One of the natural wonders of this country are the brilliant colors of the fall foliage primarily in the northeast. They are typically seen in October and November. It is hard to predict exactly when the peak will occur due to the variations in weather but we were lucky to experience the colors through Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Our road trip was awash in color. We toured late in the season so we missed the climax of color but the whole coast colorfully picturesque and peaceful without the rush of tourists, plus this area is the land of magnificent lighthouses.
Cape Cod and Nearby
Cape Cod is a small sliver of land winding out into the Atlantic Ocean on the east coast of Massachusetts.
Traveling late in the year you need to be prepared for sudden weather changes. On this particular trip a nor’eastern storm hit just as we checked in to our cabin. It was cold and windy when we arrived but there were still plenty of stars. A few hours later the chilling winds hit and knocked out electricity (which also controlled the water and gas heat). We had no choice but to evacuate because it was unclear when power would return. The cabin was located in a group of cabins but this particular spot had a lovely view of the bay with some waterfront views. We were disappointed to leave but did take a beautiful drive around the Cape in the afternoon before the storm.
Wellfleet, a town very close to the National Seashore, boasts plenty amazing views and is well situated for seeing historic Provincetown. The Province land Dunes in Cape Cod National Seashore is definitely a must see. Art’s Dune Tours focuses on the area’s pristine natural beauty. Their mission is to educate visitors about the extraordinary ecosystem of the cape. In an effort to preserve the dunes, tours travel on roads and in areas that have been approved by the park service. If you just have time for a short drive through Cape Cod, take an 18-mile stretch of Highway 6 past dunes, beaches, marshes, tidal ponds, and quaint fishing towns.
Provincetown is a quirky, arty town with a vibe all its own. Commercial Street is the main shopping area, but the small side streets are loaded with vintage Cape Cod charm with painted clapboard houses, unique shops, galleries and restaurants.
Provincetown Marina, formerly “Fisherman’s Wharf,” lies directly parallel to MacMillan Pier. There are rows of boats to admire in this engaging spot. The best view of Provincetown, with spectacular views of the town’s shoreline, is from the water. From the ocean, you may also see some of the area’s most notable wildlife. Whales, sharks and seals are all around and close by. Water tours end for the season in mid-October. Captain John Boats is one of the best tour operators in the area.
From the southern sandy shores of Cape Cod you can catch ferries to the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. “The Vineyard” has six small towns, each with its own individual character and miles of beaches. Nantucket is a bit more formal with unpainted cedar shingled buildings, high-end boutiques and restaurants. You will be amazed by Cape Cods lighthouses, white sand beaches, sea captain’s homes, Cape Cod style cottages as well as the stylish mansions.
From Cape Cod take Highway 6 to Highway 3 to Highway 3a, and enjoy the coast as you head toward Plymouth Bay. Plymouth was the first permanent European settlement in New England founded in 1620. There is of course Plymouth Rock, located along the waterfront very near to a recreated Mayflower and the English village of Plimoth Patuxet, a copy of the settlement which existed in 1627.
From Plymouth head on for a stop in Salem to see the Peabody Essex Museum, The House of Seven Gables (immortalized in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel) or a handful of witch-themed stops (among them the Salem Witch Museum, the Witch Dungeon Museum). Salem is crowded during the Halloween season.
Route 1 through New Hampshire is roughly a 40-mile drive along the historic seacoast. Portsmouth is a striking late 18th and early 19th century city with a busy waterfront and lively downtown area.
The Route 1 causeway takes you to New Castle past Wentworth-by-the-Sea and historic military fortifications, including Fort Constitution and Fort Stark. Route 1a will take you south through Rye and North Hampton with views of state parks and the ocean all along the drive.
Portsmouth Kancamagus National Scenic Byway (“The Kanc” to the locals) is a spectacular 134-mile stretch of road which passes through the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire and is especially popular during the fall foliage season. The road is free of homes and commercial services, and you get a clear view of all of the changing colors on the mountainsides and along the river. By the time we saw it we were a bit past the peak for color, but it was still an unforgettable drive.
Portsmouth too is a beautiful historic town located on the Piscataqua River. It is distinguished by its 17th and 18th century houses. A large number of these are located within the Strawberry Banke Museum where costumed staff present traditional crafts of that period.
