way to the Canadian border. Even if you don't see one of these majestic creatures—and to be safe, you really do need to keep an eye out for them—you'll enjoy incredible wilderness views as you motor alongside the three largest of the four Connecticut Lakes that are the source of New England's longest river: the Connecticut River.
Franconia Notch State Park
The forces of nature constantly reshape the more than 6,500 acres protected within New Hampshire's most picturesque state park, where the Old Man of the Mountain looked out from a cliff until the sad night in 2003 when his stone face vanished. As nature's colors shift with the arrival of fall, Franconia Notch State Park offers so many ways to experience the splendor. If nothing else, drive through the mountain pass for which the park was named on Interstate 93. The 10 miles between exits 34A and 34C feel nothing like typical interstate driving, as the road narrows to one lane each way and the speed limit slows to 45 mph. Within park boundaries, you'll want to see the dramatic chasm and waterfalls of Flume Gorge. There are many trails to hike including a stretch of the Appalachian Trail, and there are legendary natural wonders, like Boise Rock and the Basin, both only steps from parking areas. When the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway is in operation in the fall, the views from up high can't be beat.
From the moment you drive across red-painted Honeymoon Covered Bridge and enter this White Mountains village, you're in a storybook place filled with magical fall photo ops. Leaves that light up winding lanes, golf courses, romantic B&Bs, and waterfall and mountain scenes are just the start. Each October, the Return of the Pumpkin People populates Jackson Village with pumpkin-headed characters who pose happily with selfie seekers. There are more than 80 displays, and free maps are available at businesses in town.
From the 1,159-foot summit of Cathedral Ledge in Bartlett, New Hampshire, you can gaze out over the Mount Washington Valley and its surrounding mountains, all illuminated in the bright ruddy shades of autumn. There are two ways to reach this aerial observation point. The easy way: Drive mile-long Cathedral Ledge Road (you can also walk or bike this route). The more challenging way: Follow yellow-blazed hiking trails that begin in neighboring Echo Lake State Park. Echo Lake Trail is an easy stroll along the lake shore that connects to Bryce Path, which climbs 1.2 miles to the summit.
Starting from its mustard-yellow Victorian train station in the heart of North Conway Village, Conway Scenic Railroad operates a number of scenic train excursions that are a fun and nostalgic way to leaf-peep in the fall. Heritage Rail Excursions are short, town-to-town trips that take as little as 55 minutes round-trip. The most epic rail ride anywhere in New England, though, is the five-plus-hour adventure aboard the Mountaineer, formerly known as the Notch Train. You'll feel suspended above mountainsides shag-carpeted in autumnal colors as you cross Frankenstein Trestle in Crawford Notch. Try to reserve a seat in a dome car.
When it comes to fall foliage drives in New England, you simply won't find anything that can compare to New Hampshire's Kancamagus Highway. Driving NH-112 between Conway and Lincoln, New Hampshire through the White Mountain National Forest is so popular in the fall that traffic can slow to a crawl, but that's quite OK. You wouldn't really want to race along these twisting roads that climb for 34 miles while the leaves are performing their autumn ritual: setting mountainsides aflame, floating to the ground, and swirling along the Swift River. There are a myriad of overlooks, short and long hikes, and attractions worth a stop, too, including Albany Covered Bridge and Sabbaday Falls. If you don't plan to drive this national scenic byway in both directions, be sure to glance in the mirror now and then, so you won't miss the equally exhilarating scenes behind you.
Built in 1914 in Moultonborough, New Hampshire, by eccentric industrialist Thomas Plant, this architectural treasure crowns a 5,500-acre estate with 28 miles of trails to explore in the fall. Its location, high in the Ossipee Mountains, overlooks island-sprinkled Lake Winnipesaukee, and the hawk's-eye views from both the mansion and the outdoor patio at the Carriage House Cafe are stunning during foliage season. You could spend all day touring the castle, hiking to see waterfalls, feeding the rainbow trout, and even embarking on an equestrian adventure with Riding in the Clouds, which offers horseback trail rides, romantic carriage rides, and pony rides for kids.
The largest lake in New Hampshire has such a squiggly shoreline, you can't truly appreciate its size until you get out on the water. And there's no more perfect time for a Lake Winnipesaukee cruise than fall foliage season. For nearly 150 years, the M/S Mount Washington—a 230-foot, four-deck sightseeing vessel—has been a fixture on the lake, and its narrated scenic cruises, departing daily from Weirs Beach, are a memorable way to leaf-peep. Sunset dinner cruises are an option, too. There are a number of other tour boats operating in New Hampshire's Lakes Region, too, including the Wolfeboro Inn's replica 19th-century paddle wheeler, the Winnipesaukee Belle.
Quiet Cornish on the Connecticut River in western New Hampshire is an under-the-radar destination for autumn seekers with more notable attractions than other small towns its size. It's linked to Windsor, Vermont, via the Cornish-Windsor Covered Bridge: the longest wooden bridge in the country and the longest two-span covered bridge in the world. If you love photographing covered bridges against an autumn landscape, there are three bonus bridges to scout out nearby: Dingleton Hill Covered Bridge (780 Town House Road), Blacksmith Shop Covered Bridge (579 Town House Road), and Blow-Me-Down Bridge (Mill Road, Plainfield). Cornish is also home to one of America's least-visited national parks, and once you've wandered the sculpture-strewn gardens and lawns, you will wonder why so few people know of the Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park. One of America's best sculptors of all time, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, lived and created at this inspiring estate with Mount Ascutney views.
Located in Rindge, New Hampshire, this non-denominational, open-air place of worship and contemplation is open free daily to visitors. In the fall, the view from this hilltop chapel is nothing short of miraculous, as colors pop on Mount Monadnock. Stroll the gardens, explore wooded trails, and admire the 55-foot stone tower that honors women's sacrifice in service to the nation. With immense bronze plaques designed by beloved New England illustrator Norman Rockwell, the Women’s Memorial Belltower is a striking tribute to the strength and devotion of women both in and out of the armed services.