EAST COAST FALL COLOR ROAD TRIP

As a photographer, I look forward to fall the most. The leaves change color, the days are shorter, and the temperatures are cooling down. For the past few years, I’ve been traveling to parts of the country popular for fall colors. An east coast fall road trip is the vacation for this year. The leaves were turning and the farther into the trip, the better the colors became.

Deciding on a New England fall road trip itinerary can be tough since most of us have limited time. Whether it’s 1 or 2 weeks, realize it’s not enough time. Our trip was two and a half weeks and some was planning how to spend the most time at Lake Champlain Chocolates Factory and the Lindt Chocolate Factory Store. Some things are more important than leaf peeping fall color. Here is a map of the New England Fall Foliage to show the current peak color.

panorama photograph of fall color in New Hampshire.

Driving a random road in New Hampshire, this scene stood out and needed to be photographed. The panorama photograph captures the essence of fall color in a way a normal image cannot. The fall color in New England is some of the best around. "Leaf Peeping" is a great way to spend a vacation in the fall around New England.

NEW ENGLAND FALL ROAD TRIP ITINERARY

We found the best way to create an east coast fall color road trip is to not plan much. Not planning gives you the freedom to chase the fall color at its peak. It starts up north and goes south. During our fall color road trips over the past few years, we live out of the car, which gives us the flexibility to chase the color at different locations. We look for places to stay the day before we arrive somewhere. KOA is a great choice with the Camping Cabins if you have camping gear but not a tent.

The downside to not having a plan for a New England road trip is its very busy and most hotels and vacation rentals can be full. Therefore, bringing a tent and sleeping bags is a good idea. During the week, finding places to stay isn’t a problem. It’s the weekend where you will have trouble. We found ourselves going to Acadia National Park on a 3 day weekend and not a single place to stay was available. By not having a schedule, we changed our plan and we showed up on a Tuesday. The KOA had lots of Camper Cabins available.

Sleepy Hollow Farm in Vermont with fall color at sunrise.

The iconic scene from Woodstock, Vermont, the Sleepy Hollow Farm shows the essence of fall on the east coast. This farm was owned by Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry for many years. This scene checks a lot of boxes for photographers. A long leading line, fall color, old farmstead and a pond. What else could you want in a photograph. But remember, this is a private residence so please be respectful if you visit.

WHERE IS THE BEST FALL COLOR ON THE EAST COAST?

I can only give insight from the locations we visited. Driving from Boston to Niagara Falls, over to Bar Harbor and all points in between, the fall color was different in every location. But, arriving at North Woodstock, New Hampshire via the Kancamagus Highway is the best color in the area. Other areas worth visiting while during an east coast fall road trip are Stowe VT, Woodstock VT, Acadia National Park ME, and everywhere in-between.

KANCAMAGUS HIGHWAY

This 34.5 mile New Hampshire highway has some of the best fall color viewing in the country. The Kancamagus Scenic Byway winds through the White Mountains with views of the Swift River, Sabbaday Falls, and Rocky Gorge. For those wanting more time on “Kanc”, there are 6 campgrounds and other accommodations in North Woodstock, New Hampshire. One piece of advice I can offer is to drive this highway in the morning. By the afternoon, it an become a parking lot with so many visitors and the small town of North Woodstock is nearly impassible.

Swift River and fall color on the Kancamagaus highway in New Hampshire.

The Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire has some of the best fall color in the world. The 34.5 mile highway goes through the White Mountains and is designated a scenic byway. With the Swift River, Sabbaday Falls, and 6 campgrounds, visitors can spend multiple days in the area with friends and family.

STOWE, VERMONT

The main attraction in Stowe, Vermont for photographers is the Stowe Community Church. The bright white church and tall steeple have a perfect backdrop of fall color on the hill in the background. Aside from the church, Stowe offers food and fun for everyone in the family. Just outside town is the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory that offers tours throughout the day. The town has cafes, bakeries, and gift shops that are sure to please everyone. It’s a small town, so plan for the crowds and traffic during your visiting.

