In this guide we’re sharing a 12 day New England fall road trip itinerary that includes some of the best sights to see in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, based on our own trip to the area.
Visiting New England in the fall was a dream of ours for YEARS! And finally, in 2021 we were able to make it happen and it exceeded all of our expectations.
For over a month, we drove around parts of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine in search of the best fall foliage, cute towns, delicious food, and beautiful nature. And what we found were some of our top hikes of the year, one of our new favorite national parks, some of the friendliest locals, and more colorful trees than we had ever seen in our lifetime. New England in the fall gets a lot of hype, but we can confirm, it’s 100% magical.
Watch all of our adventures across New England, including Vermont, New Hampshire’s White Mountains, and coastal Maine!
And we’re excited to help you experience it for yourself! In this 12 day New England fall road trip itinerary we’re sharing a condensed version of our road trip (cutting out all of our boring work days we had between adventuring), plus all of our tips for visiting the region in the fall, where to stay each night, and so much more!
Looking For More Things To Do In New England?
- How to spend 2 days in Boston
- 7 day Vermont road trip Itinerary
- The ULTIMATE guide to driving the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire
- The BEST things to do in the White Mountains in New Hampshire
- The Best Things to do in Acadia National Park
- How to backpack the Cutler Coast in Maine
- About New England
- New England Road Trip Route
- Fall in New England (weather, when to visit + foliage tracking)
- Where to stay during your New England Fall road trip
- Other things to know before your New England Fall Road Trip
- What to bring on your New England Fall Road Trip
- 12 Day New England Fall Road Trip Itinerary
About New England
New England is the northeast region of the United States and includes Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. This area got the name “New England” back in 1616 from an English explorer named John Smith and was soon settled by English immigrants.
It’s known for charming towns, coastal views, delicious and fresh seafood, epic fall foliage, mountainous adventures, ivy league schools, cold winters, loads of history, and so much more. There’s a little something for everyone in New England!
Important disclosure about this guide:
This guide is only covering Vermont, New Hampshire, and coastal Maine and is based on our experience and the places we were able to visit. While we unfortunately couldn’t visit all of New England and there are many amazing locations not included in this guide, we highly recommend these spots and itinerary to see some of the best scenery the region has to offer!
Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!
These seven principles include planning ahead and preparing, hiking and camping on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly (pack out what you pack in!), understanding campfire rules and always fully extinguishing your fires, respecting wildlife, and being considerate of other visitors.
New England Road Trip Route
Below is a map of the general route that we’ll be covering in this itinerary, to help give you an idea of where you’ll be going. This route was created with the intention of visiting places in order of when they experience peak foliage, but we cannot guarantee that you’ll hit peak in every spot. We’re sharing more information about fall foliage and when to plan your trip a little further down in this guide!
Flying to New England
The route map above assumes you’ll be flying to visit New England and the best airport to fly into will be the Boston Logan International Airport (BOS), which is a massive airport that is serviced by all major airlines and offers nonstop flights from many destinations in the United States.
The drive from Boston to the first stop on this itinerary is about 3.5 hours, so we highly suggest booking an early flight so you can take advantage of extra time in New England.
Driving to New England
If you’re driving to New England, the road trip route above may need to be modified a bit, as your road trip will possibly start in a different city than Boston.
One thing to keep in mind when driving to New England is that many routes have tolls. If you want to avoid paying for tolls, make sure to turn off tolls on your Google Maps settings. We were able to get around New England by avoiding tolls and didn’t spend too much extra time in the van.
How to get around New England
Since this is a road trip itinerary, you’ll definitely need to rent a car or drive your own to fully enjoy all of the sights on this guide, as public transportation isn’t really an option between all of the towns without hiring a tour guide.
When visiting New England in the fall, any type of vehicle will work just fine on a road trip, as none of these stops require 4×4 to get to and you should not encounter snow. Our Sprinter van was able to navigate New England well and we didn’t run into too many issues parking a larger vehicle either!
Fall in New England (weather, when to visit + foliage tracking)
While New England offers activities for all four seasons, including skiing in the winter, fresh maple syrup in the spring, and hiking in the summer, one of the best times to visit is in the fall, when the trees explode with oranges, reds, and yellows, the air is crisp, and the fresh cider donuts just taste extra heavenly.
However, visiting in the fall can require a bit more planning, tracking, and things to know, as the window to see this foliage can be unpredictable and small. Below is everything you need to know before visiting New England in the fall.
During our month in New England we experienced highs in the 50s-70s, and lows in the 30s-40s, making the days not too chilly, but cold enough that in the mornings a hot cider just really hits the spot.
While most days were sunny or partly sunny, we did have a handful of days where it was foggy or there were torrential downpours. We thankfully had the flexibility to adjust plans and avoid adventuring on most rainy days, but do expect some variety of weather and come prepared to enjoy the area rain or shine.
What causes the leaves to change colors?
We aren’t scientists, but the quick explanation of why leaves change is that during the spring and summer, the leaves are rich in chlorophyll, which absorbs sunlight and turns it into food for the tree through photosynthesis. This gives the leaves the bright green color you see during this part of the year.
During the fall, as the days become shorter and cooler, the leaves stop this process and the chlorophyll breaks down, which causes the colors of the leaves to change to the red, orange, and yellows you see in the fall.
