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The ultimate New England fall foliage road trip

By Lonely Planet Editors
September 17, 2020
West Cornwall Bridge Connecticut Cs
© Jeff Hunter / Getty Images
Touring New England in search of autumn’s changing colors has become so popular it has sprouted its own subculture of “leaf-peepers”. Immerse yourself in the fall harvest spirit with the ultimate road trip.

Editor's note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip and always follow government advice.

Trip length: 5–7 days; 424 miles (682km)
Best time to go: Late September to mid-October
Essential photo: Kent Falls set against a backdrop of autumnal colors
Top experience: Ziplining through the tree canopy in Bretton Woods

New England Fall Foliage map




The brilliance of fall in New England is legendary. Scarlet and sugar maples, ash, birch, beech, dogwood, tulip tree, oak and sassafras all contribute to the carnival of autumn color. But this trip is about much more than just flora and fauna: the harvest spirit makes for family outings to pick-your-own farms, leisurely walks along dappled trails, and tables groaning beneath delicious seasonal produce.

Boats are moored at a marina in a brilliant blue lake in autumn, with fall colors on the lake shores; New England fall foliage road tripLake Candlewood is the perfect place to start a New England fall foliage road trip © Alan Copson / Getty Images

1. Lake Candlewood

With a surface area of 8.4 sq miles, Candlewood is the largest lake in Connecticut. On the western shore, the Squantz Pond State Park is popular with leaf-peepers, who come to amble the pretty shoreline. In Brookfield and Sherman, quiet vineyards with acres of gnarled grapevines line the hillsides. Visitors can tour the award-winning DiGrazia Vineyards or opt for something more intimate at White Silo Farm Winery, where the focus is on specialty wines made from farm-grown fruit. For the ultimate bird’s eye view of the foliage, consider a late-afternoon hot-air-balloon ride with GONE Ballooning in nearby Southbury.

The drive: From Danbury, at the southern tip of the lake, you have a choice of heading north via US 7, taking in Brookfield and New Milford (or trailing the scenic eastern shoreline along Candlewood Lake Rd S); or heading north along CT 37 and CT 39 via New Fairfield, Squantz Pond and Sherman, before reconnecting with US 7 to Kent.

mist clings to the surface of a lake in Connecticut as red, orange, yellow and green leaves are reflected in its surface from a hill behind. New England fall foliage road tripThe Litchfield Hills of Connecticut have possibly the best fall colors in the world © DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

2. Kent

Kent has previously been voted the spot in all of New England (yes, even beating Vermont) for fall foliage viewing. Situated prettily in the Litchfield Hills on the banks of the Housatonic River, it is surrounded by dense woodlands. For a sweeping view of them, hike up Cobble Mountain in Macedonia Brook State Park, a wooded oasis 2 miles north of town. The steep climb to the rocky ridge affords panoramic views of the foliage against a backdrop of the Taconic and Catskill mountain ranges.

The 2175-mile Georgiato-Maine Appalachian National Scenic Trail also runs through Kent and up to Salisbury on the Massachusetts border. Unlike much of the trail, the Kent section offers a mostly flat 5-mile river walk alongside the Housatonic, the longest river walk along the entire length of the trail. The trailhead is accessed on River Rd, off CT 341.

The drive: The 15-mile drive from Kent to Housatonic Meadows State Park along US 7 is one of the most scenic drives in Connecticut. The single-lane road dips and weaves between thick forests, past Kent Falls State Park (currently closed due to COVID-19) with its tumbling waterfall (visible from the road), and through West Cornwall’s picturesque covered bridge, which spans the Housatonic River.

The picturesque covered bridge in West Cornwall, Connecticut. Image by Jeff Hunter / Photostock / GettyThe picturesque covered bridge in West Cornwall, Connecticut © Jeff Hunter / Getty Images

3. Housatonic Meadows State Park

During the spring thaw, the churning waters of the Housatonic challenge kayakers and canoeists. By summer, the scenic waterway transforms into a lazy, flat river perfect for fly-fishing. In the Housatonic Meadows State Park, campers vie for a spot on the banks of the river while hikers take to the hills on the Appalachian Trail. Housatonic River Outfitters runs guided fishing trips with gourmet picnics.

Popular with artists and photographers, one of the most photographed fall scenes is the Cornwall Bridge (West Cornwall), an antique covered bridge that stretches across the broad river, framed by vibrantly colored foliage. In the nearby town of Goshen is Nodine’s Smokehouse, a major supplier of smoked meats to New York gourmet food stores.