WOODSTOCK, VERMONT

Although not officially in Woodstock, the Sleepy Hollow Farm is a main attraction for photographers. This 115 acre farm was once owned by Joe Perry of Aerosmith. This year-round destination is home to three covered bridges and the only National Park in Vermont. While in Woodstock, stop by the Sugarbush Farm and enjoy homemade cheese and 4 grades maple syrup. One of the more famous sites in Woodstock is the Quechee Gorge. The best views of the gorge are from the bridge but the hiking trails are a great way to experience the area.

Sunrise at the Sleepy Hollow Farm in Vermont.

The most photographed farm in New England, Sleepy Hollow Farm is an icon in Woodstock, Vermont. The clouds lit up for only a few minutes on this morning but it was enough for a great photograph. Be respectful of the property as it is private property. The sunrise and fall color blend well for a colorful image.

ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, MAINE

One place on our list was Acadia National Park, Maine. Things to do in Acadia National Park range from horseback riding, bicyling, hiking, carriage tours, and a list of other activities. During our time in the park, I was enjoying the seascapes more than the fall color. During fall, the park is very busy. If you don’t want to drive, there is a free bus service that leaves from the visitor center and makes regular stops throughout the park and Bar Harbor. 2-3 days is about all you need in Acadia National Park to drive the Park Loop road, do a few short hikes and maybe bike the carriage roads.

LIGHTHOUSES

South of Acadia National Park are a few famous lighthouses in Maine. The first stop is Pemaquid Lighthouse in the small town of Bristol. Built in 1827, the towers original Fresnel lens is still in use. John Quincy Adams commissioned this lighthouse in 1827. The Fishermen's Museum is on the first floor of the keeper's house and the second floor is an apartment available for rent.

The next lighthouse and the most famous is Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth Maine. First lit in 1791, it had 16 whale oil lamps and measured 72 feet tall. Photographing sunset and sunrise at Portland Head are nearly impossible. The moment the sun drops behind the horizon, the rangers come around and make everyone leave. The entire park is surrounded by a large metal fence. The police open the gate "around" sunrise so you will miss the color if it happens. It's still a great place to visit and enjoy the scenery.

The next lighthouse on our trip was the Nubble Lighthouse located in the town of York. The official name is Cape Neddick Lightstation but since it's located on a "Nub" of Land, Nubble became the unofficial name. During low tide, you can walk to the island but I don't know if you're allowed to. The town of York is worth a visit since it's real close to Portsmouth but more quaint. A perfect town for some down time and the Lindt Chocolate Factory store is only 30 minutes away.

Sunrise at the Nubble Lighthouse in York, Maine

Officially name the Cape Neddick Light Station, construction began in 1879 on the "Nubble" of land it's now named after. The light tower is 41 feet tall but sits 88 feet above the ocean. An interestesting fact is an image of the lighthouse is on the Voyager spacecraft it's way out of our solar system.

CONCLUSION

The list of locations to visit during a New England fall color road trip is endless. While endless, everything looks the same so how many locations do you need to visit? Look for areas that offer more than just leaf peeping the same colors. Our trip took us to Niagara Falls, the Finger Lakes, Lake Champlain, and a host of other areas. We were on the road for over 2 weeks. Staring at fall color would be boring so we added other adventures to the schedule. Finding waterfalls and lakes, walking around Cornell University to see the architecture was a perfect way to break up the trip. If you’re going to the east coast for a fall color trip, what are the locations you plan on visiting?

red truck and a covered bridge in Vermont during fall color.

This fully restored Ford truck was positioned next to the covered bridge shows the essence of Vermont during the fall. Vermont has almost 104 covered bridges to visit while "leaf peeping" in New England. The colors of the foliage are some of the best in the world. Although the crowds were large, it was well worth the trip.

Sunset at Portland Head Lighthouse in Portland, Maine.

Portland Head Lighthouse at sunset.The alpen glow on the horizon adds nice color to the sky. Completed in 1791, this is the oldest lighthouse in Maine. Like most lighthouses, Portland Head is automated and maintained by the coast guard. During the Civil war, the lighthouse was raised by 20 feet but in 1883 it was deemed not as important so it was lowered 20 feet.