We can smell autumn in the air already. Cozy flannels and pumpkin-spiced-everything are a moot point, however, without the crème de la crème of the season: fall foliage.
New England is the Mecca of leaf-peepers from around the world, and there are few places more beloved in the fall than the tree-lined byways of Maine and New Hampshire. Not sure where to start? Don’t worry, I have you covered. This three-day itinerary can be done in a long weekend, or if you have more time, you can slow it down and linger wherever you like best. As I lead you across the borders to the best parts of eastern New Hampshire and western Maine, check out my can’t-miss places and must-do activities.
Welcome to your best leaf peeping season ever.
Day 1: Manchester, NH to Rangeley, ME
Start your journey in Manchester, NH. You can fly into the city and rent an RV, or start off here from surrounding major cities in your own rig. Head north on Interstate 93 (don’t worry—the colors are worth the sometimes-slow drive) through the mountainous Franconia Notch to the charming New England town of Lancaster, NH. Make a stop to gorge yourself on BBQ at the Road Hawg food truck before heading east on the gorgeous Route 2 to Bethel, ME.
In Bethel, you can refresh yourself at Sunday River Brewing amidst the autumn colors at the base of the famous ski resort (the ski lifts are open for you to take a ride to the summit for an even better view of the tree palette, too!). Take a stroll by the Androscoggin River on your way out of town to a short roadside hike to see Rumford Falls.
Drive north to Rangeley, ME, the heart of the Rangeley Lakes Region. This scenic byway winds through the western mountains of Maine alongside waterways and classic villages with colors galore. Keep an eye out for moose and loons all along this drive, but especially around Rangeley in the evening.
More Things to Do:
Day 2: The White Mountains
Once you sip your morning coffee to the sound of loons in Rangeley, dip back into New Hampshire and head south on Route 16 through foliage that will overwhelm your camera. Keep an eye out the passenger window for spectacular views of Mount Washington, home to some of the world’s most inclement and crazy weather. Just past Jackson, NH, turn west on Route 302 past Wildcat and Attitash ski resorts for a journey through Crawford Notch State Park and back through Franconia Notch.
Don’t worry, you won’t be backtracking too far, and it’s totally worth it. At Lincoln, NH, hop on the Kancamangus Highway for breathtaking, iconic views of the Mt. Washington Valley and the White Mountain Range lit on fire with fall foliage. There are dozens of pull-offs along the “Kanc,” but my favorites are the Pemigewassett Overlook, Lower Falls, and Rocky Gorge swimming holes.
Once you reach North Conway, NH, stop in at Tuckerman’s Brewery for homemade soft pretzels and ale-flavored mustards (and a beer) before making your way to camp for the night. There’s plenty of shopping and tasty treats to be had around North Conway, but check off the beaten path for local’s favorites, like Boston Brothers Pizzeria.
More Things to Do:
- Drive the Mount Washington Auto Road
- Hike Tuckerman’s Ravine on Mount Washington
- Canoe the Saco River
- Hike to family-friendly Diana’s Baths
Day 3: The Lakes Region, New Hampshire
North Conway houses enough adventures to keep you there for a week, but if you must move on, head south to Chocorua Lake outside of Tamworth. The southern end of the lake houses a beautiful wooden bridge with idyllic views of the water and changing leaves.
From there, make your way into the Lake Regions of New Hampshire with a meander along the gorgeous, wooded shores of Lake Winnipesaukee. In the quaint town of Wolfeboro, check out the Wolfeboro Farmers Market for New England treats like freshly sapped maple syrup and apple cider donuts.
Loop around the lake to Laconia, where you can hop on a leaf-peeping scenic cruise on the M/S Mount Washington. Several smaller lakes and dense forest line the route from Laconia back to Highway 93, where it’s a quick, 40-minute drive back to your starting point of Manchester. If you can, avoid this drive back on a Sunday afternoon—half of Boston will be driving back down south with you!
More Things to Do:
Have time to turn this into a week-long leaf-peeping voyage? Spend an extra day in North Conway exploring the many hiking trails and local shops. Or, take a day in Rangeley, ME, to kayak across the lake. Another option is to drive the full loop around New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee from Moultonborough, to Wolfeboro, to Meredith, and back to where you began; you could spend a week simply exploring the charming lakeside towns. The Sebago Lake State Park region of Maine is another classic L.L. Bean catalog backdrop; grab your duck boots and a flannel for a crunchy-leaf stroll around the lake’s edge.