A big factor of when this process happens is the weather. The perfect equation is a mix of sunny, warm days and cool (but not freezing) nights. And since it requires such science, we hear that some years can be less vibrant than others, but regardless of the vibrancy, it will be beautiful.
When is peak foliage?
Since fall foliage relies on weather, peak foliage varies year to year and is hard to predict. One good thing to know is that leaves change in higher elevations first and then work their way down to lower elevations. So if you find yourself on the coast of New England in early October and the leaves have yet to change, you can likely find colors if you go up into the mountains.
While the timing of peak foliage does vary, here are some general timeframes where each region on this guide experiences the best colors, as well as what dates we visited this region and what our experience was like, plus the fall foliage trackers we used.
Tip: Besides the trackers we are including below, we suggest looking at AllTrails and Instagram for recent photos of spots you plan to visit to get a better idea of what fall foliage is currently like.
Vermont was the first stop on our New England fall road trip and while we timed our visit a bit too early, we still did get to see some colors in higher elevations. For Vermont, we used this tracker to see current reports of foliage conditions, as well as signed up for these reports. But here are general timeframes for both Vermont regions we will cover in this guide.
Stowe: Early October
We were in the Stowe area from September 26-29, 2021 and there was still a lot of green. We think a week or two after this would’ve been extra colorful. We were slightly bummed to not see this area popping with color, but the spots later on during our road trip made up for it.
Northeast Kingdom: End of September-early October
We visited this region on October 1, 2021 and the colors were definitely a lot more colorful than Stowe. We think we were there within a week of ultimate peak foliage, but what we saw was phenomenal.
The only region of New Hampshire we are covering on this guide is the White Mountains, which is home to the highest elevations in the state and therefore peaks earlier than the more southern areas of New Hampshire.
We used this tracker for New Hampshire and read these reports and found them to be pretty accurate. It appears that the White Mountains typically peak around the second week of October (starting October 7).
We visited October 6-8 and the colors were probably the best we saw the entire trip!
Coastal Maine is one of the later regions to experience fall color, as it is at or only slightly above sea level. For Maine, we used this tracker to track the foliage.
Acadia National Park: Mid-October
We visited Acadia October 18-19 and we believe this was around peak. Since there is a large mix of types of trees in the park, not every tree will be colorful, but there are still good pops of color.
We visited Portland on October 21-22, which was the timeframe that the coastal cities in Maine were experiencing peak foliage. While Portland isn’t really a foliage hotspot (you go more for the coastal aspect than the foliage in our opinion), it was still nice to see some color!
Our suggestion of when to visit
For this itinerary, we suggest timing your road trip somewhere between the last week of September-mid October. During our visit, the first couple weeks of October proved to be the best time for foliage for the majority of areas, but this can vary every year.
It’s extremely hard to perfectly time your trip to have every spot be at peak foliage, so our top tip for exploring New England in the fall is to be flexible and enjoy what you can see! While some spots may be a bit duller, others will likely be bursting with color.
Where to stay during your New England Fall road trip
Since this road trip itinerary covers quite a bit of ground, we’d suggest staying in different places throughout the trip to limit how much time you spend driving each day. We will include suggestions of places to stay under each day of the itinerary, including hotels, Airbnbs, campgrounds, and boondocking (if applicable).
Other things to know before your New England Fall Road Trip
Before you go, here are a few important things to know before hitting the road on your New England road trip!
Download offline maps
There were a few areas where we didn’t have the best cell phone service, which can be tricky if you’re trying to figure out where to go, both on the road or on the trail. We highly recommend downloading offline AllTrails Maps and offline Google Maps so you can navigate without cell phone service and don’t get lost!
Want to get 30% off an AllTrails+ membership? Click this link or use our code aplusk30 (you must redeem this code on the website, not the app)!
We use AllTrails+ on every single hike and it is the most helpful hiking tool out there! Some of the features we love are offline maps (so we can navigate even without cell service), wrong-turn alerts, and its 3D maps feature, so we can get a feel for trails before we hike.
Traveling in an RV? Harvest Hosts are a lifesaver!
Since we travel in a van, we typically sleep in our van at night, instead of hotels or Airbnbs, and preferably for free. While we found a couple free camping areas in New England, as well as slept at many Walmarts, boondocking out east in general can be pretty tricky, with very limited free public land, but thankfully there are many Harvest Hosts in the area!
Harvest Hosts is a paid membership that lets you stay at farms, breweries, wineries, golf courses, and other spots for FREE, with the expectation that you will support the business. While this means you do need to spend some money and it’s not totally free, it’s usually a unique experience and you get to support a local business.
We slept at a total of 4 Harvest Hosts while in Vermont, including a cider mill, farm, golf course, and maple syrup farm, with other options of places to stay we did not use Harvest Hosts in New Hampshire or Maine. If you’re also traveling in a van or RV, we highly recommend Harvest Hosts while in the area. You can use our link to get 15% off a membership!
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Almost everything is dog friendly
The majority of the spots on this guide are dog friendly, including most of Acadia National Park! It is pretty rare that dogs are allowed on trails in a national park, so this was a very awesome surprise. To see which trails in Acadia allow dogs (and which do not), check out this page.
Learn how we travel with a dog and what we do with Kona when she cannot join us on our adventures.
Our #1 tip anywhere we go is to start early! It can get crowded with tour buses (we got stuck behind a few huge bus groups), as well as other leaf peepers during peak foliage. We tried to start our days early and hit the trails around sunrise and it paid off every time!
