This time of year visitors in New Hampshire are affectionately referred to as “Leaf Peepers.” And rightfully so. It’s a popular and beautiful time to visit the northeastern part of the United States. So if you plan to be leaf peeping this year or next, check out this guide on the best places to visit in New Hampshire in the fall. It will help you plan an awesome vacation!
From late September to late October, this part of North America is blowing up with extreme amounts of color. From reds, orange, yellow and even some purple, northern New Hampshire truly offers some of the best fall foliage in the United States.
Never being here before, I was blown away by the amount and array of color. It is unforgettable natural beauty.
With the change of the season, there are many fall outdoor activities to enjoy in New Hampshire. From scenic overviews, fall hikes, quaint towns, train rides and more, New Hampshire is the perfect place for a fall road trip!
So get ready to experience some of the best fall colors you will ever see. And remember to pack your patience, because its a popular place and really busy this time of year, especially Columbus Day weekend.
How to get to New Hampshire
New Hampshire is located on the Canadian border next to Maine and Vermont. And to the south it borders Massachusetts. So for the nearest major airport, it is best to fly into Manchester-Boston Regional Airport in New Hampshire or Portland International Jetway in Maine.
It’s also an easy drive from all the New England states.
Best time to visit for fall foliage
The best time of year for fall foliage usually starts around the end of September. And at this time the colors start to change proceeding from north to south over the state.
Peak season, when you will see the best amount of color usually falls just before and after Columbus Day in October. Every year is a little different, so Its a good idea to check the fall foliage tracker to plan out your fall trip.
The handy fall foliage tracker allows you to track when the leaves change color all over the state. So if the timing of your visit is slightly off for peak, it might be worth a short drive north or south to experience peak foliage in other parts of the state.
New Hampshire is only 190 miles long and 70 miles wide, so nothing is too far away.
Areas of New Hampshire
New Hampshire is categorized int the following region/locations.
- Great North Woods
- White Mountains Area
- Lakes Region
- Seacoast Region
- Monadnock Mountain Region
- Merrimack Valley
- Dartmouth-Lake Sunapee Area
We concentrated our New Hampshire visit to the stunning White Mountains area. We stayed in both North Conway and Woodstock/Lincoln, that way we could experience the best things to do on each side of the Kancamagus Scenic Highway.
And while you could base out of one location and drive, we decided to spend a few nights on each side of the pass so we could reduce our overall driving time and enjoy both small towns.
Best Places to visit in New Hampshire in the Fall
1. Visit North Conway Village
North Conway Village is the heart of North Conway. This cute walkable mountain town is filled with more than 100 shops and restaurants including historic buildings, antique stores, boutique shops, bakeries and the Conway Scenic Railroad Station.
This small town is a popular destination and a must visit while in the White Mountains and Mt Washington region. All the stores and restaurants are located on or just off off Main Street so, you can’t miss it when you’re driving through.
We enjoyed walking around town while popping in and out of shops and restaurants.
Recommended shops in North Conway Village
- The Pengiun Gallery: Such a fun eclectic gift shop with just about everything. Filled with fun finds and unusual things. This store is fascinating and entertaining. And there is even an adult section in the back of the store.
- Zeb’s General Store: This must see store is filled with specialty food items of all kinds. From chocolates, coffee, candy, maple syrup and more. It offers a great variety of Maine and New Hampshire’s finest foods. Trust me, you have to stop in at Zeb’s.
- New England Ski Museum: A free Museum in the heart of town with a focus of education and inspiration. So if you are a ski fan, its an interesting find!
- Chef’s Bistro: For one of the best meals in town head over to Chef’s Bistro. We sat outside and enjoyed a fabulous dinner outdoors (they have indoor seating too). Its a popular place, so arrive early if you don’t want to wait. We ordered the Seared Tuna and Buddha Bowl one night and because it was so good, we went back and had the Gyro Sandwich and Ramen Bowl a second night.
- Cafe Italia: This place came recommended from locals, but we didn’t get a chance to try it. The pastries looked delicious, so if you have time, stop in.
2. Drive the Scenic Kancamagus Highway
The scenic drive and points of interest along this highway are some of the best places to visit in New Hampshire in the fall. So make sure to include this in your New Hampshire itinerary.
