Planning your New England Fall Foliage Trip
Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and
 the gorgeous Adirondack Park in upstate New York
by ScubaMom
Greetings!  If you've found this page, then you must be planning to do a Fall Foliage trip or tour in New England - truly one of the most colorful parts of the USA during the fall season.  Not only will you find gorgeous leaf color, but also quaint inns, romantic hideaways, fabulous food, plus scenic highways and country roads. 
Where to go?  What to see?  And mostly importantly, WHEN to go?  Easier asked than answered, but I'll give it my best try. 
Before you start planning, familiarize yourself with a map of the Northeast, including eastern New York state (where the gorgeous 6 million acre Adirondack Park is located) - all these areas are prime leaf peeping areas, depending on the weather and date of your travel. 
Where to go?
Next, decide where you want to go.  If you have a whole week, you can cover a lot of distance and states.  If you only have a long weekend, then choose one area in Maine, or Vermont, or the Adirondack Park in upstate New York.
Coastal Maine is like no other part of the Northeast and is best visited from the last week of September through the first week of October or Columbus Day weekend (after which many of the hotels and businesses close for the winter!)  Best airports for access are Bangor (near Bar Harbor), Portland Maine, and Manchester New Hampshire.  Boston is another option.  Driving time along the Route 1 coast from Bar Harbor to Boston is around 5 hours, but we spent three days puttering along with lots of stops in seaside towns, at lighthouses and seashores. 
New Hampshire has the White Mountain National Forest which is a nice place to pass through or overnight if you are driving from Maine to Vermont.  Nearest airports are Manchester and Boston. 
Vermont is the best known New England state with its covered bridges, quaint villages, mountains and hills.  It has a LOT of Bed and Breakfast accommodations, inns, and lodges and plenty of artists of every sort and kind.  Lots to do in Vermont, but keep in mind, the tiny two lane roads can get packed with tourists and slow caravans of cars & trucks.  The best time to see fall foliage is the first two weeks of October since the northern section is the first to have color followed by the southern section turning a week or so later.  Some visitors like to stay in the central part of the state for 3 or 4 days and go on day trips around the state finding the best color at the time.  Nearest airports are Albany, Hartford, Burlington, or Manchester. 
Western Massachusetts doesn't have the dramatic mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire, but the hills can burst into bright foliage the middle two weeks of October.  Nearest airport is Albany or Hartford.  If you are heading to or from Boston, take Route 2 which can be quite gorgeous if the color is at peak. 
Not considered part of "New England", eastern upstate New York is one of our favorite areas to visit during Fall Foliage.  Why?  The leaves are just as bright and the Adirondack Park can be just as pretty as many parts of Vermont - it is also LARGER than the state of Vermont.  We call it the secret of the North East!  The best time to visit is the first two weeks of October.  Nearest airports are Albany and Burlington. 
When to go?
When to go depends on what part of the Northeast you plan to visit on what dates.  Generally, the first two weeks of October are the ideal time to see colors in New Hampshire, Vermont, or upstate New York.  The last week of September and first week of October might be the best time for Maine.  If you plan to arrive mid to late October, then Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island should be in full color. 
Our own general guideline is sometime during the week before, including, and after Columbus Day weekend (usually October 8th to 12th varying by year).  If we want to visit Maine, then we move our trip to the first part of October. 
AND, most importantly, along the way we constantly log into to follow the leaves. Keep in mind that they vary from year to year depending on weather and conditions. 
The map at the right is a general guideline for the time around Columbus Day weekend, however, in the examples below, you will see that it can vary greatly from year to year....
Examples of full range of possible Leaf Color by dates
... I have followed the leaf changes on since 1999 and use it as a guideline to decide what our BEST CHANCES of finding brightest color for our next trip. 
Reservations for inns, B&Bs, and hotels are best made at least 6 months in advance, so it is important to plan your trip based on the area you plan to visit and the POSSIBLE leaf color at the time. 
In the example at the left, I used 2004 and 2005 as examples of color - 2004 was a was a very early year and the leaves were already falling during our trip.  On the other hand, 2005 was a very late year - we arrived as leaves were barely changing and they didn't come to Peak Color until the end of our trip. 
Given the choice, ARRIVE EARLY during the first two weeks of October- better to see greens and yellows, than bare trees which may have dropped all their leaves by the last two weeks of October in the upper states. 