And if you can, try to avoid hot spots like Stowe, Acadia National Park, and the Kancamagus Highway on the weekends in the fall. They’ll be extra busy from New England locals trying to sneak a peek of the foliage.
What to bring on your New England Fall Road Trip
A common question we get when sharing our adventures is what we bring with us. We have almost all of our gear listed here, but here are some items we especially recommend bringing to New England!
Since most of the best things to do in New England include outdoor activities, you’ll want to bring plenty of outdoor gear and clothing. To see everything we take hiking, as well as our favorite clothing, check out our hiking gear.
The weather can vary in New England, so layers are good to have! During our trip we experienced warmer days, colder days, and rainy days, so having a variety of jackets, hand warmers, beanies, and scarves will be helpful.
We also suggest bringing a mix of nicer and outdoorsy clothing so that you have options for both city and nature adventures.
Visiting New England in the fall is a photographer’s dream! If you like to snap photos, don’t forget to pack your camera gear, a tripod, extra batteries, and a charger. If you’re curious what photography gear we use, you can check it all out here.
Note: Some areas on this guide do NOT allow drones, like the Kancamagus Highway and Acadia National Park. Please read up on drone laws for each area if you plan to fly your drone.
12 Day New England Fall Road Trip Itinerary
Below is our suggested 12 day New England itinerary, which includes the best spots to experience fall in Vermont, New Hampshire, and coastal Maine, based on our experience. It is almost identical to our trip, minus a couple spots that would be a bit more out of the way if you’re short on time.
This itinerary can of course be adjusted to what you want to do, how much you want to do in a day, and how much time you have. We have also included a variety of activity options for some days, that way you can adjust it to your preferences and abilities. We have also included some add-on options if you have more time and are looking for more things to do!
Day 1: Travel to Vermont (+ enjoy Maple Syrup!)
For the first day of your New England road trip, head to Stowe, Vermont, which is about a 3.5 hour drive from Boston, for those flying to the area.
If you arrive early enough, we suggest spending part of the day learning and tasting one of the most iconic food items in Vermont…maple syrup! Vermont is the largest maple syrup producer in the United States, with 2.22 million gallons produced last year, over half of the total production for the US.
Every year, starting in late January or early February, sugaring season occurs, which is when sap is collected from trees and maple syrup is actually made. This process lasts for 4-6 weeks and although fall is not during the sugaring season, it’s still worth visiting a farm to learn about the process and of course, try maple syrup!
The easiest way to learn about maple syrup is to go to Sugarbush Farm, who offers self guided tours of their farm. While there, make sure to get a maple creemee, which is an extra creamy maple soft serve ice cream. They have a delicious sweet, maple taste. We LOVED them!
For a more in-depth maple syrup tour experience, we HIGHLY recommend touring Baird Farm, which is in Chittenden, Vermont. This is a 4th generation family farm that is located on a gorgeous property and has incredibly kind, passionate, and knowledgeable owners. And unlike Sugarbush Farm and many other maple syrup farms in Vermont, who offer self guided tours where you can watch videos and see some equipment, Baird Farm actually takes you on a tour themselves (for FREE)!
The only downside of Baird Farm is that they only offer tours in the mornings on certain days of the week, so it may not work with your schedule. If it does, please book in advance!
Watch part of our tour at Baird Farm to get a better idea of what to expect and learn some maple syrup facts!
Regardless of which tour you experience, it’ll be a sweet start to your road trip! After getting a bit of a sugar rush, head to the Waterbury and Stowe area for the night. For dinner, some suggested spots to check out are:
- Piecasso (a pizza spot we loved!)
- Idletyme Brewing Company
- von Trapp Brewery and Bierhall (the family from the Sound of Music!)
- Trattoria La Festa
Where to stay
For day 1, we suggest staying in the Waterbury and Stowe areas, which is where the next two days of your road trip will be. Here are some suggestions of where you can stay there!
Hotels: Best Western Plus Waterbury-Stowe, Fairfield Inn & Suites Waterbury Stowe, Trapp Family Lodge, Green Mountain Inn, and Timberholm Inn.
Airbnbs: The Coffee Roost, True Vermont Cabin, Bright & Airy Guest House, Cozy Bungalow Home, and Classic Stowe Ski Chalet.
Campgrounds: Smuggler’s Notch State Park Campground, Gold Brook Campground
Optional Add on: Day in Burlington, Vermont
Burlington is a vibrant, welcoming, and beautiful city that is located on the shore of Lake Champlain. It is the most populous city in Vermont and is home to the University of Vermont, many local restaurants and shops, parks, and lake views.
We really enjoyed spending one day here (watch our experience), but since it doesn’t boast as much fall foliage as other areas, we are not including it in the main itinerary. But to see how we suggest spending a day in Burlington, check out our Vermont road trip itinerary, where we share tons of tips!
Day 2: Waterbury + Stowe
Watch us explore Waterbury and Stowe, including apple cider donuts, a corn maze, and a covered bridge!
About Waterbury & Stowe
Waterbury and Stowe are likely some of the most popular areas to visit in Vermont and it’s no secret why! Nestled in the Green Mountains, the towns are quaint and charming, the views are amazing, there are great local businesses, both small and large, and plenty of activities year round. The two towns are located about 15 minutes apart and connected by the Green Mountain Byway, with Waterbury to the south and Stowe to the north, making them easy to visit together.
