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5 Great Scenic Drives for Fall Leaf Peeping in the Northeast

Checking out the fall leaves is a classic pastime in the Northeast. It’s impossible to not be wowed by the bright reds, golds, and oranges that appear every autumn. 

You can find plenty of lovely foliage in other parts of the country this time of the year. However, there’s something special about the colors in this region that’s hard to beat.

Join us as we discover the best scenic drives for leaf peeping in the Northeast. 

Let’s explore!

The Kancamagus Highway in Northern NH is a 34-mile scenic highway that stretches from Lincoln, NH to Conway, NH
The Kancamagus Highway is one of the best scenic drives in New Hampshire

Why Is the Northeast the Greatest Place for Fall Foliage?

The Northeast has a reputation for fall foliage. Every year, this region of the U.S. explodes with vibrant red, gold, and orange hues. It’s a characteristic that other parts of the country don’t have. 

So why does the Northeast get the prettiest fall leaves? One reason is location. This region’s elevation, temperatures, and humidity provide the perfect environment for trees to keep their leaves well through autumn.

The other reason is that many tree species growing in the Northeast produce specific colors. When autumn begins, the shorter, cooler days cause the leaves to change from bright green to warm earth-tone hues.

Chances are, you can visit any spot in this part of the U.S. and witness some colorful beauty. But some areas are just completely breathtaking. 

Here are five beautiful scenic drives for fall foliage in the Northeast.

#1 Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor, Connecticut

The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor offers a truly magical view of Northeastern fall leaves. It stretches across 35 towns and villages in Connecticut and southern Massachusetts.

You might wonder where the corridor got its unique name. As it turns out, the Last Green Valley is one of the area’s few remaining dark sky regions. This light pollution-restrictive location is perfect for stargazing.

Besides leaf peeping, you can choose from many classic fall activities while visiting this part of the country. Pumpkin carving, apple picking, and farm visits are popular pastimes. 

In addition, Walktober is an annual celebration that includes nature hikes, haunted history talks, and other free events. If you’re looking for a storybook setting, the Last Green Valley has you covered.

Need a place to stay? We’ve got you covered with The Best Free Camping in the Northeast.

#2 Kancamagus Highway, New Hampshire

New Hampshire’s Kancamagus Highway is the perfect setting for peeping the Northeast’s fall foliage. This route is beyond picturesque, with rivers, scenic turnouts, covered bridges, and sweeping vistas. 

The drive is 30 miles long, making it a great option for a day trip. If you enjoy camping, you could take advantage of one of many campgrounds and hiking trails along this stretch of road.

According to locals, Kancamagus Highway’s foliage peaks between September and October. Early October is usually the perfect time to plan a visit. You won’t believe the array of colorful leaves interspersed between evergreens. It’s certainly an unforgettable experience.

#3 Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway, Maine

The Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway is another contender for the best fall leaves in the Northeast. This 52-mile drive includes Routes 17 and 4 and usually takes about 2.5 hours to complete. At the center of the byway is Rangeley Lake, a glittering freshwater expanse stretching over 6,000 acres.

This scenic roadway offers several places for pull-offs or photo ops. Take in the beauty of the Appalachian Ridge and the nearby mountains, or stop at The Height of Land on Route 17 to admire the hills and distant lakes. 

You’ll also find countless opportunities along the road for fishing and wildlife, including moose-watching! Campgrounds are easily located along the byway if you want to spend a night among the trees.

Late September and early October are the best times to catch the autumn colors along the Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway. The range of scarlet, orange, yellow, and even purple leaves will leave you speechless.

After your New England leaf-peeping trip, head a little farther south because The Highlands Food & Wine Festival Is an Awesome Autumn Road Trip.

#4 Mohawk Trail, Massachusetts

The Mohawk Trail in Massachusetts was once used by Indigenous people and American colonists. Today, you can drive the route to enjoy some of the best fall foliage in the Northeast. 

This 60-mile stretch of road is a starting point for many fun side trips. Visit the historic town of Deerfield to admire some colonial architecture and indulge in activities suitable for kids and adults. 

With over 30 miles of pathways open for exploration, Mohawk Trail State Forest is also ideal for hikers. Stop at the French King Bridge on the Connecticut River for a perfect photo op. And if you’re into maple syrup and candy, the Davenport Maple Farm is a must.

The Mohawk Trail is stunning year-round. But for the best views of autumn leaves, schedule your visit between mid-September and mid-October.

Fall leaves in the Northeast: Scenic Autumn Road in the Quabbin Reservoir Park area of Massachusetts.
Massachusetts has a gorgeous autumn show

#5 Green Mountain Byway, Vermont

Vermont has its fair share of scenic foliage, and the Green Mountain Byway is one of the best places to see it. This route is a prime place in the Northeast for peeping fall leaves. At 220 miles, it’s also a perfect mini-road-trip route.

The byway runs through the state’s middle, beginning in Waterbury and ending at Mount Mansfield, the tallest peak in Vermont. You’ll have plenty of opportunities for biking and hiking, including the Stowe Recreation Path and Sterling Pond Trail. 

Smuggler’s Notch Resort also features several acres of tracks for mountain bikes and other extreme sports. Additionally, the historic towns along the Green Mountain Byway contain their own magic. You’ll find a variety of annual arts and crafts fairs and seasonal festivals to enjoy in these villages.

The Green Mountain Byway is a four-season destination worth visiting any time of the year. But autumn, specifically September and October, is the best time to enjoy the awe-inspiring leaf colors.

Discover more places for fall leaves in the Northeast with Lonely Planet New England Fall Foliage Road Trips.

Northeast Fall Leaves Are a Treat For the Eyes

Viewing the fall foliage in the Northeast is truly an impressive experience. When the conditions are right, the trees in this part of the country offer colors unlike anywhere else.

So choose your favorite drive, or pick several, and plan an autumn road trip. Whatever you decide, you won’t regret witnessing the magic of this region.

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