Maine is the most northern state in New England with hundreds of miles of rocky coastline and pine trees. I was not prepared for the rugged beauty of Maine. It is a land dramatically shaped by ice and water. Of all the states on the East coast this one not only spoke to me but at times left me breathless as I looked through lush, pristine evergreen forests, and rocky beaches out to the sea. The autumn light, the rocks and the ocean hitting the shore is hypnotic and will linger in your thoughts long after you leave its spectacular shores.
Our first stop was Kennebunkport (along with its western double, Kennebunk). Kennebunkport has a reputation for great food. Dock Square in Kennebunkport is known for its restaurants with fresh, local seafood – clams and lobster abound! Located along the ocean and the Kennebunk river this area was settled in the 1600s and is loaded with historic charm and great photo opportunities.
We spent several nights outside the city of Portland, on Casco Bay, it is the center of tourism for Maine and its rich history. It is, full of great restaurants and shopping. Casco Bay’s rocky shoreline and rugged hiking paths are full of pines birches and hemlock trees all set in briny marshes. Some of Maine’s most memorable lighthouses lie on the islands around it. Maine’s oldest lighthouse, the historic Portland Head Light is in Cape Elizabeth. Extraordinary views can seen on hikes through Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park. You will be surprised at the number of apple and cherry trees you will see full of fruit all along the way. Don’t forget to visit L.L. Beans dramatic Flagship Store in Freeport along with the outlets! It is a great shopping experience We also enjoyed having lunch nearby at the charming Harraseeket Inn, a full service boutique hotel with a colonial vibe.
After a few nights near Portland we pushed on to the picturesque harbor of the seaside town of Rockland. Its mystical light and rock-strewn beaches have inspirated artists since Winslow Homer. We stopped at a waterfront restaurant for a late lunch and watched as the fishermen stepped off their fishing boats with their lobster catch of the day. Archers on the Pier was a pleasant restaurant with excellent views of the marina and great fresh seafood. In this state too if you do not have time to sit and dine there are wonderful independent general stores which sell a bit of everything as well as fresh delicious seafood well prepared and as good as you will find in many well-appointed restaurants. One of our favorites was the Dunbar Store in Handcock which had the very best seafood soup. We spent several nights in Hancock, we stayed in the perfect spot to see views of Cadillac Mountain and Arcadia. The hosts thought of everything in this beautiful waterfront property known as Sea Spray. (See a room with a view) Most of the cabins and homes on all of the roadtrips are rented through Airbnb and VRBO. There are no unpleasant surprises and we have always been pleased with the choices through both rental agencies.
Arcadia National Park is the epitome of Maine with authentic coastal villages and traditional lobstering harbors. It is the best place to experience the spectacular splendor of this region. There are many picturesque lighthouses here. In the park is Thunder Hole—a rock formation with pounding wave activity. You will not forget the peaceful landscape which is marked by glacier scoured granite peaks and lush evergreen forests.
Bar Harbor is the main town in Arcadia it has an attractive marina with many boats. Scenic small islands are visible in the distance. It has good shopping and restaurant choices. A restaurant we really enjoyed was Galyn’s. It has delectable fresh seafood combined with fresh locally grown ingredients It was the first time I had ever heard of an apple pico de gallo and I am from Texas,plus we had inspiring views of the marina from a second floor table by the window. I write about my restaurant choices on Trip Advisor and sometimes on Google.
Our last stop on our Foliage tour was Vermont. We headed straight for Burlington.
Burlington, on the shores of Lake Champlain, is an energetic college town with plenty of historic architecture and great views of the lake, especially at sunset. Church Street, with its bricked pedestrian walkways. is the perfect place to experience unique shops and restaurants. You should also walk along the waterfront and take a drive over the bridge through the lake stopping in Grand Isle and North Hero.
Route 7 transverses rolling hills and farmland. It is a particularly beautiful drive, especially in the fall. We ended up staying close to historic Stowe in Eden which is extraordinary in the autumn light with the changing colors of Fall (See A Room with a View for a one of a kind lakefront cabin stay). Don’t forget to visit Ben and Jerry’s home state and town of Waterbury with their graveyard of flavors.