New England in the Fall is straight out of a storybook. The colors, the country homes, pumpkin patches, apple cider, maple syrup stands and sweater weather – there is really nothing like it. I had this picture in my head that I would feel like I was in a Hallmark movie and I am happy to report that I was not wrong!
This weekend getaway was a spontaneous decision about 3-4 weeks before. Kyle and I set a goal to try to go somewhere, even if it was for a weekend, every month for the entire year of 2019. We hadn’t decided what to do for October yet and leaf peeping was something we had been itching to do for a while. We decided we had to do some research and somehow make it work.
If you have never heard of leaf peeping before, it’s when the fall foliage (leaves) are at their peak colors during the autumn months. The amount of trees and variety of colors are most popular in the New England states. You can also peep some fall leaves in the Smokey Mountains, Colorado, Utah, Minnesota, or the Ozarks (another many other places I’m sure) but New England is the most famous. Each part of the country’s leaves change colors as different times throughout the fall, so check out this online fall foliage map to track the best times to visit. When you have to travel by air, it can get a little tricky when deciding the best days to be there. It’s typically recommended to plan far in advance so that you can book your hotel since the peak colors usually only last a couple of weeks and the rooms can fill up fast. We are still in shock that we got so lucky to make this trip work!
We chose to visit Vermont and New Hampshire the first weekend in October because we knew we’d be able to squeeze in as much as possible and see vibrant colors. The following weekend was actually the “peak” week for the colors there but we still got amazing colors. Vermont and New Hampshire are also pretty small states so you can cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. If you have more time I’d suggest adding in upstate New York to your itinerary as their leaves have peak colors around the same time.
How to get there
There are several different options for getting to Vermont and New Hampshire but since we only had 48 hours we opted to fly in and out of two different airports to maximize the time we had rather than backtracking our way to the airport to get home. We flew from Omaha to Manchester, NH to start our leaf peeping adventure. This way we would drive the famous Kancamagus highway up through the White Mountain National Forest. Other options are to fly into Boston, if you had a few more days, or Portland, Maine. Vermont also has a few airports, such as Burlington which is where we chose to fly home from. It just depends on how much time you want to spend there and if you want to start in the northern part of Vermont or the southern. If starting in the southern part of the state, Albany, NY would be a great place to start.
Where to stay
We got super lucky and found a cute cabin in Bradford, Vermont on Airbnb. There are a lot of options for cabins around that area. We didn’t spend much time in the cabin since we were out and about but it was a nice base camp to brew a pot of coffee for our early mornings.
We chose to stay in the middle of a few of our top destinations (New Hampshire, Stowe and Woodstock) so that we could make it to each place in about the same amount of time. We thought about staying at two different places, but I’m glad we didn’t because that would have been a little messy dealing with check-in check-out times.
Plan your route
This is the part we had to spend the most amount of time researching. There are so many highways and back roads that you can take. We also had to plan a couple of options and watch the weather. There was some rain and fog in the forecast and wouldn’t have been able to see the views at the White Mountain National Forest so had to have a plan B just in case. The weather cooperated and we stuck with the original plan. If all else fails, you can just get in your car and wander – the colors are everywhere! Some of our favorite spots were by chance off the beaten path.
We flew into Manchester, NH and had two options for the start of our road trip, depending on what the weather decided to do. Since it ended up being a clear day we drove north to the White Mountain National Forest so we could drive route 112 or the famous Kancamagus Highway.
Our first stop along the way was at rest stop to grab a quick lunch and some snacks. We were starving after waiting over an hour to get our rental car. Then, we made our way to a really unique cabin in Meredith, NH that sits on its own island for a quick pit stop before continuing on to the Kancamagus Highway. If you can wait on lunch, this would be a really cute town for a lakeside meal.
The Kancamagus Highway is a windy road with lots of places to stop and take in the views. We started the scenic drive in Conway, NH and made our way towards Lincoln, NH to have some burgers at the Black Mtn Burger Co. before heading to Vermont to check into our cabin.
Pomfret & Woodstock
At the top of our list was to catch a sunrise at the famous Sleepy Hollow Farm near the village of Promfret. We brewed a pot of coffee at the cabin to put in our to go cups for our 45 minute drive. We took our time checking out the small towns we passed through on our way which ended up being a good thing because we missed the crowd of sunrise photographers at the farm.
