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Fall Travel

Let it glow, let it glow, let it glow

New England’s brightest season is here, and the best way to enjoy it is to break from autumns past. We’ll get you started.

By Elizabeth Gehrman
September 13, 2009

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New England is justifiably famous for its fall color, which makes every road so beautiful that even being stuck in traffic on I-93 can seem a little less trying this time of year. For residents, however, it’s easy to fall into the rut of visiting the same places year after year. The best way to take in this vibrant landscape and make the most of autumn is to seek out an overlooked vista, a hidden gem, or a new adventure.

So we scouted out enough of them in all six New England states to fill every weekend until the snow falls, and more.

Best prep for peeping Famous for its all-day breakfast and its maple-syrup ribs, Parker’s Maple Barn (800-832-2308, parkersmaplebarn.com), in Mason, New Hampshire (boyhood home of the original Uncle Sam), features plump pancakes that taste like pumpkin bread just out of the oven: not too heavy and not too sweet. Grab a few maple-glazed doughnuts, if available, before heading off to pick your own apples at Mason’s Birchwood Orchard (603-878-0542, 206 Old Turnpike Road), then continue another 45 minutes along Route 124 to check out the striking scenery around Mount Monadnock.

Most creative use of gourds At the Yankee Farmer farm stand (603-547-6421, yankeesiege.com) in Greenfield, New Hampshire, crowds gather every fall to watch as a medieval trebuchet catapults pumpkins up to 2,400 feet through the air. Why? Why not? Make it a day by going on a hike on the nearby Wapack Trail (wapack.org) -- just be sure to grab a picnic lunch from Twelve Pine in Peterborough (877-412-7463, twelvepine.com) in advance. Admission to the catapulting is free; check the Yankee Siege website for dates.

Artsiest foliage weekend On Columbus Day weekend, Northampton -- one of New England’s most striking cities in fall -- hosts the Paradise City Arts Festival (800-511-9725, paradisecityarts.com, $12 adults), with nearly 300 artists and crafters selling everything from jewelry to pottery to paintings. After some shopping and a natural-foods dinner at Paul and Elizabeth’s in town (413-584-4832, paulandelizabeths.com), check out the scene at the famous Iron Horse Music Hall (413-584-0610, iheg.com). The next day, stop by Smith College’s art museum (413-585-2760, smith.edu/artmuseum, $5 adults) and its Botanic Garden (413-585-2740, smith.edu/garden, free).

Best place to run away from the crowds When Vermont’s Route 100 is jammed with cars and Stowe’s restaurants are packed with people, you can be blissfully working off your workday stress with all sorts of athletics at Craftsbury Outdoor Center (802-586-7767, craftsbury.com) in sleepy Craftsbury, about 45 minutes farther north. The center offers hiking and running trails, biking, and yoga, but its most appealing options are sculling, canoeing, and kayaking, because they let you see the trees’ blazing oranges and reds reflected in the mirror of Great Hosmer Pond. Lodging starts at $75 a night.

Quickest escape from the concrete jungle Urban AdvenTours (800-979-3370, urbanadventours.com, $50) guides cyclists on a foliage tour around Boston’s fabled Emerald Necklace -- which should be filled with ambers and rubies by autumn -- and through lush enclaves like Jamaica Plain, the Esplanade, and Arnold Arboretum.

Hottest hike Litchfield, Connecticut, about an hour west of Hartford, is a small town with a sophisticated side; it’s got the densely forested rolling hills and picturesque church spires of a Norman Rockwell painting, as well as restaurants and shops to please every taste. Just outside of town on Route 202 is Mount Tom State Park (860-567-8870, ct.gov/dep; also berkshirehiking.com/hikes/mt_tom.html), where you can find harder hikes but not prettier ones than the 1-mile loop about 100 feet from the ranger’s booth near the top of the mountain. The hike’s most interesting feature is a 34-foot rook-style fire tower at the 1,300-foot mountain’s summit, which can be reached by car and offers unobstructed views for miles around.