As you can see, the last week of September has foliage changing in the northern most regions.  By the first week of October, there will be some color somewhere. 
By the second week (usually around Columbus Day weekend), color will be moving along nicely, although upper parts of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont may be  peaking (which means drive south to keep seeing best color!) 
By the third week, you usually need to be in lower Vermont, lower upstate New York, or heading for Massachusetts. 
By the fourth week of October, leaves are falling in great numbers or already gone in the upper states.  However, you can see that colors are peaking in lower New York state, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. 
Those with lots of time may want to follow the leaves south through Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the Carolinas to Tennessee.  We did that trip in reverse one year and it was delightful. 
So the bottom line is .... plan your trip wisely for best leaf color using the foliage maps at the left and also at 

Since it is easy to make day trips north or south from where you are staying, it is fairly easy to find nice color, so try to choose a central point for your accommodations.

Where to stay?
The northeast is full of all kinds of hotels, inns, B&Bs, and lodges.  However, during Fall Leaf season, these tend to book up long before September or October arrives, so the earlier you can plan your trip and make hotel reservations, the better!  Be aware too that most of the inns require a two night stay on the weekends. 

Our favorite guide to places to stay is Select Registry - Distinguished Inns of North America.  All the participating inns are nice, very pleasant, and good places to stay.  You will find everything from tiny B & Bs, to elegant inns. 
If you want luxury accommodations, then log into Distinctive Inns of New England.  These are some of the finest in New England - unfortunately, it doesn't include those in upstate New York such as Friends Lake Inn or the Fern Lodge - two of our favorites when we tour the Adirondacks.  Not to worry, you'll find links to those in my travel reviews. 

Photo by Jamie Holmes 
Where are the most scenic roads?

Most of the scenic roads in the northeast are tiny two lanes which can make for some slow, but very scenic driving.  Major cities are connected by large interstates or tollways and surprisingly, some of those can also offer spectacular vistas and views. 
In the map below, Interstate 87 from Albany, New York northward to Plattsurgh can be gorgeous. Interstates 89 and 91 which criss-cross through Vermont and New Hampshire are also quite scenic - you will see the White Mountains of NH to the east and the Green Mountains of VT to the west.  Even 90 (part of the Mass Turnpike through Massachusetts) can show lots of color. 

A Word about Airports!

Quite a few people think "Boston" as the airport to use for fall foliage trips.  If you plan to visit Boston for a few days before or after your leaf peeping trip, then that will work.  However, be aware that arriving and departing Boston airport may be the low point of your trip!  We avoid it as much as possible.  It is a large, busy airport; checked luggage takes forever to arrive at the carousel; the car rental places can only be reached by a long bus ride, and the tunnels going to Boston proper are usually under construction, redo, or overhaul with lots of confusing detours if you are headed into the city.  It took us 2 1/2 hours from touchdown to reach our Boston hotel on our last trip.  There's a far better way to arrive or depart in the North East ... 
... by flying into one of the smaller regional airports! 

Hartford CT is a midsize airport with most all airlines - it is 1 1/2 hours from Boston, 2 hours from southern Vermont, and 3 hours from New York's Adirondack Park. 
* Albany NY is a modern small airport, easy to fly in and out of plus the rental cars are at the airport.  It is 1 hour from New York's Adirondack Park, 2 1/2 hours from Burlington in northern Vermont, and 1 1/2 hours to southern Vermont. 
* Manchester NH is a small airport only 1 hour from Southern Maine and about 1 1/2 hour from Vermont. 
* Providence, RI is another option for lower New England and it is little more than 1 hour from Boston. 
Portland and Bangor, Maine are well positioned for seacoast trips. 
Also consider flying into one airport and out of another.  For instance, you could fly into Bangor, take the Maine seacoast route, drive across New Hampshire, Vermont, and into the Adirondack Park of New York, then fly home from Albany. 
Have fun planning your fall foliage trip!  You will find links to some of our fall leaf trips in the list below. 

-- ScubaMom


Best Foliage Website:
Foliage Network including Northeast, Southeast, and Midwest
Best Vermont Foliage Forum
Foliage reports during the leaf season - take forum link
Adirondack, Upstate New York
Visitors information
Scenic Byways of Adirondacks
Excellent Trip & Travel info for Adirondacks
Foliage Maps for Northeast
Excellent New England Resort Town Maps
Reviews of Scubamom's Favorite Inns
Link to our favorite Northeastern Inns!

Return to the main TRAVELS page by clicking below.
(links to all our leaf trips)
Link to Main TRAVELS page
Photographs by Kenneth & Lynn McKamey ~~ Copyright Lynn McKamey (ScubaMom)