Wow, that was fast. September’s hardly started and I hear the leaves are already starting to turn in northern Maine. Foliage season is almost here and, once again, the prediction for New England is fiery reds, blazing yellows and plenty of leaf-peeping traffic jams.
Local promoters, of course, are predicting another eye-popping season, although they’re a little sketchy on when it will peak in any particular area. Suffice it to say that, barring surprises (a hard freeze, heavy rains, etc.), the colors will work their way from the Canadian border to the shores of Long Island Sound over the next six to eight weeks.
So, if you’re going to go, it’s time to start planning. Book lodging early, monitor the latest foliage updates (see below) and be prepared for bad traffic in popular destinations. And when the gridlock gets bad? Get out of the car and catch the colors the way nature intended them (i.e., not through a windshield).
The routes below, for example, are among the region’s most popular, yet they also offer unique escapes from the crawling conga lines that come with the season. Go on, get out there — the fresh air will do you good.
Behind the wheel: One mile east of Bucksport, Route 175 leads to the picturesque villages and waterfront vistas of the Blue Hill Peninsula. Visit the Revolutionary-era Fort George in Castine, stroll the grounds of the Jonathan Fisher House (built in 1814) and spend a few hours browsing the shops and galleries overlooking the harbor in downtown Blue Hill.
Out and about: Opened in May, the new Penobscot Narrows Observatory towers over Route 1, just outside Bucksport. Ride the elevator 420 feet above the water for 360° views of the surrounding countryside. Admission: $5 (ages 12 and up), $3 (ages 5-11); open until October 31.
Before you go: Maine’s Department of Conservation will begin posting weekly foliage updates on September 12.
Behind the wheel: They don’t come any more popular than Route 100 between Waterbury and Stowe. (Blame the factory tours at Ben & Jerry’s and the Cold Hollow Cider Mill.) Continue on, though, over Route 108 (aka the Mountain Road) and on down to Route 15 and you’ll leave the tour buses behind. Snap foliage photos at the Stowe and Smuggler’s Notch ski resorts, poke around the towns of the Lamoille Valley, and you can be back in Burlington for dinner.
Out and about: Burn off those factory-tour calories with a hike to the Chin, the summit of Mt. Mansfield, for views that stretch from New Hampshire to the Adirondacks. (Note: The road to the Chin and the pass between Stowe and Smuggler’s Notch close in mid- to late-October.)
Before you go: Look for twice-weekly foliage updates at VermontVacation.com beginning September 13.
Behind the wheel: Circumnavigating the Presidential Range (via Routes 16, 2 and 302) offers a foliage-lined tour of cascading waterfalls, historic villages and the highest peaks in New England. Check out the waterfalls, including 65-foot Glen Ellis Falls, around Pinkham Notch; visit the 105-year-old Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods; and take in the autumn scenery along the winding Saco River.
Out and about: Fly over the foliage at up to 45 mph on the new zipline at the Wildcat ski resort, just north of Pinkham Notch. See the Web site for pricing, schedule and other details.
Before you go: Current foliage conditions are updated twice weekly at VisitNH.com. You can also receive them via text message.
Behind the wheel: Mix culture and fall colors in the Berkshires while driving Routes 8, 2 and 7 around Mt. Greylock, the state’s highest peak. Start your day in the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, then head north to North Adams and Williamstown where you’ll find MASS MoCA (the largest contemporary arts center in the country), the Clark Art Institute and Williams College Museum of Art.
Out and about: Head to the Greylock Glen trailhead off Route 8 for a steep, but scenic climb to the top of Mt. Greylock. The park’s summit roads recently closed for renovations, so crowds shouldn’t be a problem.
Before you go: Look for twice-weekly foliage reports at MassVacation.com starting September 14.
Behind the wheel: Running alongside the Housatonic River, the stretch of Route 7 between New Milford and West Cornwall is easily accessed, extremely popular and almost ridiculously picturesque. Bring the camera for shots of 200-foot-high Kent Falls and two of the state’s most iconic covered bridges before looping back via the historic towns of Goshen, Litchfield and New Preston.
Out and about: Trade the car for canoes or kayaks and paddle the Housatonic between Falls Village and Cornwall Bridge, a 10-mile stretch noted for its mellow water and pleasant picnic spots. Clarke Outdoors can provide gear and shuttle service.
Before you go: Go to CTvisit.com for weekly foliage updates starting September 17.