Travel

Where to See the Most Beautiful Fall Foliage in New England

A leaf-peeping guide for all six states in the region.

Travelphotoguy/Shutterstock
Travelphotoguy/Shutterstock
Travelphotoguy/Shutterstock

The time has come to pack up the car (or rely on a friend that has access to such transportation) and hit the road to take in New England’s most hype-worthy offering-none other than its fall foliage, of course. We’re talking all six states here, with popular pitstops and lesser-known destinations that are nothing short of glorious along the way.

Follow along as we help you map out your next weekend adventure, from Maine all the way down to Rhode Island, for the fall best sights this region has to offer.

Richard Cavalleri/Shutterstock
Richard Cavalleri/Shutterstock
Richard Cavalleri/Shutterstock

New Hampshire

You have your pick of places if you decide on New Hampshire for your fall foliage getaway. From the famous White Mountains to the Great North Woods, there are enough state parks along the way to those destinations to get some major leaf peeping in.

Speaking of the White Mountains, the New Hampshire mountain range is arguably one of the most scenic spots New England has to offer. So if the mountains have anything to do with your autumn bucket list, add the drive along the 35-mile Kancamagus Pass immediately to the top. The NH roadway takes you directly through the White Mountain National Forest, and at one point, you’ll have climbed as high as 3,000 feet above sea level all while on wheels. Just a heads up, there are really no gas stations or services along this stretch, so be sure to fill the tank up ahead of time.

As for the Great North Woods region of the state, it’s far less popular with leaf hunters, but just as breathtaking, and you’re a lot more likely to encounter friendly forest animals (although, no guarantee that they’re actually friendly). Along the route, stop at Milan State Park, which holds a 132-foot fire tower that alone is worth the visit-from there, you’ll be gazing at the red and yellow treetops all the way in to Maine, Vermont, and Canada.

If you’d prefer to take a backseat during the adventure, you’re in luck. From North Woodstock’s Cafe Lafayette Dinner Train to North Conway’s Conway Scenic Railroad, you can pick up a train ticket specifically for kicking back and taking in the fall sights.

Don Landwehrle/Shutterstock
Don Landwehrle/Shutterstock
Don Landwehrle/Shutterstock

Vermont

All of New England has leaf peeping that is equally fantastic, so you certainly won’t be disappointed wherever you decide. But Vermont is one of the most talked-about states for summer and fall road trips.

For those having trouble deciding on a point A to point B within Vermont, Route 100, the state’s largest highway, is a 200-mile-plus thoroughfare that’s popular with nature photographers and fall enthusiasts alike. Why so special, you ask? Other than it being a natural knockout, the route’s lack of billboards and close proximity to the Green Mountains are standout selling points. The other telltale reason is that the highway leads you directly to some of Vermont’s most charming small towns, from Weston (which houses the revered Vermont Country Store) to Plymouth Notch (home of the award-winning Plymouth Artisan Cheese).

But the main event comes when you turn off Route 100 onto the Green Mountain Byway, which takes you from Waterbury to Stowe. This means leaf-watching against a backdrop of bucolic mountains and farmland, cider donuts from Cold Hollow Cider Mill, and a detour into the Ben and Jerry’s Factory. Lesser known is historic Route 7A, AKA the Shires of Vermont Byway, which takes you between 17 tiny towns and villages, including the historic enclaves of Bennington and Manchester.

One of the essential leaf-viewing spots in the state may well be atop the 306-foot-tall stone obelisk Bennington Battle Monument (typically open through October 31, but check the website for details). Or you can (carefully) cruise up the hairpin-y Skyline Drive, a privately owned toll road favored by motorcyclists that winds up to the top of Equinox Mountain. There-at 3,848 feet above sea level-you’ll have simultaneous views of the Green, White, Adirondack, Berkshire, and Taconic mountains.

Lamar Sellers/Shutterstock
Lamar Sellers/Shutterstock
Lamar Sellers/Shutterstock

Maine

There’s never a bad time to meander up the coastline via Route 1, but in the fall you get the double whammy of water and foliage views. If you wanted, you could start in Kittery and spend hours winding your way to the Canadian border.