The drive: Continue north along US 7 toward the Massachusetts border and Great Barrington. After a few miles you leave the forested slopes of the park behind you and enter expansive rolling countryside dotted with large red-and-white barns. Look out for hand-painted signs advertising farm produce and consider stopping overnight in Falls Village, which has an excellent B&B.

Fall colors fill a picturesque Massachusetts valley as a small village peeks through; New England fall foliage road tripThe Berkshires turn crimson and gold, making for a spectacular fall, in the hills of Massacusetts © DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

4. Berkshires

Blanketing the westernmost part of Massachusetts, the rounded mountains of the Berkshires turn crimson and gold as early as mid-September. The effective capital of the Berkshires is Great Barrington, a formerly industrial town whose streets are now lined with art galleries and upscale restaurants.

It’s the perfect place to pack your picnic or rest your legs before or after a hike in nearby Beartown State Forest. Crisscrossing some 12,000 acres, hiking trails yield spectacular views of wooded hillsides and pretty Benedict Pond, Further north, October Mountain State Forest is the state’s largest tract of green space (16,127 acres), also interwoven with hiking trails. The name – attributed to Herman Melville – gives a good indication of when this park is at its loveliest, with its multicolored tapestry of hemlocks, birches and oaks.

The drive: Drive north on US 7, the spine of the Berkshires, cruising through Great Barrington and Stockbridge. In Lee, the highway merges with scenic US 20, from where you can access October Mountain. Continue 16 miles north through Lenox and Pittsfield to Lanesborough. Turn right on N Main St and follow the signs to the park entrance.

Yellow leaves surround a winding road in Massacusetts; New England fall foliage road tripDriving to the summit of Mt Greylock in autumn is a sensory overload © PM 10 / Getty Images

5. Mt Greylock State Forest

Massachusetts’ highest peak is not so high, at 3491ft, but a climb up the 92ft-high War Veterans Memorial Tower rewards you with a forested panorama stretching up to 100 miles, across the Taconic, Housatonic and Catskill ranges, and over five states. Even if the weather seems drab from the foot, driving up to the summit may well lift you above the gray blanket, and the view with a layer of cloud floating between tree line and sky is simply magical.

Mt Greylock State Reservation has some 45 miles of hiking trails, including a portion of the Appalachian Trail. Frequent trail pull-offs on the road up – including some that lead to waterfalls – make it easy to get at least a little hike in before reaching the top of Mt Greylock.

The drive: Return to US 7 and continue north through the quintessential college town of Williamstown. Cross the Vermont border and continue north through the historic village of Bennington. Just north of Bennington, turn left on Rte 7A and continue north to Manchester.

A look at Manchester New Hampshire, focused on fall treesManchester's architecture looks even better shrouded in fall colors © DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

6. Manchester

Stylish Manchester is known for its magnificent New England architecture. For fall foliage views, head south of the center to 3828ft-high Mt Equinox, the highest mountain accessible by car in the Taconic Range. Wind up the 5.2 miles – with gasp-inducing scenery at every hairpin turn – seemingly to the top of the world, where the 360-degree panorama unfolds, offering views of the Adirondacks, the lush Battenkill Valley and Montréal’s Mt Royal.

If early snow makes Mt Equinox inaccessible, visit 412-acre Hildene, a Georgian Revival mansion that was once home to the Lincoln family. It’s filled with presidential memorabilia and sits nestled at the edge of the Green Mountains, with access to 8 miles of wooded walking trails.

The drive: Take US 7 north to Burlington. Three miles past Middlebury in New Haven, stop off at Lincoln Peak Vineyard for wine tasting or a picnic lunch on the wraparound porch.

A sailboat cruises on a pristine lake as the trees on the hill behind just start to change colors; New England fall foliage road tripGo out on Lake Champlain for a leaf-peeping adventure and you might run into a mythical sea creature © Larry Gerbrandt / Getty Images

7. Lake Champlain

With a surface area of 490 sq miles, straddling New York, Vermont and Quebec, Lake Champlain is the largest freshwater lake in the US after the Great Lakes. On its northeastern side, Burlington is a gorgeous base to enjoy the lake. Explore it by foot on our walking tour. Then scoot down to the wooden promenade, take a swing on the fourperson rocking benches and consider a bike ride along the 7.5-mile lakeside bike path.

