Now that the summer heat has given way to cooler temperatures, we can all enjoy the great outdoors without sweltering. Fall is the perfect time to spend an afternoon at the cider mill, go pumpkin picking for Halloween or hike up mountains. It’s closing in on peak foliage time in the Northeastern United States, arguably the best place to see the changing leaf colors.
While it’s near peak viewing in much of Maine and parts of northern Vermont and New Hampshire, you still have plenty of time to view the seasonal leaf show in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont. Although it’s difficult to pick the top place to see foliage, two areas standout in terms of cultural institutions, fine dining, high-end lodging and the riotous display of red, gold and purple leaves.
Litchfield Hills, Connecticut
This historic district in Northwestern Connecticut is often at the top of “Best of” lists when it comes to fall foliage and I see no reason to disagree. Rivers twist and meander and the rolling hills offer many opportunities to gaze in wonder at nature’s bounty. The village of Kent is a popular destination for foliage lovers (it was named the top New England foliage destination in Yankee magazine), with myriad spots for your viewing pleasure. The town is situated near two state parks. Macedonia Brook State Park is where most leaf lovers head as it offers 2,300 acres of unobstructed trails up the Catskill and Taconic mountains. It’s hard to beat the view, especially in late September. Kent Falls State Park encompasses part of the Appalachian trail and hikers can enjoy the vistas, whatever their experience level. It’s also the site of Kent Falls, the largest waterfall in the state.
Many visitors take day trips to check out the autumnal splendor but why not stay a weekend and enjoy some of the culinary and cultural pleasures the area has to offer? Kent is home to Doc’s Trattoria, a popular Italian eatery as well as the Revolutionary War–themed Fife & Drum, a tavern that offers continental fare and live music. Don’t forget to try the homemade Belgian chocolates at Belgique Patisserie and Chocolatier. The hot chocolate is delicious. Don’t be surprised to see a celebrity as many Hollywood heavyweights call the area home.
After admiring the changing leaves, head down U.S. Route 7 (a scenic drive along the New York-Connecticut border) to Ridgefield to check out a performance at The Ridgefield Theater Barn, a converted barn that operates as a community theater. The 46-year-old Adlrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield showcases new and emerging artists while The Mattatuck Museum in nearby Waterbury displays renowned local artists from the past 200 years.
As one would expect, the area has myriad lodging options, most in the bed and breakfast category. If Americana kitsch is what you want, you’re sure to find it but for true luxury stay at the Mayflower Inn and Spa in Washington. The Relais and Chateaux property boasts 30 elegantly appointed rooms on 58 acres. Rooms have a decidedly countrified air, with blues and butter yellows soothing the senses. Think Regency-era English manor rather than Colonial New England retreat. Your feet will sink into the sumptuous Oriental rugs as you make your way to the feather-top mattress at which you rest your weary body.
Berkshires & Western Mass
A continuation of Vermont’s Green Mountain range, the Berkshires run along the westerly portions of both Massachusetts and Connecticut and offer unspoiled views of foliage, rolling hills, and scenery.
From Great Barrington and its charcuterie of towns—Alford, Egremont, Sheffield, New Marlborough, Monterey and Tyringham—through Richmond, Lenox, Washington and Becket and up to North Adams on the Vermont border, the Berkshires provide as quintessential of a leaf peeping experience as there is. Routes 7, 41, 23 and 57 in particular provide some of the most beautiful foliage in new England, with the Berkshire Mountain backdrop as icing on the cake.
Berkshire.org provides specific information on a number of different scenic driving tours throughout the area. They are currently featuring a scenic drive tour through Mount Greylock.
Although the entire state of Vermont is a mecca for autumnal splendor, there’s nothing like viewing the scenery from Central Vermont. Montpelier is the state capital and is a great base at which to see the region. Hikers tend to head to Mt. Abraham, which takes about four hours roundtrip. I prefer Camels Hump, which takes three to five hours to complete. It’s more rugged and savage than the other trails but the views of the White Mountains and the Adirondacks can’t be beat. The color spectrum on display is breathtaking. Head here before the third week of October to get the most out of the view.
Although you won’t find a lot of fine dining options in the area, that doesn’t mean you’ll be eating at McDonald’s. Head to Mary’s at Baldwin Creek in Bristol. The restaurant is so good, people from all over the state travel there for farm fresh cuisine and a fun menu of innovative dishes. The oddly named town of Quechee houses one of the area’s best restaurants. Simon Pearce’s The Mill serves modern American cuisine in an elegant setting. Where else can you dine on dishes such as horseradish crusted blue cod while overlooking a small waterfall? The award-winning wine list offers a number of new world and old world selections.
Central Vermont is not just about rugged peaks and good food. It’s also host to a number of art galleries. Start at the area’s largest, the T. W. Wood Gallery & Arts Center in Montepelier. T.W. Wood houses a permanent collection of art from around the country. Studio Place Arts in the small town of Barre showcases contemporary art. You can meet working artists or take classes if you have time. Vermont also has the highest concentration of historic covered bridges in the nation and if you prefer relaxing strolls to strenuous hikes, be sure to check them out.
Like many other areas in New England, lodging options run towards small chain hotels and B&Bs. But you can still find something unique. The 130-room family-owned Lake Morey Resort in Fairlee offers championship golf as well as acres of land on which to stroll. The resort hosts a murder mystery weekend in mid-October, which I’ve always found to be a fun experience. If you want even more elegant accommodations, head to award-winning Twin Farms in Barnard. Nestled among forests, meadows and gardens, the 300-acre estate really makes you feel as if the city is a world away. The buildings are constructed of stone, pine, maple and brick and guests choose from 10 cottages, one 4-suite Farmhouse, one 2-suite Lodge, and four rooms in the Main House. Stay for a meal, as the restaurant is one of the finest in the Northeast, with a 26,000-bottle wine list featuring choice Bordeaux as well as Italian and Oregonian reds. The resort also offers an ever-changing cocktail hour that is a great way to meet your fellow guests. Mulled cider is the choice drink for this fall season. Enjoy.
Shandana A. Durrani has been a magazine editor and travel writer in New York City for 19 years. Her work has appeared in numerous publications and websites including Condé Nast Traveler, Glamour, Cigar Aficionado, Wine Spectator, Silverkris, Haute Living, NYMag.com, Jetsetter.com and Justluxe.com. She is the author of "Day Trips from New York City" and the co-author of "Insiders' Guide to New York City."