But for the sake of worthwhile pit stops, Ogunquit offers a leaf-peeping stroll along the Marginal Way; Kennebunk and Kennebunkport offer a colorful drive through Cape Porpoise and along Goose Rocks Beach, and a stop by Alisson’s Restaurant for a signature bowl of clam chowder; and there’s a more active hike on the Eastern Trail in Arundel.

Or think more outside the box: Maine’s many islands might not even be on your radar in the summer, never mind as a foliage destination. But between the ferry ride over and the destination itself, any archipelago hop will force you to slow down and marvel at our region’s color show. If a rocky ferry ride isn’t your cup of off-season tea, make the drive up to Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island for more accessible island visits.

Romiana Lee/Shutterstock
Romiana Lee/Shutterstock
Romiana Lee/Shutterstock

Connecticut

The Last Green Valley is a National Heritage Corridor and a no-brainer for foliage hunters. Seventy-seven percent of its lands are either forest or farm, which means a whole lotta psychedelic leaf patterns and not a lot of commercial builds to distract. The 36-town-strong route also offers all manner of classic New England autumnal fun: apple- and pumpkin-picking at Buell’s Orchard, wine-tasting at Sharpe Hill Vineyard, and hiking at Macedonia Brook State Park.

Want to take in the same fresh autumn air as Meryl Streep? You heard us right. Head for CT’s still-undersung Northwest Corner where Streep has a home there. Come fall, Litchfield Hills and its 26 charming towns actually get their moment in the fading fall sun, owing to the truly singular foliage along Route 7. The roadway also shows you two gorgeous covered bridges (West Cornwall Covered Bridge and Bulls Bridge) and leads toward the working farm Kent Falls Brewing Co. Detour a bit more to hike up the Heublein Tower in Simsbury-the 165-foot-tall relic grants you one of the best panoramic views in the state. Quick heads up, the tower is currently under construction until the end of October but will continue to be open.

Albert Pego/Shutterstock
Albert Pego/Shutterstock
Albert Pego/Shutterstock

Massachusetts

Route 2 is the state’s foliage highway. The drive through Central and Western Massachusetts takes you through the need-no-introduction Berkshires, where the prismatic flora is truly breathtaking. By the time you hit the 42-mile Mohawk Trail, you’ll be at a loss for words over the scenery-then doubly astounded as you maneuver the infamous hairpin turn just before North Adams. If you’re looking to get out of the car, The Clark Art Institute‘s 140-acre grounds are open 24-7 for hikes, picnics, and a perusal of the outdoor art installations. (If you can’t get enough art, there’s also a self-guided artwork tour throughout Berkshires County.)

But you’d be sorely missing out to discount the Cape in the fall. Once you cross the Sagamore Bridge, detour over to Route 6A for a leisurely, color-speckled meander through the towns you typically pass by on the way to Provincetown. The Old King’s Highway also invites foliage-friendly stops at the Heritage Museums & Gardens and the stone Scargo Tower in Dennis-the latter a little-known lookout. In the meantime, still-open farm stands along the route let you stock up on fall veggies and decorative gourds. One last thing: Don’t forget about the many apple-picking options near Boston-leaf-peeping close to town is a perfectly fine option.

Dan Logan/Shutterstock
Dan Logan/Shutterstock
Dan Logan/Shutterstock

Rhode Island

Start in Woonsocket on Route 146, taking time to grab a candy apple at Jaswell’s Farm, and continue through Providence for a double-dose of autumnal vistas and classic New England architecture. Then turn onto Route 114 and meander into Portsmouth for a leafy pedal aboard the Rail Explorers. Eventually, you’ll end up in “America’s First Resort” for two archetypal leaf-peeps: a slow car crawl down Ocean Drive and a stroll along the Cliff Walk (which is actually maneuverable in the fall).

Or you can take I-95 south to Blackstone Valley for a twofer of leaves and water. The Scituate Loop is a favorite, taking you around much of the serene Scituate Reservoir (just brake for bikers, as it’s a favorite motorcycle ride).Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Meaghan Agnew is a contributing writer. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram

Jillian Hammell is a contributor for Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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