There are many things to do and places to eat or drink in the area, so we’re providing many options in this day’s itinerary so you can choose what you’re most interested in.
- Have a sweet start to the day with apple cider and apple cider donuts at Cold Hollow Cider Mill! This place is so amazing and makes some insanely fresh tasting cider and donuts, both of which you can watch them make! They have a room in the back where you can learn a bit about the apple cider process and watch them work and in the front, you can see them frying up fresh donuts.
If you want something savory as well, they have a restaurant next door that serves breakfast, lunch, and hard cider.
For the coffee lovers, some good coffee shops in the area are Vermont Artisan Coffee & Tea (Waterbury), Black Cap Coffee & Beer (Stowe), Woodland Baking and Coffee (Stowe), and PK Coffee (Stowe).
- Spend the morning and afternoon exploring Waterbury and Stowe! Here are some options, listed in order from Waterbury up to Stowe, which you can mix and match to plan your perfect day.
Kayak on the Waterbury Reservoir: The Waterbury Reservoir is the 9th largest body of water in Vermont and was created in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservations Corps as a way to protect nearby towns from floods. There is a state park on the reservoir called Waterbury Center State Park, where you can rent kayaks and enjoy the mountain views from the water. Note: dogs are not allowed here.
Visit Ben & Jerry’s: Ben & Jerry’s started in a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vermont in 1978 and today its factory and headquarters are located in Waterbury. They offer factory tours (currently closed until sometime in 2022), ice cream by the scoop, and even a flavor graveyard where you can see flavors from the past, with headstones.
See the Gold Brook Covered Bridge: There are 104 covered bridges in Vermont, the highest density of covered bridges in the US, which were originally created to protect bridges from the harsh New England weather. Today they make for great photo opps and a popular covered bridge between Waterbury and Stowe is the Gold Brook Covered Bridge, also known as Emily’s Bridge because of a very sad story of a girl named Emily who hung herself from the bridge after her lover that she was supposed to elope with never showed up.
Hike up to the Stowe Pinnacle Overlook: Just down the road from the Gold Brook Covered Bridge is the Stowe Pinnacle Trail, which is 3.7 miles with 1,604 feet of gain (so it’s pretty steep!) and takes you to an overlook with views of the Green Mountains.
Walk around Stowe: When we think of a classic New England town, we think of Stowe. The town is tucked in the mountains, has beautiful Colonial style buildings, and an iconic New England church steeple. It’s a great place to walk around, shop a bit, and has some good spots if you need lunch, a sweet treat, or beer. Here are some spots to check out:
– Grab a sweet treat at Laughing Moon Chocolates.
– Grab lunch or beer at Idletyme Brewing Company.
– Tour The Alchemist Brewery, which is currently only offering daily tours at 5 PM.
Bike the Stowe Path: A popular thing to do in Stowe is to go on the Stowe Recreation Path. This is a 5.5 mile (one way) path that takes you through Stowe and by farms and restaurants. This pathway is best on a bike, but we enjoyed walking Kona on part of the path as well!
Get lost in a corn maze: For a fun fall activity, make sure to check out the Percy Farm Corn Maze. Every year Paul Percy mows a unique maze in his farm’s corn field, which costs $8 per adult (cash or check only), for visitors to try to conquer. We found it to be trickier than expected and it took almost an hour to get out!
Chase some waterfalls: The Stowe area is home to a handful of beautiful waterfalls. We hiked to Moss Glen Falls, which is only about 0.25 miles from the trailhead (parking is pretty limited) and takes you to a gorgeous, multi-tiered waterfall. Another popular option in the area is Bingham Falls, which is a 0.5 mile round trip hike!
- Have dinner at Piecasso, which is a delicious pizza spot in Stowe (we loved it!). A couple other options are Idletyme Brewing Company, von Trapp Brewery and Bierhall (the family from the Sound of Music!), or Trattoria La Festa, an authentic Italian spot.
Where to stay
We suggest staying in Waterbury or Stowe again for this night!
Day 3: Mount Mansfield
Watch us hike to the top of Mount Mansfield on a foggy day!
About Mount Mansfield
Mount Mansfield is the tallest point in the state of Vermont at 4,393 feet. The mountain is known for looking like someone laying down and different portions of the mountain are named after different features, including the forehead, nose, upper and lower lips, and the chin, which is the summit.
How to get to the top of Mount Mansfield
There are three main ways to get to the top of Mount Mansfield: hiking, driving, or a gondola.
Hiking (our top pick!): If you choose to hike to the top of Mount Mansfield (which is what we did), there are tons of trail options, but we suggest the Mount Mansfield Loop, which is 7.3 miles and gains 2,880 feet. This trail starts at Underhill State Park ($4 per adult fee), which is about 45 minutes to 1 hour from Waterbury and Stowe.
If you go this route, we suggest taking the Maple Ridge Trail up and Sunset Ridge Trail down, as the Maple Ridge Trail has two trickier spots, including a gap to jump and a rock wall you have to climb up, which is easier going up than down. We show these spots in better detail in this video and these spots can be tricky with a dog, but we were able to get Kona through them safely. You can also hike up and down the Sunset Ridge trail, which is still steep and rocky, but has less tricky spots.
