As the weather cools down, travelers often have their hearts set on a New England vacation. But why has New England become so synonymous with an autumn adventure? "We see a lot of people searching for New England getaways, particularly in the fall, in search of an escape from the city or suburbs to experience the mountains. New England is easily accessible … and is filled with charming inns and hotels for an authentic experience," says Sydney Burdick, Trivago's head of global corporate identity and communication.
And, of course, there's the changing of the leaves. "The foliage is just world-famous, and there are also a lot of festivals around the foliage and around the harvest," says Wendy Perrin, founder and editor of travel-planning site WendyPerrin.com. To help travelers seeking a quintessential New England fall getaway, U.S. News sought out tips from travel experts, foliage photographers and avid hikers. Read on to learn how to plan the perfect New England vacation for you.
Rent a Car
One of the best ways to see New England and its variety of small towns is by renting a car, according to Perrin. "There are so many great scenic drives you can take. There are lots of little villages all over Vermont and western Massachusetts that as you drive through you can discover," she says. Perrin also recommends comparison shopping among different companies and locations to find the best car rental price. She notes airport pickups tend to be pricier.
Go Off the Beaten Path
According to a Trivago report on destination searches from July and August, the most-searched fall spots in New England include Boston, Bar Harbor and Portland in Maine, Newport, Rhode Island, and Burlington, Vermont. Considering that, avoiding popular destinations and opting for smaller towns and state parks will allow you to experience fall in New England without stifling crowds.
Perrin recommends Lenox and Stockbridge in Massachusetts. Michael Blanchette, a New England-based landscape photographer, suggests Stowe, Woodstock, Seyon Lodge State Park and Groton State Forest in Vermont and Conway, North Conway and Lincoln in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. "Don't be afraid to just go off on the side roads. There's as much pretty foliage as anywhere else and you won't be dealing with a lot of tourists, which is a secondary advantage," Blanchette says.
If you're interested in fall foliage and hiking, heed the advice of New England native and founder of the travel blog TrailsUnblazed.com, Chris Picardi. He also recommends the White Mountains, specifically Franconia Notch and Crawford Notch state parks. Additionally, Picardi suggests checking out Baxter State Park, Camden and the Bold Coast near Cutler, all in Maine. "Those are all areas where there's a ton of hiking. Depending on how far and how strenuous you're trying to hike, the White Mountains has everything from family-friendly strolls through the woods to incredibly difficult hikes," he says.
Time It Right
The best time to visit New England to see fall foliage is typically in late September and early October, though exact dates vary by state, year and weather conditions. Leaves begin to change first in the Northeast, with the South not far behind, says Gabe Saglie, senior editor at Travelzoo. "Maine peaks first, usually in late September, before colors change dramatically in Vermont and New Hampshire in the first two weeks of October. Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut usually peak in the last two weeks of October," Saglie says. "You can't go wrong with anywhere in New England, especially if your timing is right – prime leaf peeping conditions often last a week or two," he adds.
Travel During the Week
Fall weekends are extremely busy in New England as hordes of tourists descend on the region. So Saglie, Perrin and Blanchette agree, planning a midweek trip will help you save money and avoid some of the autumn crowds. If you can't make a midweek trip work, consider arriving on a Thursday to dodge the congested roads around popular destinations leading up to the weekend.
Another way you may be able to save a little coin is by checking different travel dates. "Sometimes shifting your travel date by even one day can have a drastic effect on hotel prices," Burdick says, adding that certain local events can greatly affect pricing.
Perfect Your Photography Skills
Foliage is such a big draw for travelers often because of the spectacular photo ops. For those traveling to the area to capture New England's fall beauty, Blanchette offers guidance on something everyday travelers might not think about: "The best time to take foliage photographs is when it's overcast. It gives you the best saturated colors. So don't be afraid to go out in overcast skies or even light rain."
Meanwhile, those planning to use cellphones or smaller cameras should not necessarily focus on sweeping vistas but get in close, says Jeff "Foliage" Folger, a New England native and professional photographer. Folger also runs the jeff-foliage.com website, dedicated to New England fall foliage photography and forecasts. "A single red leaf can be more engaging than an entire forest. Get up into the mountains and state forests. Just go out and take a walk in nature," he says.
Soak Up the Local Culture and Cuisine
Once you've arrived, find ways to immerse yourself in New England. Perrin recommends stopping in the local tourism office to pick up information on free things in town, local festivals held while you're visiting and coupon books to save you money. Another tip: Swing by the local bookstore. "New England is full of adorable little book shops. You've got more independent bookstores than in most places in this country and a lot of smart people who have great local travel advice," Perrin says.
And when it comes to truly getting to know a region, the best way is often through your stomach. "The best of New England's culinary scene is driven by the seasons," Saglie says. "So fall visits mean savoring the bounty that the fall harvest has to offer, as imagined by a growing number of talented, imaginative chefs. Seek out the farmers markets and attend any of the many food festivals. Pies, any pie, are a must."
No matter where you decide to go, you'll enjoy New England in the autumn, Folger says. "It's the most colorful, pleasing-to-the-senses time of year. You get the brisk temperatures, the fall colors, the fall festivals, the farm stands … it's just an extraordinary time of the year to be here."
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