If one thing makes the end of summer palatable, it’s leaves turning 50 shades of red. The passion for fall foliage reaches feverish intensity in New England, which sports a wide array of the deciduous trees whose leaves take the most dramatic turns, including sugar maple trees. Our selection of choice destinations, organized chronologically, and maps such as this one (https://smokymountains.com/fall-foliage-map/) will help you pinpoint either when to go to the region of your dreams or where to head based on your availability.
Basic of rule of thumb: Early fall means northern reaches. And while New England draws the most attention, it is worth keeping a southern state like Virginia in mind as the colors linger when well into October and November.
MID- TO LATE SEPTEMBER
If fall foliage is associated with one state, it’s Vermont. Leaf-peeping is a tradition and a pride in the Green Mountain State, and frankly you could go almost anywhere. Hitting peak early in the calendar is the Northeast Kingdom, which is a long drive (part of the fun) or a short flight (to Burlington) away, and where down-home events multiply. At the tail end of peak in that area abutting Canada is the Foliage Festival, which this year takes place Oct. 2 to 8. Spread over seven days in seven neighboring communities, including Walden, Cabot and Peacham, the festival offers a cornucopia of activities once you’re done with leaf gazing: hayrides and farmers’ markets, farm and sugarhouse tours, cook-offs and barbecues, arts and crafts.
If the Northern Kingdom is a bit too far, head to southern Vermont and the Shires of Vermont Byway, which follows Routes 7 and 7A north of the Massachusetts border. Anchored by Bennington and Manchester, this region encapsulates the Vermont of people’s fantasies: red barns, covered bridges (Bennington County alone has five), and of course plenty of opportunities to watch flamboyant colors as you drive by the Taconic and Green Mountains.
In Bennington you can pick up Route 9, aka the Molly Stark Byway, to Brattleboro. On the way, stop at Hogback Mountain, in Marlboro, for a breathtaking 100-mile view of Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. That’s a lot of trees.
EARLY TO MID-OCTOBER
It’s hard to figure out why New Hampshire does not have its western neighbor’s foliage reputation, because the Granite State more than holds its own. If you have several days, head up to the Lakes region, anchored by the enormous Lake Winnipesaukee and dotted with darling little towns brimming with Yankee charm. Make sure to stop by Franconia for a ride on the aerial tram (cannonmt.com) that goes up to the top of 4,080-foot Cannon Mountain and is open until Oct. 15.
Closer to Downstate New York, southern New Hampshire peaks around Columbus Day but remains flamboyant through the month. The Monadnock region around Keene, Marlborough and Swanzey has delightful hamlets and rolling hills, as well as several covered bridges. A step east you can find the Cathedral of the Pines in Rindge, a place of spirituality without walls that acquires a unique beauty in the fall (open through October).
New York has plenty of great places to go leaf-peeping, and it’s hard to pick just a couple. The Catskills are fairly close to Long Island and provide plenty of options, so they make for a good base. Hikes and more casual walks are easy to find in Catskill Park, a combination of public and private lands that features close to a hundred mountains over 3,000 feet and includes the Catskills Forest Preserve around New Paltz, with 300 miles of marked trails.
Not so keen on human-powered exploration? A nifty option, especially with kids, is the volunteer-run Catskills foliage train, whose 75-minute trips depart from Kingston and allow you to see Ulster County in a relaxed manner (nwsdy.li/FallFoliageTrains).
The Hudson River offers a very different vantage point, and in recent years the number of cruises has increased dramatically. Day options include expeditions to Cold Harbor (seastreak.com) and brunch or dinner cruises on either an 80-foot schooner or a 1920s yacht (sail-nyc.com). The price point is obviously much higher for ambitious multiday trips that include shore excursions at places like of West Point and Sleepy Hollow (americancruiselines.com).
Pennsylvania’s Bucks County is a favored destination year-round, and it’s especially lovely in the fall, when the area’s quaintness (in the best sense of the term) acquires vivid shades. Nearby and much less of a household name — which may mean smaller crowds — is tiny Jim Thorpe (jimthorpe.org), which lies in the Lehigh Gorge and whose dramatic vistas have earned the borough the nickname of “Switzerland of America.” Make sure to tear yourself away from the natural wonders to explore the well-kept town named after the first Native American Olympic gold medalist Jim Thorpe. Its styles range from Victorian to Queen Anne.
Virginia may not be an obvious contender for a foliage trip but it’s a worthy destination if your free time falls in late October — why settle for leaves past their peak in New England when you can head south and catch them at their brightest? Active-minded peepers can find terrific options within shouting distance of Washington D.C. The Shenandoah Fall Foliage Bike Festival in Staunton, Virginia, for instance, has become a destination drawing mid-Atlantic riders, and this year it offers nine routes for all abilities on Oct. 20 to 22 (shenandoahbike.org). Shenandoah National Park will keep sightseers busy for days (nps.gov/shen). And you don’t even have to walk: the park’s iconic 105-mile Skyline Drive is a scenic highway that snakes over the Blue Ridge Mountains and makes for a fantastic road trip. Be aware, though, that it can get a little congested at that time of year. But then taking the time to look around is the idea, right?