Despite us having ZERO views at the top, we had a blast hiking this trail, as it offered some challenges along the way to keep things interesting! We suggest arriving early, as parking can get full on a busy day, as can the summit, since there are many ways to get to the top.
Driving: To drive up Mount Mansfield you’ll take the Auto Toll Road, which costs $29 per car + $11 per passenger. The road takes you to 3,850 feet, where you can either enjoy the views from there, or continue on the Long Trail for about 1.25 miles each way.
Note: RVs and campers, bicycles, motorcycles, or dually trucks are NOT allowed on this road.
Gondola: The final way to the top is to ride the Stowe Mountain Resort Gondola, which costs $37 per adult and $26 per child for the ride up and down the mountain. Once off the gondola, you can take the Cliff Trail to the Long Trail to the summit for under 1 mile each way.
What to do after Mount Mansfield
After making it to the top of Mount Mansfield, we suggest driving the Smugglers Notch Scenic Drive (Route 108) back towards Stowe, which goes through the forest and has unique rock outcroppings.
Once back in Stowe, grab food at one of the spots we shared on day 2 (we loved Piecasso!) and if you have more time, do any other activities listed on day 2 that you didn’t have a chance to check out!
Where to stay
For day 3 you could either stay in Waterbury or Stowe one more night or head towards your final destination in Vermont, the Northeast Kingdom, which is under 1.5 hours from Stowe. This will give you an early start for your final day!
If you choose to stay closer to the Northeast Kingdom, here are some options:
Hotels: Comfort Inn & Suites Near Burke Mountain
Airbnbs: Cozy Cottage in the Northeast Kingdom, Waterfront Lake House on Crystal Lake, and Remodeled 2 bedroom + loft lakefront cottage
Campgrounds: Whitecaps Campground, Will-O Wood Campground, Belview Campground, and Kingdom Campground
Day 4: Northeast Kingdom
About the Northeast Kingdom
The Northeast Kingdom (abbreviated NEK) is an area in northeast Vermont, which got its nickname from a former US Senator and governor, George Aiken, who loved the area and thought it should be a kingdom. And we couldn’t agree more…it is magical!
The Northeast Kingdom is home to small towns, forests, farmland, mountains, and beautiful Iakes, including Lake Willoughby, which is the second largest lake in the state and looks like a mini Norwegian fjord. This region of Vermont was our absolute favorite and we highly recommend the trek up there, especially if visiting during fall foliage.
- Get an early start and hike up Mount Pisgah (4.1 miles round trip, 1,653 feet of elevation gain), which has phenomenal views of Lake Willoughby from a few different viewpoints. It is relatively short, but steep, and it can get busy, so we recommend starting around sunrise if you can.
You can learn more about the hike, including what to expect and photos from the different viewpoints in this guide.
- Spend the rest of the morning hanging out at Lake Willoughby! Lake Willoughby has two beaches, with the North Beach being much larger and more of a “lay out” kind of beach, while the South Beach is more of a cove for boats, but in our opinion has the better view. There is also a clothing optional cove near South Beach.
If you want to kayak on the lake, White Caps Campground offers rentals to the public, as does Clyde River Recreation, which is located north of the lake, but they can drop off the kayaks for you!
- Grab lunch at The Parker Pie Company, which is about 25 minutes away from Lake Willoughby.
- End the day with a late afternoon or sunset hike up Bald Mountain (4.2 miles round trip, 1,463 feet of elevation gain), which takes you to an old fire tower, with incredible 360º views at the top.
We share more about the hike, including more information about the fire tower in our Bald Mountain guide!
Where to stay
You could stay in the Northeast Kingdom one more night, but we suggest driving 1-1.5 hours to the White Mountains so that you can get an early start in the morning!
There are quite a few options when it comes to where to stay in the White Mountains, including Littleton, Lincoln, and the North Conway area. For a longer list of options, check out our guide to the White Mountains, but here are a few choices to consider.
Hotels: Hampton Inn Littleton, Holiday Inn Express & Suites Lincoln, Residence Inn North Conway, Home2 Suites North Conway, White Mountain Hotel and Resort
Airbnbs: Dream A-Frame, Relaxing Resort Getaway, The Overlook, Mountain Chic New Hampshire Family Getaway
Campgrounds: Twin Mountain/Mt. Washington KOA, Lafayette Place Campground, Hancock Campground, Big Rock Campground
Boondocking: Haystack Road, Gale River Road, Walmart in Littleton
Day 5: White Mountains
Watch us explore the White Mountains, including shorter hikes, scenic drives, unique sights, and delicious food! And to learn about even more things to do in the White Mountains, check out this guide!
About the White Mountains
The White Mountains are quite possibly the best kept secret in the US. Covering about 25% of New Hampshire, plus part of Western Maine, these mountains are some of the most rugged in all of New England. The range is a part of the Appalachian Mountains, with a high point of 6,288 feet, the highest point in the northeast.
In this area you can find small towns, waterfalls, ski resorts, state parks, unique activities, and tons of mountain peaks, including the majority of the state’s 48 4,000 footers, which are peaks over 4,000 feet tall and with a prominence of at least 200 feet.