The iconic Kancamagus National Scenic Byway offers amazing views through the White Mountain National Forest. On this 32 mile scenic mountain drive you can enjoy picturesque panoramic views, see a covered bridge and historic buildings or even go on a hike. With so much to do, you could spend up to a full day exploring, it’s totally up to you.
And while the drive itself is amazing. To get the full experience, you should stop at a few places along the way. These are my top recommendations:
- Stop at one of many Scenic Overlooks
- Rocky Gorge and Lower Falls
- Albany Covered Bridge
- Russell Colbath House
- Hike to Sabbaday Falls
Planning to drive the Scenic Byway? Be sure to check out my guide: Kancamagus Highway Fall Foliage Scenic Drive & Tips
3. Find the Covered Bridges
The White Mountains area of New Hampshire is full of covered bridges. You will see a few just passing through, like the the Albany Covered Bridge on the Kancamagus and the Saco River Bridge in Conway. But if you want to take a scenic drive to discover more, then you can refer to this map of Covered Bridges of the White Mountains.
4. Go Apple-Picking
I don’t know about you, but apple cider, donuts and apple picking just scream FALL! There are numerous apple orchards all over the state, but just a few in the area. You can use applepickingorchards.com to locate orchards in the state. Hatches Orchard, which is nearby s available on weekends and holidays to pick your own apples from September 2 to October 29. It’s a very fall thing to do!
5. Explore a Corn Maze
Another fun thing to do in the fall is visit a corn maze! And Sherman Farm in Conway is the perfect place to do it. On the weekends from late September to the last weekend in October the 12 acre corn maze is open from 11am to 5pm. Make sure to get your tickets online because you will save $5 per person.
So, if you’ve never done a corn maze, then you have to add this to your bucket list.
Also at the farm, you can purchase fresh produce and pick a pumpkin from the pumpkin patch. Sherman Farm is a great way to enjoy seasonal fall activities!
6. Crawford Notch State Park Scenic Drive
On the way to Mount Washington we drove on HWY 302 through Crawford Notch State Park from Bartlett to Bretton Woods. We were running late for our train ride so we didn’t have time to stop along the way.
And while Crawford Notch State Park offers some great hikes like the Saco River Trail and Arethusa Falls, it is also a great option for a scenic drive. There are many places to pull off during the drive and explore a bit by foot.
Along the way we encountered the most beautiful hotel and property, The Omni Mt Washington Resort. Wow of wow! No wonder this hotel has received so many awards. Its like the Grand Hotel on Mackinaw Island meets the hilltops. With a mountain backdrop and its unique white Renaissance design topped with a red roof, this property makes a prestigious statement.
Yes, it would be a splurge to stay there. However, if you have time, I would suggest to explore the property and enjoy a beverage and a bit at one of the many bars and restaurants.
7. Reach the Summit of Mt Washington
Mount Washington is the tallest mountain in the northeastern United States. It is a popular outdoor destination known for its dramatic wild weather! Where else in the world have they clocked wind speed at 231 mph? But don’t let that discourage you from reaching the top. You just need to come prepared!
At the top you will find a gift shop with food and restrooms, hiking trails, an observation deck, museum and oldest surviving building at the summit of Mt. Washington, the Tip Top House. You might even see a hiker on the Appalachian Trail.
Three ways to Summit Mt Washington
There are 3 ways to get to the top of Mount Washington: hike, drive or ride the train. We decided to ride the train to the top.
HIKE to the Top
If you are an experienced hiker, then you can hike to the summit of Mt Washington. The Mt Jewell Trail, which is longest in distance is also the least challenging. It is 7+ hour hike with parking at the Mount Washington Cog Railway. It requires an early start and an eye in the weather. Just make sure to be prepared if you plan to hike Mt Washington.
DRIVE to the Top
Another way to get to the summit is to use the Mount Washington Auto Road. The Mt Washington Auto Road is America’s oldest man-made attraction. It takes about 30 minutes to drive up and about 30 minutes to drive down. There is a $45 fee per vehicle with a driver and then a fee for each additional person in the vehicle. This is a great way to explore the mountain at your own pace. But if you’re not a fan of mountain driving, you might want to take the train.
TRAIN RIDE to the Top
We decided to ride the Mount Washington Cog Railway. Cog trains use a geared cog wheel and track system to provide traction. The rail line was an engineering marvel when it was invented and is the steepest in the world. There are only three railroads like this in the United States. The tour is 3 hours long and costs $86 per person.
