New England doesn’t have to work hard to look good in autumn: Its forests and mountains are a riot of colors, as are the seasonal, locally sourced meals at top restaurants from Boston to Providence. And if you’ve ever wanted to know what it’s like to harvest cranberries, now’s your chance. Here are 10 of the best things to do in New England in the fall, whether you want to hike or hunker down at a cozy lodge.
Plan a “leaf peeping” road trip.
Yes, it’s the worst phrase ever, but there’s nothing cringe-inducing about New England’s highways between late September and late October—there’s even a handy interactive fall foliage map to help you plan the ideal weekend away. Make sure your road trip includes either New Hampshire’s Kancamagus Highway, a 56-mile country road through the state’s White Mountain National Forest, or an itinerary through Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest—both showcase the region’s most dramatic colors.
Be a cranberry farmer for a day.
Have any of your friends done this yet? Live the Ocean Spray dream and sign up to work on one of Massachusetts’s many cranberry farms for a day. At Mayflower Cranberries in Plympton, you’ll put on a pair of overalls, grab a rake, and wade through the flooded cranberry bogs of rural Massachusetts, harvesting several tons of vitamin-rich red berries. This isn’t just for show—all locations are working farms and part of the Ocean Spray cooperative.
Get pampered in the woods at Twin Farms.
Head to Twin Farms in Barnard, Vermont—an all-inclusive Relais & Chateaux spot and the highlight of New England’s rural retreats—for high-design cottages, farm-to-table spreads, and sprawling 300-acre grounds. Day are spent strolling the property like you’re Vermont royalty or indulging in some old-fashioned pampering at the spa and new-fashioned gluttony like a ten-course, wine-paired meal. Book at least two days in advance for a spot in the “cooking suite,” a stylish, in-kitchen nook where guests can interact with executive chef Nathan Rich and his team as they prepare your seasonal feast.
Discover the quiet side of Rhode Island.
Since it’s more about the coast than the forest in America’s smallest state, Rhode Island may not be an obvious choice for fall—but it’s prime time to experience “locals’ summer.” Split your days between walks on vast, near-empty beaches and drives along colorful, canopied country roads. Head down oceanfront Scenic Route 1A from Westerly to Wickford—it’s 39.6 miles, a long distance in Rhode Island terms—for the ultimate juxtaposition of seaside backdrops and changing leaves, and base yourself at the Ocean House, Rhode Island for views of Block Island Sound.
Skip the pumpkin picking—go pumpkin eating.
Boston is getting new attention for its food scene, and seasonal menus tend to be best during fall harvest. There’s nothing quite like a window seat at Bistro du Midi, a French bistro with a New England spin overlooking the Boston Public Garden, as you dig into chilled melon soup, wild mushrooms, and beet gnocchi with ramps and goat cheese. Make a weekend out of it at The Ritz-Carlton, Boston, which just got a redesign this summer by the Rockwell Group; its Luxury Parkview Suites have floor-to-ceiling windows with prime views of Boston Common and the Public Garden.
Between Cape Ann and Cape Cod in Massachusetts, the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is one of the top spots for whale watching in the country, where you’ll typically end up on organized trips from the Cape, the North Shore, or even Boston. Most don’t realize that the best time to whale watch is through October, when the boat crowds have thinned and the humpbacks are out in full-force (it’s a great time of year to get breaching photos).
Take a cooking class with a celebrity chef.
James Beard award-winning chef Barbara Lynch is quite the local celebrity in greater Boston: Her eight restaurants and bars, which range from an intimate oyster bar to a Relais & Chateaux–backed, French fine dining restaurant, are consistently busy—and delicious. To really experience Lynch’s culinary skill, spend an evening at her show kitchen and micro-cookbook store, Stir. With just 10 seats, you’ll make fast friends at the many themed cooking classes, wine tastings, and dinners offered throughout the fall, like “The Entrance to Fall: Apples, Squash, and Suckling Pig” and “The Hunt: A Wild and Foraged Feast.”
Go hiking in northern Maine.
Explore Baxter State Park and the forests to the southwest—the contiguous Nahmakanta Public Reserved Land and the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) 100-Mile Wilderness Conservation Area. There are enough hiking trails to keep all skill levels busy and happy, lined with deciduous trees and towering evergreens and punctuated by boulder-strewn streams, lakes, and ponds.
Take a family trip to Stowe Mountain Lodge.
In northern Vermont, Stowe Mountain Lodge offers studios and multi-bedroom suites at the lodge itself or neighboring private residences and mountain cabins—all in the thick of Vermont’s technicolor finest. Get a bird’s-eye view of fall foliage from the hotel’s zip line (the longest in North America), aerial treetop adventure course, or even by hot-air balloon. Back on terra firma, try mountain biking, cycling, or hiking—or just relax in the spa. To make the most of the season without the crowds, we recommend going mid-week.
Go on a cider doughnut crawl through New Hampshire.
We all know that one of New Hampshire’s greatest assets is the cider doughnut: crispy on the outside, best paired with a hot apple cider or hard cider. Farms and roadside stands across the state offer samples and tastings (some, like Meadow Ledge Farm, command 45-minute waits for a doughnut). Consider a trek up to White Mountain Cider Company for dinner and dessert of warm cider doughnuts and ice cream, and overnight at the new Glen House hotel at the base of Mount Washington.