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    Stowe, Vermont

The 5 Best Fall Foliage Drives in New England

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29 February 2016 by Patrick Griffin

With its rolling green hills set around glacial valleys and jewel-like lakes, this six-state huddle retains the rural charm that greeted pioneers some 400 years ago. Here, you’ll trace the footsteps of the colonists that left their mark on the region’s dramatic twists and turns with idyllic townships and picturesque fishing villages.

And, come autumn, tourists make their own pilgrimage to this scenic land as the region’s foliage plays host to rich browns and deep reds that have become New England’s signature. Yet, with 5,000 miles of coastline and at almost 72,000 square miles in size, it’s important to know where to go for those picture-perfect views and scenic country drives. That’s why we’ve hand-picked this list of the region’s greatest routes and mapped them out to help you avoid the impassive interstates.

The White Mountains

Dotted with lakes and covered by forests, New Hampshire is something of an outdoors paradise. The jewel in its crown is the spectacular snow-capped peaks and looming coniferous trees of the White Mountains, which covers over a quarter of the state. And, you don’t have to don your hiking boots to get a good look with the area plied by scenic byways.

Prime among them is the imaginatively named White Mountains Trail, a 100-mile loop through national forest offering spectacular scenery and historic sights. Look between the trees for moose and bear as you stop off at the period American and steam trains of Clark’s Trading Post and the Flume Gorge, an 800-foot chasm complete with waterfalls, massive glacial-era boulders and covered bridges. Take the Canon Aerial Tramway for impressive mountain views or hop aboard the Conway Scenic Railroad from a beautifully restored Victorian station, dating back to 1874. While you can rush round the circuit in a day, we’d recommend taking it slowly perhaps taking some time at Mt. Kancamgus. Here, the road climbs to almost 3,000 feet with everyone from hikers to anglers well catered for.

Taking the railroad through the White Mountains is a relaxing way to enjoy the views on offer

Be sure also to take a detour to Mt. Washington, the highest peak in the northeastern United States. It’s even possible to drive most of the way up before a cog railway takes you the final stretch on the back of a spur. Otherwise, a 4.1-mile hiking trail, starting from Pinkham Notch Camp, runs through Tuckerman Ravine via a series of steep rock steps to the mountaintop.

Pond in The White Mountains
The White Mountains is home to some serene landscapes

Cape Cod and Islands

This rugged coastal front is one of America’s best-loved vacation spots with sweeping drives and ocean beaches the perfect departure point to scenic islands and whale watching cruises. Of course, no trip to Massachusetts would be complete without visiting its storied capital, Boston. Home to one of America’s ‘Big Five’ orchestras, it’s a cultural powerhouse full of world-class museums and galleries, including the fantastic Museum of Fine Arts. There’s also Harvard’s collection of exhibitions housed by a redbrick campus, dating back to the 17th century.

Acorn Street, Boston
Acorn Street, Boston

Heading south, you’ll soon reach Cape Cod proper. Start in Plymouth, where the Mayflower made land back in the winter of 1620 making it among the earliest pilgrim settlements in the country. There are impressive harbour views and range of museums documenting its storied history.

From here, the cape is at your disposal with scenic coastal roads whisking you to its attractions. Stop only for clams from a gourmet food truck or for a stroll along the docks of its fishing villages. Perhaps head to Coast Guard Beach whose sands stretch as far as the eye can see, backed by Ocean View Drive. Each year it attracts everyone from surfers to bird watchers. There’s also the Shining Sea Bikeway; hugging the coast between Falmouth and Woods Hole, it makes for gentle rides past cragged coasts and wildflower tufts.

As you follow the coast around, eventually you’ll find yourself in Provincetown at the cape’s northern tip. An artist retreat, its narrow streets and gardens play host to independent galleries and hidden boutiques. From here, take a seasonal whale watching tour to spot everything from humpback and minke whales to dolphins and seals.

Cape Cod is also a springboard to the region’s islands. From Hyannis, catch a passenger ferry to the cobblestone streets, quiet beaches and handsome harbours of Nantucket Island. It’s not difficult to see why much of Boston and New York’s well-to-do-elite have made it their summer getaway. Then, hop onto your next ferry over to Martha’s Vineyard whose beaches and gourmet restaurants are supplied by rich farmlands. It attracts a similar clientele along with nature-lovers of all kinds. Stay in a cosy inn and rent a bicycle to see the gingerbread cottages of Oak Bluffs and cycle the scenic Gay Head cliffs in Aquinnah.