Reaching the Summit of Mt Washington was a great experience, and I am happy we did it. However, I found the train ride to be too long in duration. It took an hour on the train going 5mph to reach the summit. And then another hour down the mountain.
At the top, you get an hour to explore, which is enough time, especially if it’s cold and windy. Its kinda pricey, so I thought it was going to be a better experience to see fall foliage along the way. With all that being said, the experience was worth it, I just think my expectations were too high.
8. Attend an Autumn Festival
With fall season in full swing, there are many fall festivals to attend around the state of New Hampshire. We stayed in the town of Conway and it was the same week as the Fryeburg Fair. This fair is one of the largest fairs in the region. And although its not all about fall, it is a great place to experience a New Hampshire and Maine tradition, as this fair has been around since the late 1800’s.
At the fair we listened to live music, enjoyed a pumpkin flavored beer, ate a delicious Wild Maine blueberry crisp and had a fun evening! So if you are in town the first week of October, you should try to attend. There are however, lots off fall festivals in New Hampshire and Maine taking place all month long!
9. Hike Diana Baths
If you’re looking for a short fall hike, then Diane Baths is the perfect one! This hike is just over a mile out and back, so it’s easy to fit in to your day.
Its located just a a few miles from North Conway with ample amount of parking. There is a $5 fee to park, so bring cash or a credit card. Note: it is a very popular hike, so you will see lots of people and pets on the trail.
The hiking trail takes you to a series of beautiful small waterfalls cascading down over large rocks. When we visited the leaves were just starting to turn. Its very pretty and would be even better at its peak. You can walk as far to the top as comfortable and see the view form all angles. We spent about 30 minutes exploring the falls, it was a peaceful and perfect way to end the day.
With so much to do in the area, the reasons I like Diana Bath’s hike is 1) its close to town, 2) it’s short and easy, so you can start or end your day with it and 3) it has a beautiful waterfall at the end.
10. Ride the Conway Scenic Railroad
If a scenic train ride is on your bucket list, another option is the Conway Scenic Railroad. This train departs from North Conway Village and offers rides from 1hr up to 8hr. With various excursions you can see Crawford Notch, the Sawyer River and many other beautiful destinations. At the right time of year, this would be a great way to see the fall colors at their peak.
11. Explore Franconia Notch State Park
New Hampshire has some great state parks and Franconia Notch is definitely one of them. This park itself could be a blog post about the best places to visit in New Hampshire in the fall. As you could spend so much of your vacation just exploring this park. From hiking trails and waterfalls, camping and exploring, Franconia Notch has a variety of fun things to enjoy.
So, this state park is a must see when visiting the White Mountain area. And while we didn’t get to do everything we wanted to in the park, such as hike Artist Bluff Trail and Echo Lake, we really enjoyed the things we did do.
Flume Gorge and Trail
The Flume Gorge Trail, even though it isn’t all about fall colors, was amazing! And one of my favorite hikes in New Hampshire!
The flume is a natural gorge that extends 800ft horizontally. The one-way hike is moderately challenging because of the vertical incline and decline. And also because of the stairs, not so much about the distance. However it is totally worth it if you can do it. But you must plan ahead because you need to purchase a ticket to access the Flume Gorge and trail. And on busy days it does get sold out.
Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway
The Cannon Mountain Aerial Tram is the only aerial tram in New Hampshire and the first in the country. It is less than a 10 minute ride to reach the summit of Cannon Mountain.
The ride is enjoyable with views of Echo Lake and other nearby mountains. At the top, you can walk the scenic rim trail and climb up to the observation deck and after grab a bite from the cafe. On a clear day you can see surrounding states and sometimes even Canada.
We enjoyed beautiful views from both the trail and the tower. So take the long trail to get the best views. Because the short trail misses out. The last tram down is at 5pm, so you can explore around until then. Grab your tickets in advance online. But take note, the tram closes mid October for the season.
And if you misses the ski museum in Conway, you have another opportunity to see it at the base of Cannon Mountain.
With so much to do at Franconia Notch State Park, I am sure you will enjoy it as much as we did!
New Hampshire was great! And the White Mountains are among the best places to visit in New Hampshire in the Fall. Although we didn’t get to see places like Portsmouth or Lake Winnipesaukee, we still had an amazing time. And I would definitely return to for another fall visit!
So, If you have never experienced New England in the fall, I would highly recommend it!
I hope this helps you plan an awesome fall getaway.
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