The problem with fall in New England is choosing among the endless options of where to enjoy it.
As the region waits with bated breath for the trees to burst with color, we asked local travel experts for their ultimate leaf-peeping destinations — the places they return to time and again.
“Look where you least expect it,” said Ellen Carlson, legislative affairs specialist for the Northeast region of the National Park Service. “Everyone goes to Acadia [National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine], and it’s beautiful. But there are also all of these other places that people don’t think of when it’s time to look for fall foliage.”
Take, for example, the Cape, Carlson said.
“People don’t think of the beach when thinking of fall foliage,” said Carlson, who lives on the Cape. “But there are some lovely woodland trails.”
Carlson enjoys the colorful fall walks along two Cape Cod National Seashore trails: the Beach Forest Trail and the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail.
She also loves walking along the Concord River in the Minute Man National Historical Park in Concord, Lexington, and Lincoln.
“I’ve been going to Minute Man since I was a child,” she said. “It was one of my first experiences, really, out with my future husband — paddling on the Concord River and really enjoying the landscape out there.”
When she drives north to New Hampshire, Carlson can’t resist stopping at the Saint-Gaudens National Historical Site in Cornish, the home of American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
“The vistas from the front porch of that house are just lovely, overlooking the hills into the river valley,” she said.
Kris Neilsen is no stranger to fall foliage in New Hampshire. The communications manager for the travel and tourism office in New Hampshire and host of a video blog called “Live Free with Kris” makes it her job to track it down.
One of her fall spots is Weeks State Park in Lancaster, where you can hike or drive to the summit of Mount Prospect for a 360-degree view of the Presidential Range of the White Mountain National Forest and Vermont’s Green Mountains. Visitors can climb the old stone fire tower for an even higher viewpoint, she said.
Another location she’s drawn to is Table Rock Trail in Dixville Notch State Park in Colebrook. It’s a 20-minute hike to the top, she said, and you’re rewarded with 360-degree views of the notch. The breathtaking site includes colorful trees, of course, but also Lake Gloriette and The Balsams Resort.
“You see the beautiful reflections on the water,” Neilsen said. “When the foliage is just right, you can look across the trees and the whole area and there are little pops of color.”
George Ellmore, a botanist and biology professor at Tufts University, said there’s a reason why the combination of water and mountains makes for spectacular foliage.
“The colors won’t change just because of the genetics of the tree,” Ellmore said. “The color happens when the trees are slammed with a sudden change in temperature.”
The cold air from the tops of the hills and mountains will “pour down and sit on the lakes,” he said.
Because of that, his favorite spots all include water and hills or mountains. He said he drives to the Quabbin Reservoir in Belchertown for great foliage.
“It’s my particular favorite, that has never steered me wrong,” he said, “because there’s a lot of water and there’s a lot of hills around.”
Another of his choices is the Somerset Reservoir in Vermont, located in the towns of Somerset and Stratton, which he called “drop-dead gorgeous” in the fall.
“Somerset Reservoir has enough evergreens to give you the color contrast of the green,” Ellmore said. “The explosion of the reds and the oranges stand out all the more because of the fact that they contrast with the greens.”
Steven Cook, the deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Tourism, has many favorite foliage go-tos in Vermont, one of which is Lake Willoughby in the town of Westmore in the northern part of the state.
“On a calm day, the reflection of the foliage off of the lake is actually really breathtaking,” Cook said. “It’s really a beautiful place. That’s where you’ll find some of the early foliage in Vermont, because it starts in the north and works its way to the south.”
The Owl’s Head trail in Groton State Forest is another of Cook’s picks. It’s an easy hike to the top, he said, and there’s a parking area midway up.
“It gives you a nice, high vantage point to look across the entire Groton State Forest,” he said. “And the view is unbelievable.”
Cook also likes a foliage spot in Marlboro, Vermont, a southern town easily accessible by day trippers from Massachusetts, called Hogback Mountain. You can pull your car over in a scenic viewing area, he said.
“You get the most amazing view of the Deerfield Valley,” he said. “It’s one of those 360-degree views. It’s just beautiful.”
Because it’s in the southern part of the state, the leaves peak later in the season, he said.
Shannon Shipman, a photographer and New England travel blogger, posts a lot of fall photos on Instagram for her nearly 150,000 followers.
“Fall is what I love,” Shipman said. “It’s my favorite season. I feel like New England shines brightest in fall.”
She goes to Camden State Park in Camden, Maine, for the fall foliage.
“You have this spectacular view overlooking the harbor and the town, with the church steeples and all of the trees full of color,” she said.
Shipman also heads to Mad River Valley in Vermont, which she says is like “looking at a painting” when you view the combination of colorful trees with Vermont barns.
“It is everything that your fall foliage dreams are made of,” she said.