Brant Point Lighthouse, Nantucket Island
Brant Point Lighthouse, Nantucket Island

The Green Mountains

Changing colours, Vermont’s Green Mountains bring some of the most striking fall foliage in New England. They’re technically an Appalachian sub-range and are almost completely enveloped in, need it be said, green forests broken only by jutting rocky peaks. Mostly deciduous, they make for excellent walks past ancient oaks and sprightly birches. Salient among these is the Long Trail, running along the range’s spine for the full length of the state. Linking peaks, it’s fair to say that this is a strenuous hike with parts forming the famed Appalachian Trail. Thankfully, there are plenty of more easy-going routes in the foothills. Perhaps head to Camel’s Hump, a unique summit with excellent views of the region.

In terms of drives, Scenic Route 100 runs parallel to the Green Mountains with year-round valley vistas as the southern sections follow the Black River past the sparkling waters of the Echo Lakes. In the northern sections, stop for Thundering Brook Falls or a gondola ride up to the state’s second highest peak, Mt. Killington. Along the way, you’ll be treated to picturesque country villages including Waterbury where you can go on a tasting tour of the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory. Nearby, there’s Stowe, a village dominated by Mt. Mansfield, Vermont’s highest point; it features cosy inns and over 200 miles of ski trails.

Stowe, Vermont
Stowe, Vermont

Maine Coast

Larger than the five other New England states combined, Maine features over 3,000 miles of coastline. Here, pretty seaport villages are knitted together by scenic routes that ply its rugged coast and dip into its forested interior. Among them is Acadia Scenic Byway, set in New England’s only national park and sited on a rocky island outcrop, jutting out from the mainland. On it, you’ll drive along the coast, perhaps visiting Anemone Cave and Thunder Hole where roaring waves can reach up to 40 feet as they slam into the rocks. Away from the Atlantic, lose yourself in the maze of roads that weave between towering evergreens and weathered boulders.

For a longer drive, head along Route 1, sometimes known as the Eastern Big Sur, which darts past rocky islands and over fjord-like bays, formed by the melting of ancient glaciers. With the jagged coast on your left and glacially smoothed hills on your right, you’ll reach the tree-lined streets and the village green sensibilities of Brunswick. Set on the banks of the Androscoggin River, sights include waterfalls that once turned 18th-century sawmills. There is also a collection of grand townhouses dating back to the early 20th century, several of which are maintained by the excellent Pejepscot Museum who put on exhibitions concerning the town’s history.

Jagged coastlines create a dramatic backdrop to a drive along Route 1

After Brunswick, the next stop is Kennebunkport, one of Maine’s most picturesque seaside villages. If you come into town via Ocean Avenue, you’ll be treated to the same surf views as the town’s grand mansions and hotels. The town itself centres around Dock Square, perfect for an afternoon sipping artisan coffee and browsing the art galleries and boutiques.

On your travels in Maine, be sure to stop off at any number of seaside shacks that serve the state’s favourite food. Renowned the world over, steaming Maine lobster often comes packaged in a roll and served with mayonnaise making for an excellent lunchtime bite. What’s more, thanks to the proximity to the source, it’s surprisingly cheap.

Berkshire Hills

Move away from Boston and Cape Cod and discover why there’s more to Massachusetts than its coastline. As you would have worked out by now, much of New England’s most scenic parts have become the preserve of well-heeled America and the Berkshires are no different. Thick woodlands and ancient hills, calmed by time and weather, are scattered with a handful of country estates. You’ll find everything from stretching pastures and tumbling brooks to bucolic villages and backcountry laneways.

One such route, Jacob’s Ladder Trail, was the country’s first automobile-worthy road over a mountain range, stretching between Laurel Lake in the west and Tekoa Mountain in the east. In 1914, it became the state’s first road to be built as a scenic highway as travellers are rewarded with picture-perfect views at each hairpin turn. Perhaps stop off at Chester-Blandford’s crashing waterfalls or the Appalachian trailheads in Lee as you meander through its mountain passes. There’s also gentle kayaking along the Housatonic River set on both sides by open fields.

Housatonic River offers spectacular views either side

For a shorter trip, the 3,491-foot summit of Mount Greylock can be reached by scenic byway. Travelling from Lanesborough’s open farmlands up through the forested mountainside, you’ll be greeted with five-state views extending up to 90 miles in all directions. Along the way there are dozens of hiking trails that weave through verdant forests.

To find out more about travel in any one of these spectacular regions, take a look at the suggested itineraries below or give one of our expert consultants a call on 020 7590 0606. Alternatively read more about how we put your tailor-made holiday together.

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