For the best off-shore foliage views we love the Friend Ship sailboat at Whistling Man Schooner Company, a 43ft sloop that accommodates a mere 13 passengers. Next door, ECHO Lake Aquarium & Science Center explores the history and ecosystem of the lake, including a famous snapshot of Champ, Lake Champlain’s mythical sea creature.

The drive: Take I-89 southeast to Montpelier passing Camels Hump State Park and CC Putnam State Forest. At Montpelier, pick up US2 heading east to St Johnsbury, where you can hop on I-91 south to I-93 south. Just after Littleton, take US 302 east to Bretton Woods.

Looking down on a wide valley with copper colored trees and a brilliant white hotel resortThe Bretton Woods have leaf-peeping as well as high adventure just waiting to be explored © thrmylens / Getty Images

8. Bretton Woods

Unbuckle your seat belts and step away from the car. You’re not just peeping at leaves today, you’re swooping past them on zip lines that drop 1000ft at 30mph. The four-season Bretton Woods Canopy Tour includes a hike through the woods, a stroll over sky bridges and a swoosh down 10 cables to tree platforms.

If this leaves you craving even higher views, cross US 302 and drive 6 miles on Base Rd to the coal-burning, steam-powered Mount Washington Cog Railway at the western base of Mt Washington, the highest peak in New England. This historic railway has been hauling sightseers to the mountain’s 6288ft summit since 1869.

The drive: Continue driving east on US 302, a route that parallels the Saco River and the Conway Scenic Railroad, traversing Crawford Notch State Park. At the junction of NH 16 and US 302, continue east on US 302 into North Conway.

A stream tumbles over gray boulders as fall leaves stick out all around; New England fall foliage road tripWrap up your fall foliage road trip in North Conway, a scenic finale © Nils Winkelmann / EyeEm / Getty Images

9. North Conway

Many of the best restaurants, pubs and inns in North Conway come with expansive views of the nearby mountains, making it an ideal place to wrap up a fall foliage road trip. If you’re traveling with kids or you skipped the cog railway ride up Mt Washington, consider an excursion on the antique Valley Train with the Conway Scenic Railroad; it’s a short but sweet roundtrip ride through the Mt Washington Valley from North Conway to Conway, 11 miles south. The Moat Mountains and the Saco River will be your scenic backdrop. First-class seats are usually in a restored Pullman observation car.

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Road Trips

7 Most Amazing Under-the-Radar Road Trips in the U.S.

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Road Trips

Here’s how to take a California road trip inspired by the state’s festivals.

Heading out on a road trip across the glorious state of California? Unfortunately, due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, many of the state's summer and fall festivals have been canceled or delayed. Those that are still scheduled, for now, are probably best to skip as California is seeing an uptick in coronavirus cases making it important to avoid crowded areas. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the aspects of California culture the festival’s celebrate. You can go on a socially distanced California road trip inspired by the state’s festivals. But, before you head out on the road be sure to pack proper PPE, be conscious of how many ICU beds are available in the towns you’ll visit, have a game plan for meals, book accommodations with hygiene protocols, and triple check your car is ready for a road trip. Here’s how to take a California road trip inspired by the state’s festivals. There are over six festivals in California dedicated to lavender. 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The destination is home to one of the largest concentrations of blue whales on Earth. Many other species of whales also migrate past Dana Point. ©Chase Dekker Wild-Life Images/Getty ImagesInstead of the Vans US Open of Surfing check out the largest surfboard in the world Vans US Open of Surfing competition in Huntington Beach, California is the largest surf festival on earth. The 2020 event was canceled due to COVID-19 but you can still enjoy the town’s surf culture. Watching surfers take on swells at the beach and then take in the glory of the world’s largest surfboard which broke two Guinness Book of World Records. The surfboard held the most people at once and is the largest surfboard ever made. Skip the Knott’s Boysenberry Festival and enjoy a boysenberry pie at a local diner Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park is the birthplace of the boysenberry. Knott’s Boysenberry Festival usually takes place every spring. Even without attending the festival, you can get your boysenberry fix. Enjoy a boysenberry pie, a boysenberry churro sundae, or a boysenberry funnel cake at Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner. Make a reservation in advance to snag one of the outdoor tables on the patio. Be sure to pick up boysenberry salad dressing and preserves for a tasty souvenir. Pass on the Santa Maria BBQ Festival and go for take-out Santa Maria barbecue is a regional culinary tradition. While visiting the Santa Maria Valley in Santa Barbara County be sure to taste some of the award-winning BBQ in the area. You don’t have to go to the Santa Maria BBQ Festival to indulge in a flavorful meal. Instead, grab take-out from the many BBQ restaurants in Santa Maria including Woody’s Butcher Block or BBQ Land. You don’t have to attend the Morro Bay Kite Festival to fly a kite Morro Bay Kite Festival was canceled this year but you can still partake in a socially distant activity by flying a kite at Morro Rock Beach. The breathtaking surroundings and windy location make for the perfect kite flying environment. Bring a kite and fly it on the beautiful bay at a safe social distance from other folks on the beach. ©CAN BALCIOGLU/ShutterstockTake a selfie next to a 20-foot-tall artichoke instead of the Artichoke Festival Artichoke Festival in Castroville may have been canceled this year but it’s still worth making a stop at the artichoke center of the world. Taste some of the local delicacies such as fried artichokes and snap a selfie next to the 20-foot-tall artichoke at the Giant Artichoke Restaurant. Marilyn Monroe was crowned the first Artichoke Festival Queen in 1948. Go to Garlic World instead of the Gilroy Garlic Festival Gilroy is the “Garlic Capital of the World” and celebrates with an annual festival. The Gilroy Garlic Festival was canceled this year. Don’t fret as you can still enjoy garlicky food at the family-owned Garlic World roadside grocery store. ©Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz/ShutterstockNosh on Himalayan cuisine in Berkeley rather than attending the Himalayan Fair Himalayan Fair is the largest Himalayan festival in North America but has been postponed until the fall. You can still support the Himalayan culture and people in the Bay Area by enjoying delicious Himalayan cuisine at Berkeley restaurants such as Mount Everest. Taste of Sonoma is canceled but Sonoma County wine is not Taste of Sonoma showcase was meant to be held at Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens this year. Even though the festival was canceled, travelers can still enjoy the best wine country has and visit Kendall-Jackson in Santa Rosa, California. Make a reservation to enjoy the top-selling Chardonnay in the States at the winery’s outdoor patio.