- Start your time in the White Mountains with sunrise at Artist Bluff, which is a short, 1.5 mile trail that takes you to an overlook of Echo Lake and part of Franconia Notch. Because of its short distance (although it is pretty steep and rocky at the end) and beautiful view, it is a very popular spot. We suggest arriving around sunrise for the best chance of some solitude, however, don’t expect to be alone. It was very busy even on a cloudy weekday morning!
- Grab breakfast at Polly’s Pancake Parlor. This is said to be THE PLACE to get breakfast in the White Mountains. We suggest calling them right as you’re finishing the hike to get your name on the list, as the wait can be long.
- Visit the Flume Gorge, which is a natural gorge that extends 800 feet and has Conway granite walls that are between 70-90 ft tall and 12-20 feet apart. You take a 2 mile loop trail, including some stairs and boardwalks, around and through the gorge, seeing a covered bridge, waterfalls, the river, and mountain views along the way.
It is one of our absolute favorite things we did in the White Mountains, but we almost skipped it! And a big reason why was the price. At the time of our visit in October 2021, it was $18 per adult, which seemed a bit steep for an activity out in nature.
However, we are so glad we splurged on this. The gorge is magical and feels like walking in a fairytale, with tall, mossy rock walls towering over you.
A few things to know before you visit:
- Make sure to make a reservation for a time slot in advance, as it can get busy and certain times may fill up.
- Dogs are not allowed in the Flume Gorge, so make sure they have a safe place to be.
- The gorge closes in mid to late October and while part of the park is accessible in the winter, the actual gorge is not (they remove the walkways).
- Travel up Mount Washington, the highest peak in New Hampshire and the northeast! It is known for having some of the most insane wind at the top, with the highest recorded being 231 MPH in 1934, the second highest wind speed ever recorded on earth. And it still has hurricane force winds about once every three days, which means you never really know what you’ll get at the top!
You can either get to the top by car, cog railway, or by foot (but we suggest dedicating an entire day to hiking to the top).
If you drive, it costs between $39-$45 for the car and driver, with additional fees for passengers ($14-$20), children ($9), and motorcycles ($45). So while not a cheap experience, it makes for a memorable drive!
There are vehicle restrictions though and our van was not allowed to drive this road. Make sure you know the rules beforehand so you don’t have to find out the hard way when arriving.
The Cog Railway is a unique way to get to the top of the Mount Washington summit! This was the world’s first mountain cog railway, created in the 1860s, and on the 3 hour ride you will get to experience history and see amazing views. There is also a museum at the base, where you can learn more about the history of the cog railway.
This experience is not cheap, which is why we skipped it, although it did look like a blast. Pricing does vary based on the type of train and you can see rates and the schedule here.
- Have dinner at either Black Mtn. Burger Co. (Lincoln), Rek-Lis Brewing Company (Bethlehem), or Wicked Fresh Craft Burgers (North Conway).
Where to stay
You will want to stay the night in the White Mountains. We provided some suggestions under day 4!
Day 6: White Mountains
- Today’s big activity: driving the Kancamagus Highway (Kanc-ah-mah-gus), also known as the Kanc. This 34.5 mile scenic drive is named after Chief Kancamagus, who was a Native American known as the “Fearless One” and ruled Southern New Hampshire in the 17th century.
The road started as two separate, unconnected roads, one road from Lincoln and one in Conway, and in the 30s, the CCC worked to connect the two roads, which took 25 years to finish. It’s now one of the most popular and accessible things to do in the White Mountains!
There are many stops to make along the way, but for the sake of keeping this itinerary somewhat short, check out this detailed guide to driving the Kancamagus Highway to see our must-visit stops.
Tip: We suggest starting right before sunrise so you can see the sunrise at the Hancock Overlook. This will also help you beat the crowds. Plan to spend half a day driving and stopping.
- At the end of the Kanc is a magical stand full of cheesy goodness called Cheese Louise. We highly recommend grabbing a fancy grilled cheese here after your drive!
- If you still have some time left, spend the rest of the day at Crawford Notch State Park, which has a gorgeous drive with towering peaks, but also has different hikes and sights to see! Our favorite stop was the 3.1 mile hike to Mount Willard, which has epic views of the valley below and if you time it right with peak colors, is an explosion of golden trees!
- Have dinner at Wicked Fresh Craft Burgers or Flatbread Company in North Conway.
Where to stay
We suggest staying one more night in the White Mountains!
Day 7: White Mountains + Drive to Maine
For your final day in the White Mountains, we suggest doing a longer hike in the area. We recommend the Franconia Ridge Loop, which is 9.3 miles and gains 3,809 feet of elevation as it takes you to the top of Little Haystack, Mount Lincoln, and Mount Lafayette, plus by a hut that sells goodies. It took us a total of 7 hours to hike this, including stops.
This hike has been rated the #1 trail on AllTrails for New Hampshire and is said to have some of the best views in New England. While we still need to hike more in New England to confirm that, we can say that the views on this hike are INCREDIBLE!
If you want some other trail ideas, we share more hikes in this guide!
We suggest starting your hike at sunrise to beat crowds and get done early enough because after your hike, it’s time to drive to Maine! And first up: Acadia National Park, which is about a 5 hour drive. This will be a long day, so if you’re not up for this much in one day, you could just spend the day driving to Maine and skipping a hike.
