New Hampshire was the third state we visited during our New England fall road trip. We started the day in Stowe, Vermont before crossing the state line into New Hampshire, where we spent the rest of the day in Franconia Notch State Park.
- Vermont and New Hampshire in the Fall
- Stowe, Vermont
- Lincoln, New Hampshire
- End Notes
Vermont and New Hampshire in the Fall
Many of the pictures you’ve seen of radiant fall colors in New England were taken in Vermont or New Hampshire. Vermont has some of the most vivid autumn colors because of the vast number of native sugar maples. In autumn, the maple leaves transform and blanket the state in hues of brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows. Meanwhile, New Hampshire is home to almost 95% of the White Mountain National Forest which is filled with hardwood trees. During the fall, chlorophyll deteriorates and reveals the yellowish-orange pigments that are native to oak, maple, birch, and beech leaves.
Vermont Fall Foliage
Vermont’s fall foliage season tends to begin in mid-September through early October. Do note that colors will peak in higher elevation areas so check fall foliage reports to determine which areas of the state are best for leaf peeping during your visit.
New Hampshire Fall Foliage
The best time to visit New Hampshire in the fall is between late September and mid-October, which is generally when fall colors peak. However, rain patterns and temperature fluctuations affect when the leaves change color so be sure to check the state’s fall foliage tracker for the most recent reports.
Located in northern Vermont, Stowe is the quintessential fall town. Here you’ll find spectacular views of autumn leaves as well as some of the best apple cider donuts in New England.
Find a Viewpoint of Stowe Community Church
One of the best ways to witness the radiant fall colors is to find a viewpoint with the Stowe Community Church nestled between the fall foliage. However, you don’t want to navigate to the church because you won’t be able to capture the trees from Main Street. Instead, find one of the many viewpoints along Highway 108 where you can admire the backdrop of the autumn leaves behind the church. We were able to get fantastic pictures from the parking lot of Salon Salon. Please be mindful of the salon’s business hours if you plan to visit while they’re open.
MAP DESTINATION: Salon Salon
TIME SPENT: 30 minutes
Drive along the Smugglers’ Notch Scenic Highway
When people recommend Smugglers’ Notch State Park for leaf-peeping, they’re likely talking about Smugglers’ Notch Scenic Highway. The drive is a 3 ½ mile stretch of road on Route 108 that runs through the state park. It’s the highway – not the park – that is popular for its scenic, windy views of fall foliage. In total, the distance between Stowe to Smugglers’ Notch Resort is 12.9 miles.
MAP DESTINATION: Smuggler’s Notch Resort
TIME SPENT: 1-1.5 hours
Stop at Cold Hollow Cider Mill for apple cider and apple cider donuts
No visit to Vermont is complete without a stop at Cold Hollow Cider Mill. The perfect Vermont experience, Cold Hollow Cider is New England’s largest and most well-known cider mill. While you’re here, grab a cup of warm apple cider and watch a short video to learn how they make their signature cider using a vintage rack-and-cloth press. Pick up specialty Vermont goodies as souvenirs for friends and family – including maple syrup. Skip the cafe and instead save room for one, two, or a dozen apple cider donuts.
MAP DESTINATION: Cold Hollow Cider Mill (the Mill is technically in Waterbury, which is a town 10 minutes south of Stowe)
TIME SPENT: 1 hour
Lincoln, New Hampshire
Lincoln is a small town in New Hampshire that serves as a home base for exploring the White Mountains National Forest. This is because the town is home to a large portion of Franconia Notch State Park. It took us almost 2 hours from Stowe to Franconia Notch State Park.
Franconia Notch State Park
Franconia Notch is both the name of a spectacular mountain pass as well as a state park in the heart of the White Mountains. It’s also famous as the home of the “Old Man of the Mountain,” a New Hampshire icon. The “Old Man of the Mountain” refers to the visible facial profile made of a pile of rocks on Cannon Mountain that can be seen from one particular location. While the face was destroyed by the rocks collapsing in 2003, the “Old Man” forever remains immortalized in the writings of National Hawthorne.
Take the Flume Gorge Trail through Flume Gorge
There are plenty of outdoor activities to do during your visit to Franconia Notch State Park but the most well-known is hiking to Flume Gorge. Flume Gorge is a natural gorge where a small brook is surrounded by towering granite walls that rise 70-90 feet high. Centuries of erosion revealed the Conway granite and basalt dikes, which clash to create the deep valley that characterizes the gorge.
The Flume Trail is a 2-mile loop that will take you through the gorge. Along the way, you’ll come across a water basin (“The Pool), cascading streams and waterfalls, and the iconic Flume Covered Bridge. If you’re only visiting the park for a day, I’d recommend making a reservation to guarantee that you’ll be able to visit the gorge.
MAP DESTINATION: Flume Gorge Visitor Center
TIME SPENT: 1.5 hours
Hike to Artist’s Bluff Lookout
Artist’s Bluff is the perfect spot for fall foliage lovers. At the top of the Bluff, you’ll find a sea of gorgeous autumn hues while overlooking Echo Lake. To get to the lookout point, you’ll want to park at Echo Lake Beach. Directly across from the parking lot, you’ll find a small trailhead that will point you towards the Artist’s Bluff Trail. We initially missed this trailhead and walked up Profile Road to what’s the start of the Bald Mountain Trail.
If you start from the trailhead sign, you can either complete the popular 1.5-mile loop or hike out and back which will take 1-mile roundtrip. The trail isn’t super well-marked so I’d personally recommend downloading the All Trails map in advance and following the loop.
MAP DESTINATION: Echo Lake Beach or Cannon Mountain RV Park
TIME SPENT: 1.5 hours
We spent the night at the Quality Inn & Suites where we had a comfortable stay. We chose the Quality Inn because it was reasonably priced compared to the other remaining options. It ended up being just what we needed – a clean, no-frills stay that was perfectly located for where we needed to be the following day.
- Fall Foliage Stops: On this leg of the trip, the places we stopped at for leaf-peeping were:
- Viewpoint of Stowe Community Church
- Smugglers’ Notch Scenic Drive
- Flume Gorge in Franconia Notch State Park
- Artist’s Bluff Lookout in Franconia Notch State Park
- Flume Gorge Review: While the Flume Trail is a lovely hike, it doesn’t serve the best views of fall colors. I personally found the autumn views at Smugglers’ Notch and Artist’s Bluff to be much more vivid. The Gorge is a worthwhile stopping point if you want to see fall colors with one of the gorge’s bridges in the foreground.
- Places we’d skip: We stopped by Bragg Farm Sugar House on the way from Stowe to Franconia Notch. It’s another one of Vermont’s many quaint farmhouses where you can pick up local goods such as maple syrup, and Vermont cheese and learn the history of maple syrup. I noticed that many of the goods could be purchased at a grocery store and they didn’t sell anything that was unique to the Sugar House. It’s no more than a 10-minute stop but I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to include this as a must-see destination on a fall road trip.