Best way to toast the season For the best of all worlds -- fall foliage, rolling farmland, sparkling water views, and a tasty tipple or two -- pick up the Coastal Wine Trail (coastalwinetrail.com) beginning in Westerly, Rhode Island, and drive some or all of its 170 miles, stopping for a few sips along the way. There are eight wineries in all. Langworthy Farm Winery (401-322-7791, langworthyfarmwinery.com), Newport Vineyards (401-848-5161, newportvineyards.com), Greenvale Vineyards (401-847-3777, greenvale.com), and Sakonnet Vineyards (800-919-4637, sakonnetwine.com) all offer free tours and tastings of five or six wines for $6 to $9. But the views? Priceless.

Coolest house tour Built by actor William Gillette in 1919 to resemble a medieval German fortress, Gillette Castle (860-526-2336, ct.gov, search for “Gillette Castle”) in East Haddam, Connecticut, is full of nooks, crannies, and gadgetry. There’s so much to see you might almost forget to take in the dramatic panorama of the Connecticut River below. After your tour, treat yourself to a fancy meal and more river views at Gelston House, just 10 minutes farther north (860-873-1411, gelstonhouse.com). Gillette Castle is open through Columbus Day ($5 entrance fee), but the grounds are free and open year-round.

Best way to get the adrenaline pumping See the foliage at tree level on a new three-hour zip-line tour -- the first in Massachusetts -- offered by Zoar Outdoor (800-532-7483, deerfieldzipline.com) in Charlemont, 20 miles southeast of North Adams. The tour consists of nine zip lines -- the longest almost 700 feet -- two 50-foot sky bridges, and three rappels, all for $85 per person.

Best way to soak up the scenery Fall is an ideal time for white-water rafting in The Forks, Maine, with warmer, higher water and blazing colors atop the deep rock-walled Kennebec River Gorge. Northern Outdoors outfitters (800-765-7238, northernoutdoors.com) offers single-day rafting trips starting at $79 a person and overnight packages starting at $106.

Best bird’s-eye view Surely one of the most energizing ways to take in the incredible sights of Vermont’s Mad River Valley is from 3,000 feet up, circling as silently as a hawk. Everyone gets a cockpit view from Sugarbush Soaring’s two-seat gliders (802-496-2290, sugarbushsoaring.com, rates start at $138, tax included, for 20 minutes; call about availability); you’ll see Mount Abraham, Lincoln Peak, Mount Ellen, and the East Ridge, and pass over the quainter-than-quaint towns of Waitsfield and Warren as well as Blueberry Lake. Afterward, stop by the Warren Store (802-496-3864, warrenstore.com) and have a Pestopalooza sandwich and a home-baked eclair on the deck, which overlooks the Mad River.

Best place to rough it Trail rides through the crisp fall air at Stepping Stone Ranch (401-397-3725, steppingstoneranch.com) in West Greenwich, Rhode Island, are hard to beat. Options start at 30 minutes ($25) but can go as long as three hours ($95). The ranch also offers an overnight excursion for experienced riders ($160): a three-hour outing over quaint wooden bridges and through the golden glades of a wildlife area near the family-run operation’s 112 acres. The area features deer, migratory birds, and other critters. After returning to the barn, enjoy a home-cooked meal and beer or wine (bring your own) around the campfire, then turn in for the night in the communal bunkhouse. The next day, you get to ride for another 2½ to three hours. Call for reservations and to ask about other options.

Most exhilarating vista At 780 feet, it’s only about half the height of Acadia National Park’s Cadillac Mountain, its better-known neighbor to the northeast, but Mount Battie, in Camden Hills State Park, Maine (207-236-3109, maine.gov/doc/parks/index.html), has the advantages of smaller crowds and less fog through which to check out its amazing 360-degree views. Drive to the summit or hike it in 45 minutes to an hour -- either way, you’ll be treated to the warm jewel tones of the foliage against the cool blues of Penobscot Bay and the ocean on one side and several inland lakes on the other. You can see Rockland, Rockport, Camden, Isleboro, Vinalhaven, Isle au Haut, and, oh yeah, Cadillac Mountain -- which may be even more impressive from afar.

Elizabeth Gehrman is a frequent contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.