Where to stay
We suggest staying near Acadia National Park so you can get an early start tomorrow! Here are some lodging options:
Hotels: Atlantic Oceanside Hotel, The West Street Hotel, The Inn on Mount Desert, Hampton Inn Bar Harbor, Hampton Inn Ellsworth
Airbnbs: Nomad’s Rest, Sunset Studio, Come Home Cabin, Treehouse
Campgrounds: Acadia’s two campgrounds, Bar Harbor Campground, Smuggler’s Den Campground, KOA Bar Harbor/Oceanside Holiday.
Boondocking: Walmart in Ellsworth
Optional Add on: Cutler Coast
The Cutler Coast is one spot we visited that we did not include as its own day and it’s not because we didn’t love it (we thought it was incredible!), but more so because it’s remote and would be hard to do in this timeframe.
Located near the Canadian border, it’s about 5.5 hours from the White Mountains, 4 hours from Portland, and 2 hours from Acadia. We’d suggest adding this on as your first stop in Maine if you choose to visit, that way you can work your way down the coast from there. To learn more about visiting the Cutler Coast, including how to backpack it or day hike it, check out this guide.
Day 8: Acadia National Park
Watch our first time at Acadia National Park, including sunrise at Cadillac Mountain, hiking the Precipice Trail, and a delicious iconic food! For more information about Acadia, read our guide with more things to do in the park!
About Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is primarily located on Maine’s Mount Desert Island, with 5% of the park also on the Schoodic Peninsula, on the Atlantic Ocean and is the only United States National Park in the Northeast.
The park is the 8th most visited US National Park and for good reason. With gorgeous scenery everywhere you look, a mix of easy and challenging hikes, an iconic food item, and a great town nearby, Acadia offers something for everyone.
- The best way to start your time at Acadia National Park is sunrise on top of Cadillac Mountain! Cadillac Mountain is the highest peak on the North Atlantic seaboard at 1,530 feet and from early October to early March it is the first place in the United States to view the sunrise.
This is one of the most iconic things to do in Acadia National Park and over the years has become so popular and busy that the park now requires a vehicle reservation to drive the road anytime of the day, including at sunrise. These reservations can sell out VERY fast (in under a minute!) and if you’re unable to get one, you do have other options and can hike to the top on a couple different trails or ride a bike.
Read our guide to learn more about how to see the sunrise on Cadillac Mountain, including when permits become available and how we were able to snag one.
- Hike the Jordan Pond to South Bubble Summit Trail, which is 3 miles and takes you to an amazing view overlooking Jordan Pond. If you head here right from Cadillac Mountain you should have no issue getting parking, but it does fill up later on in the morning. A couple things to know about this hike:
- It gets pretty steep and rugged towards the top and requires use of your hands.
- Dogs are technically allowed, but Kona had a hard time with the top part and we wouldn’t take her again.
- Enjoy popovers and tea at the Jordan Pond House Restaurant, which is a classic Acadia experience that dates back over 100 years! This restaurant gets very busy, so try to arrive right before they open to get your name on the list. It’s worth it though to sit outside on their back lawn and enjoy popovers with a view.
Curious what a popover is? It is a light roll made from an egg batter, with a high proportion of liquid in the batter that creates steam that causes the popovers to puff up, similar to Yorkshire Pudding in England.
- Head over to the west side of Mount Desert Island and hike the Beech Cliff Ladders (1.8 miles round trip), which is one of the four iron rung hikes in the park, which are hikes that have ladders, iron rungs, ledges, and other challenging features to use to climb up steep rock faces. This is one of the easiest iron rung hikes and was one of the best surprises of our time in the park.
Located in a less busy area of the park, we hardly saw any people on this trail and the mix of challenging features and views made it a blast! Once you get up the four ladders, you have great views of Echo Lake. Continue onto the Beech Cliff loop for even more views!
- Head into Bar Harbor and grab dinner. There are tons of restaurants to choose from and while we personally did not eat a meal in Bar Harbor, we can attest that Mount Desert Island Ice Cream is amazing!
Where to stay
You’ll want to stay at the same lodging as the night before, as you have one more day at Acadia National Park.
Day 9: Acadia National Park
- Head to the park right before sunrise and hike either the Beehive Loop (1.4 miles round trip) or Precipice Loop (2.1 miles round trip). These are the two most popular iron rung hikes in the park. During our visit we did the Precipice Loop, which is the most challenging and exposed of them all and LOVED it. You can watch our experience here and learn more about the hike in this guide.
Regardless of which you choose, make sure to start early to ensure you have time to enjoy it without lots of people!
- Head to Sand Beach, which is a 290 yard long beach and is the only sandy beach at Acadia National Park. The clear, bright blue water and soft sand will transport you to somewhere more tropical. While there, hike the Great Head Trail (1.6 miles), which is an easy stroll with great views of the coast.
- If you are up for more, continue onto the Ocean Path, which is a flat, well maintained path that takes you along the ocean and Park Loop Road, with different sights along the way. From there, you can also go up Gorham Mountain for stunning views of Sand Beach, the coast, and Mount Desert Island from above. We did Great Head, Ocean Path, and Gorham Mountain as one big 5.6 mile loop and loved it!
- Spend the rest of the day in Bar Harbor, grabbing dinner and walking around town. If you time your visit correctly, you can also go to Bar Island, which is an island right across from town. This island is actually part of the national park and during low tide, you can walk across to it!
If you do this, it is only safe and accessible to walk across 1.5 hours before and after low tide. So please make sure to study tide charts to ensure you stay safe and don’t get stuck!
