Fall is the season New Englanders wait all year for. From the New Hampshire fall foliage to the bed and breakfasts in the Berkshires and the endless cider donut offerings in Vermont, New England really is the best place to be in October. Because the foliage opportunities are so plentiful, it can be hard to choose one perfect leaf-peeping destination. Enter, New Hampshire. New Hampshire fall foliage stretches from the southern shores of Lake Winnipesaukee all the way up to the Québec-adjacent Great North Woods. To hone in on the best leaf-peeping this year, consider this your guide to the best places to find New Hampshire fall foliage.
Franconia Notch State Park
Franconia Notch State Park is the perfect place to hike through the White Mountains’ dense and delightful fall foliage. One of the best family-friendly hikes in Franconia is the Flume Gorge Trail, a two-mile loop that starts at the Flume Building and ventures into the stunning falls-lined gorge at Mount Liberty’s base. While in Franconia Notch, you might also hike Lonesome Lake Trail, a three-mile out-and-back trek along Lake Echo that starts at Lafayette Place and passes an Appalachian Mountain Club camping hut. If you’d prefer to be off your feet while visiting the state park, you can take the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tram in the fall months for prime leaf-peeping.
Lake Winnipesaukee Loop
There’s something about the scenic contrast of fall colors along a quiet waterfront that never fails to impress. Two of the best lakes in New Hampshire are Lake Winnipesaukee—the largest lake in NH—and Squam Lake, a quieter lake getaway about 25 miles northwest of Winnipesaukee. There are a few different approaches to the Lake Winnipesaukee Loop, wherein leaf-peepers traverse some of Winnipesaukee’s 180 miles of shoreline, then wind their way up to Squam. Start at Winnipesaukee’s southernmost point, Alton Bay, and drive up Route 11 up past Ellacoya State Park in Gilford to the town of Meredith. This is where you’ll split onto Route 3 to Squam Lake—you can spend the night in Holderness or Sandwich. After exploring Squam along route 113, you can take route 109 and route 28 down the east side of Winnipesaukee back to Alton.
New Hampshire has so much to offer in the fall that foliage lovers coming for a weekend often try to cram every summit into a 72-hour visit. Instead of rushing to capture every magnificent vista, focus on one exceptional area: Mount Washington. The highest mountain in the northeast, hikers can reach the top through a steep vertical climb via Tuckerman Ravine Trail or Lion’s Head Trail, or take a winding and more moderate approach on the Jewell Trail. You can also take in Mount Washington’s foliage as you drive up the mountain or onboard a scenic Mount Washington Cog Railway train. To see the best of Mount Washington in the fall, drive a snippet of the Kancamagus Highway, plan a White Mountains National Forest hike, and spend the weekend in North Conway, a nearby town with lovely boutique inns.
At 3,165 feet, Mount Monadnock is a smaller peak as compared to Mount Washington or the other major New England mountains—like Mount Katahdin in Maine. Nonetheless, the foliage on Monadnock is breathtaking, the hiking trails well groomed, and the surrounding towns cozy and inviting. One of the best red and gold leaf-lined trails is Cascade, which brings hikers to the summit of Monadnock. (Be warned, this southern New Hampshire mountain is only an hour and a half from Boston, so you’ll want to start your hike early to avoid the day hiking crowds coming from the city.) Within the Monadnock region of NH are more than 40 foliage-filled towns; we recommend staying overnight in Peterborough, Walpole, or Hancock.
The Kancamagus Highway—affectionately nicknamed the Kanc for leaf-peepers in the know—is a 30-mile tour of the magnificent White Mountains. The Kanc is one of the most sought-after foliage drives in the U.S., not just because the scenic highway is a leaf-peeping institution, but because it feeds into miles of hiking trails. If you’re a fan of waterfall hiking, we recommend hiking Rocky Gorge or Jackson Falls off the Kanc. Then, head to Jackson, Lincoln, or North Conway to spend the night at a charming B&B.
Great North Woods
The Great North Woods is the northernmost region of New Hampshire, bordering Québec (as well as Maine to the east and Vermont to the west). Fall tends to come early in the Great North Woods—you’ll start to see leaves changing as early as mid-September. For the best of New Hampshire north country, start with the Cohos Trail, which stretches 170 miles through the woods. You’ll also want to visit the foliage-littered Lake Gloriette in Dixville Notch, or head farther north to Pittsburg, where First Connecticut Lake and Second Connecticut Lake await near the Canadian border. Stay in Pittsburg, a quaint border town, or in Lancaster or Berlin, both equally charming.
White Mountain National Forest
In the 800-acre White Mountain National Forest, fall colors stretch as far as the eye can see. The White Mountain foliage is out in full force from late September to mid-October. The eastern New Hampshire/western Maine mountainous forest can be experienced through a myriad of hiking trails (the Appalachian Trail runs right through the forest) and scenic byways (like the Kancamagus Highway). This area is also home to Mount Washington—the crown jewel of the White Mountains—so consider staying in North Conway or Bretton Woods (home to the Omni Mount Washington Resort) to experience both the forest and the famous peak.