Road Trips

#VanLife: how a pandemic affects life on the road

#VanLife. It’s been all the rage for a while now. Living in your van or car can provide freedom. Freedom from rent, freedom from the mundane, and often most importantly, freedom to travel the country. But what happens when a pandemic hits, bringing travel to a grinding halt? What happens when you’re ordered to stay home but your home is a van? I spoke with two people for whom van life is the norm and learned some of the ways COVID-19 has impacted their community. Jen Nielsen, @jolly_jen, in the 2009 Toyota Matrix she calls home six months out of the year. Where to Go? When COVID-19 hit the fan in March 2020, going “home” to parents or friends was an option for some vanlifers, but not all. For many, traveling across the country to stay with friends or family would do more harm than good because they would be putting not only themselves at risk but every person they came in contact with along the way. Additionally, those who normally have someone to go to might not have that option anymore if those individuals are at a high risk of being seriously harmed by the virus. Then there’s the fact that some people don’t have friends or family they can stay with at all. So what were vanlifers to do? Well, many of them chose to self-quarantine by camping on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or National Forest land. It was something they knew how to do safely, it stopped them from traveling, and it meant they would only be close to other people when they went into town for food or gas. There were a few problems, however. One of these was time limit restrictions, usually 14- or 16-day limits in these areas. To make matters worse, some locations even closed down for people who were from outside the county. Halle Homel, a full-time vanlifer, summed up the situation in a blog post on her site: “We rely on public lands to be able to live in our homes when we have no other options [...] But lately, BLM and Forest land has been threatening closures too, and for those of us who live on the road, I have to ask the question: where are we supposed to go?” A part-time vanlifer named Jen Nielsen experienced this problem first-hand. She quarantined in Utah on BLM land for a while before receiving an order to leave. Then she packed up her car and headed next-door to Colorado where she quarantined on more BLM land until she had to leave after 14 days. The constant need to move clashed with her desire to be responsible, shelter in place, and come into contact with as few people as possible. Harrassment Being a vanlifer during this time had other negative effects, one of those being in-person harassment. For example, Jen was yelled at by a local for having out-of-state plates while in Colorado. Cyber harrassment was also a problem for many vanlifers who document their adventures. Halle was active in sharing her experiences online during this time and faced backlash. On Instagram, she would post photos of her secluded campsites and in exchange received negative messages from people telling her to go home. Halle Homel, @halleswanderingsoul, sitting on top of her van in California.Tips for Van Life Travel Moving Forward As restrictions now let up and tensions regarding the pandemic subside, vanlifers are starting to move again. With assistance from Jen and Halle, I gathered a few tips for helping vanlifers do so safely. 1.Plan ahead: Do your research to make sure campgrounds, roads, and recreation areas are open before you head there. Also, utilize apps like iOverlander, a community-based tool, to find a place to sleep before moving. 2. Seek out unpopular areas: Many national parks are being slammed with visitors as they reopen, which makes it difficult to social distance while exploring these locations. Focus your travels on less well-known areas of the country. 3. Avoid bad roads: As there are less people traveling than normal, there are also less people going down remote, unpaved roads. Therefore, if you get stuck on one of them, there’s a smaller chance that someone will pass by and help you out of the mud. Furthermore, these roads are often in no-service zones, so being unable to call for help may leave you stranded. 4. Consider your route, not just your destination: Routes leading you through large cities should be avoided. Not only does this allow you to evade the crowdedness that’s synonymous with these cities, but it also gives you the opportunity to support the economies of smaller communities. Finally, I want to encourage you to share your own tips for traveling safely during this time in the comments below! This new environment is a tricky one to handle, but if we all help each other out, it doesn’t have to be dangerous. Martha Anderson is a Budget Travel intern for summer 2020. She is a graduate of Kennesaw State University.