Where to stay
We suggest staying one more night near Acadia!
Day 10: Drive to Portland, Maine + go lobstering!
Watch us go lobstering in Maine, which was one of our favorite experiences in New England!
Today’s big goal is to drive to Portland, Maine, which is about 3 hours from Acadia National Park. Depending on how early you leave, you could stop in some of the coastal towns along the way, like Camden, which is a charming town (we recommend driving up Mount Battie!), grabbing a tasty treat at Wild Oats Bakery & Cafe, and swinging by the massive L.L. Bean flagship campus in Freeport.
Once arriving in Portland, we HIGHLY recommend going on a lobstering cruise with Lucky Catch Cruises. This was one of our favorite things we did in New England!
On this lobstering tour you get to not only go out on the water and learn about how lobsters are caught, but you also get hands-on experience, from baiting and emptying traps, measuring lobsters, banding claws, learning the difference between males and females, and so much more.
The crew really makes you feel like you’re a fisherman and puts you to work. It was one of the most fun and educational tours we have ever been on! (Watch our full experience here)
And at the end, you have the option to buy a lobster from the boat at market price (ours was $10) and then can take it over to Portland Lobster Company, where they’ll steam it and provide some sides, like fries, corn, and coleslaw for only $12. While we definitely preferred our lobster in roll form, it was so fun to catch lobsters and eat one fresh right afterwards!
Tip: make sure to bring cash to buy a lobster AND for a tip!
Where to stay
Hotels: Hampton Inn Portland Downtown – Waterfront, Canopy by Hilton Portland Waterfront, Hyatt Place Portland – Old Port, Hilton Garden Inn Portland Downtown Waterfront, Courtyard by Marriott Portland Downtown Waterfront
Airbnbs: East End, Walk to the Old Port, Extraordinary Architectural Masterpiece Downtown, Bright & Spacious Apartment with Amazing Shower
Campgrounds: Bayley’s Camping Resort, Saco / Old Orchard Beach KOA Holiday, Old Orchard Beach Campground
Boondocking: Falmouth Walmart, Freeport Village Station
Day 11: Portland, Maine
About Portland Maine
Portland is the largest city in the state of Maine, with 40% of Maine’s residents living in the general area. But despite this, it still retains a small city feel, with historic buildings and no giant skyscrapers (the tallest building will soon be an 18 story building).
And while the city itself is beautiful to look at, what we loved about Portland is that it has a little something for everyone. Whether you’re a fine dining foodie or prefer a good food truck (like us!), enjoy museums and art, love to walk around parks and experience history, or prefer to be out on the water, there is no shortage of things to do in Portland, Maine for any type of traveler.
While not a fall foliage hot spot, this is a great city to end your adventures!
- Grab coffee at Tandem Coffee Roasters, which not only roasts their own coffee, but also makes breakfast biscuits that we hear are solid (arrive early to snag one). This coffee shop is located in a converted 1960s gas station and you know it’s good when locals are lined up before it even opens.
- Enjoy donuts at The Holy Donut for their famous Maine potato donuts, which have a unique texture from a regular donut, but are so hearty and delicious. We got three donuts total, including a Chocolate Sea Salt (this flavor is their most popular), Pumpkin Head, and Maple Bacon, which was hands down our favorite. They also have gluten free and vegan donuts too!
- Head to Fort Williams Park for the morning and afternoon. This is a free park that was formerly a military fort. Construction of the fort began in 1873 and the fort became officially named Fort Williams in 1899. During World War 1 the fort was manned by artillery companies and National Guard troops and during WWII it served as the headquarters of the Harbor Defenses of Portland, before becoming more of a training site in 1951.
Today there are a couple batteries to check out, an old mansion, and one of the most iconic lighthouses in the US, called the Portland Head Light. This lighthouse was the first lighthouse completed and put into service by the government under the Lighthouse Act of 1789.
It was first lit in 1791, using 16 whale oil lamps. The tower and keeper’s quarters have changed a bit over time and the tower now stands at 80 ft tall. And it is said to be the most photographed lighthouse in America, and also the oldest in Maine.
- Right in Fort Williams Park is Bite Into Maine, which was said to have one of the best lobster rolls in town. We tried their Maine style rolls, which are cold and are tossed in mayo and have chives on top, and the Connecticut style, which is hot and has melted butter that they pour on top right in front of you. We loved them both!
They also have delicious homemade Whoopie Pies, which is Maine’s official state treat. It’s two chocolate cake-like rounds with a creamy filling between them and is said to have been popular in Maine since 1925. It was delicious! And we washed it all down with the state fruit of Maine, but in soda form, Blueberry soda.
Lobstered out? Try Eventide Oyster Co. for oysters and other seafood, Duckfat for duck fat fries (they also have a frites shack in town), poutine, and sandwiches, or Terlingua for BBQ.
- Walk around the Old Port neighborhood, which is extremely walkable and has so much historic charm, different shops and boutiques, and tons of restaurants.
- Enjoy your final meal at one of the spots we suggested above!
Where to stay
We suggest staying one more night in Portland!
Day 12: Head back home
And now for the worst part of the road trip…leaving! Whether you have more adventures planned in New England (or elsewhere) or are heading home, this officially marks the end of our itinerary. We hope you enjoyed these areas of New England as much as we did and got to experience some great foliage!
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