Sleepy Hollow Farm is a private residence so you want to stay on the main road when checking it out. And watch for dog poop – I would know because I stepped in some! Besides that little incident, this was our favorite part of the trip. This farm is picturesque and makes you feel like you’re right in the middle of a Hallmark movie. Bonus, if you head up the hill past the farm you will get some unique views of the farm and maybe see the coolest VW bus.
The Sleepy Hollow Farm is not too far from the town of Woodstock, VT where we checked out a famous covered bridge and had breakfast. I wish we would have spent a little more time here because this town was a dream! Check out the town of Woodstock’s Instagram page for some major fall inspo. We ate at Mon Vert Cafe which had some of the best coffee I’ve ever had and Kyle and I shared their biscuits and gravy but subbed the biscuits for their home fries. It did not disappoint.
Next was about an hour and a half drive to Stowe, VT on the famous VT HW100. This highway follows some of the coolest country towns in the “Mad River Valley”. The town of Stowe itself was very busy compared to everywhere else we visited. It is a popular ski resort town and towards the northern part of the state. A lot like Woodstock and other tourist towns there are lots of local shops, cafes and nearby pumpkin patches and apple orchards. The most iconic scene in Stowe is their famous white church with the colorful trees that surround it. Most towns in New England have old churches like these which is such a different scene than the midwest or west where everything is much newer.
We grabbed lunch at the Green Goddess Cafe and hung out here for about an hour or so to charge up our camera and drone batteries. This place was very popular and there is limited parking. I ate the gluten free Cubano sandwich and Kyle customized his own salad that came in a giant mixing bowl. Their soup of the day was Country Chicken Stew and we bought a quart of it to go for supper at our cabin. Check out my blog post where I recreated that stew recipe.
We made the drive back to our cabin to drop off the soup and hang out for a bit before heading back to New Hampshire’s White Mountains for our sunset hike in Franconia, NH.
The Artist’s Bluff hike is a popular sunset hike, especially in the fall. The views are incredible and all you see is red and orange trees for miles. The hike is about 1.5 miles round trip with a little bit of an incline so I’d rate it as easy to moderate. It also makes for the perfect sunset hike because the walk back to the car only took 20 minutes.
The trailhead is a little confusing to find because it is not marked super well. There are two different options of which trailhead to start at since it is a loop. If you park in the main big parking lot, the trailhead is right in the middle of the parking lot, this is where we started. If you park in the Echo Lake Beach parking lot there is a trailhead alongside the road, this is where we exited the trail and then hiked back up the road to the main parking lot (next time we would park at the beach).
The drive back to our cabin was about an hour and it gets dark. Really dark. This is part of the reason why we opted to get dinner to go and eat at our cabin rather than trying to find a place for supper in the dark. There also isn’t a lot of options for food in the Franconia Notch State Park area.
We got another early start on our last day in Vermont before we had to head to Burlington to catch our flight home. We explored the northern part of the state just by driving around on the back roads. Our first main stop was in the little village of Peacham, VT which was founded in 1776. It was so crazy to see how old everything was while in New England.
We made our way back to Stowe on a gloomy and cold morning via HW 15, or the Grand Army of the Republic Highway. I would recommend only spending a little bit of time in Stowe as this isn’t the most scenic town. In hindsight we would have spent more time in Woodstock and saved Stowe for our last day. Since it was early on a Sunday there wasn’t many shops open while we strolled around waiting for a table at the Butler’s Pantry for breakfast. Pro tip: get their buttermilk pancakes with pure Vermont maple syrup. Literally the best pancake I have ever had!
On our way out of Stowe we took the 20 minute detour to Burlington through Smuggler’s Notch. This was a beautiful tree lined and narrow road. It was cold and windy and the leaves were blowing, such an autumnal experience. A lot of people like to stay at the Smuggler’s Notch Resort or the Lodge at Spruce Peak. I’d love to come back and see this area covered in snow. I have a feeling it would look a lot like the North Pole.
The drive to Burlington was beautiful as well. The trees on this drive up north were more of the peak colors than in the southern part of the state. It was also a moody day which offered some more vibrant color contrast.
Whatever route you decide to take on your leaf peeping road trip will not disappoint. I am convinced that every road in the state was scenic and beautiful!