Road Trips

Return of the Great American Road Trip

Imagine you and your loved ones have a cooler packed of food, and clothes for a week in your car. Air conditioning on, singing to music, enjoying the open road. Take a minute and close your eyes. Do you feel freedom? There is sun shining on your face, COVID-19 worries in the rearview mirror, and the open road ahead of you. The great American road trip is a pastime that took off in the 1950’s, when there was rapid growth in families owning cars after World War II.These families commonly traveled U.S. Route 66 which ran from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California. Any families taking road trips in the 50’s were doing something right. Not only did a road trip enable these families to choose who they wanted to go with, plan a trip specifically for themselves, and put money back into the economy after World War II, they also started a tradition that would revive itself time and time again. It’s been 70 years since road trips became an American tradition and in 2020 the tradition will be back again and coming in strong. COVID-19 took away how we used to travel. The Department of Labor reported that in just 10 weeks over 40 million people applied for unemployment. The financial hardship many families find themselves in, along with COVID-19 restrictions, has severely limited travel plans in 2020. The way they may be accustomed to traveling will no longer be an option and they will look for different ways to spend their time and explore somewhere new. If you’re looking for a cheap vacation the answer is: road trip. AAA reported national gas prices in the month of May as an average of $1.97, almost a dollar less than this time in 2019 ($2.82). Traveling by car is cheap and convenient; whether you choose to go somewhere in state or out of state, the current gas prices will be worth the drive. When the American economy is in shambles, we are encouraged to spend money to help rebuild our economy. Road tripping enables Americans not only to spend their money on necessities but on fun activities. Stopping by local restaurants or businesses to have a new experience raises tourism and will help money flow to small towns and businesses. Places like the Grand Canyon will open up bringing in people to see its beauty, buy souvenirs, eat at their restaurant and still have the ability to create a social distancing environment to make everyone feel safe. Where should we be going on our road trips? Anywhere out of the ordinary. “The key is to find a place everyone isn’t going to,” said Cindy Richards, editor-in-chief of TravelingMom.com. Now is the time to convince your loved ones to join you on that obscure trip you’ve always wanted to go to. A trip to Buena Vista, Colorado gives many outdoor recreational activities, no matter what season. Social distance as you kayak down the Arkansas River, go rock climbing, scramble up Turtle Rock, or find your own adventure. Camping at national or state parks gives you plenty of time to bond with your loved ones, explore a new area, see and experience new things. The best part about a road trip is how the experience brings everyone closer together. Each activity you do together, every conversation you have, even the arguments you have about where to go next or what to do, allows you to learn a little bit more about the other person, how to compromise and work together as a team. Even though you may be bummed that your flight to Brazil was canceled or that cruise you were planning on taking, COVID-19 may be a blessing in disguise. Americans now get to explore their own country, something many of us don’t do. America has some of the most beautiful and unique geologies in the world The road trip will bond us for life, create memories to last a lifetime, and an experience that will keep us planning the next one. Are you planning a road trip? Click here to see Budget Travel’s road trip itineraries. Sam War is a Budget Travel intern for summer 2020. She is a senior in journalism at Middle Tennessee State University.

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