Perhaps too much attention is paid to the peak fall foliage color in New England. To begin with, identifying peak color is an art and not a science and always a bit subjective.
Moreover, from one year to the next the peak can come slightly earlier or later in any given location.
The nice thing about the New England leaf color is that the season is actually quite long — from the last week of September even into early November. But, of course, that is true only if you expand your leaf peeping ramblings to include every inch of the six-state region. There are worse things to do with your life.
The great color begins in September at the highest elevations and northernmost locations, places like Mount Katahdin in Maine, or Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. It ends in coastal Connecticut and Rhode Island at the end of October, even through the first week of November often.
A couple of suggestions for those willing to roam; avoid interstate highways for the most part for your actual leaf peeping. There are some beautiful views from parts of I-91, I-93 and I-95 in northern New England, but 65-mph is still far from ideal for foliage appreciation. Take in the interstate sights as a foretaste - then go slow and get close to enjoy.
Secondary roads can be terrific for foliage sights, but in the most popular areas —- along Route 4 in Litchfield County in Connecticut, or Route 100 north through Vermont, for example - traffic can be a hassle on weekends.
Grab a copy of a state transportation map at a highway visitor center and look for some of the local roads that will be less heavily traveled. Detailed maps also are easily accessed on-line.
How is the foliage season this year looking? So far, so good. New England has escaped the drought conditions to the west. The one concern right now is that for the second October in a row temperatures may well run above normal, delaying foliage color and perhaps even slightly muting the reds, said Joe Furey, chief meteorologist with Fox Connecticut TV and CBS Radio Hartford.
Here are some destinations throughout the region, some of them likely to be somewhat less busy than better known foliage hotspots:
The area around the Rangeley lakes in the western Maine mountains is a great place to take in the fall color. The forest here is transitional, the hardwoods melding with the dominant spruce and fir forest to the north. What that means is that you get the rich greens of the conifers plus the red, orange, yellow and purple of the deciduous tree leaves.
If you'd like to stretch the legs, get yourself to Bald Mountain —- the trailhead is on Bald Mountain Road in Oquossoc, next to the town of Rangeley. The hike to the top is only 1.3 miles, and reasonably fit people should have no trouble getting up there. From the summit the views are vast and impressive. Rangeley and Mooselookmeguntic lakes — big, beautiful lakes - spread before you for miles, surrounded by almost uninterrupted forest. You can see Mt. Washington, New England's highest peak, with any kind of reasonably clear conditions. Hint: there is a picnic table at the top. Or, look for the new roadside parking area south of Rangeley on Route 17 in an area known as the Height of Land. Views of the Rangeley lakes and mountains are special, and all you have to do is get out of the car and look.
Expect good color the first week of October
You can't go wrong in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. The small urban areas of Great Barrington, Lenox and Stockbridge have great color and lots of leaf peepers. Not that Williamstown doesn't have its share of visitors, but there is plenty of open space nearby, including Mount Greylock, at 3,491-feet the highest point in Massachusetts. Near the Williams College campus in Williamstown there are old, colorful maples and tree-lined streets in this most picturesque college town. From there, venture out on the local roads — or explore Greylock itself. There is a visitor center in nearby Lanesborough at 30 Rockwell Road, and a road to the summit of Greylock with commanding views. Early to mid-October is a good bet.
Connecticut's Northeast corner, the quiet corner as it calls itself, isn't as quiet as it was 20 or 30 years ago, but it still is a great spot to take in the color in mid-October. There are options galore, but you can't go wrong exploring Eastford, Ashford and Woodstock. The area around the Yale-Myers Forest is about as wild as Connecticut gets. Try some of the local roads south and west of Route 171 if you'd like some glorious, leafy scenery all to yourself. That Bigelow Brook tumbles through the area is almost gilding the lily.
Maybe it doesn't get the fall foliage attention the other New England states do, but there is some great color to be had in the Ocean State. Just don't expect to find much at the beaches. You want inland Rhode Island, including villages where some of the old ornamental plantings will show off in late October.
Northwestern Rhode Island is hilly, largely wooded and colorful. Some of the old communities near the coast, like Kingston, home of the University of Rhode Island, are leafy and more urban. Try Route 138 from Connecticut into Rhode Island to Kingston, in southwest R. I., where you could explore some of the historic sights and the URI campus. Newport is close by with plenty of leafy streets and places to dine.
There is much to explore in the area along Route 2 between Montpelier and Burlington. The foliage color along Route 2 itself is great, but the traffic can be heavy. Try Little River State Park in Waterbury on Little River Road, near I-89, Route 2 and Route 100. Pick up a brochure for the Little River History Hike, an easy ramble that takes trekkers past miles of stone walls, orchards, fields and farmhouse foundations. It is a glimpse into 19th Century Vermont. More information at http://www.vtstateparks.com/htm/littleriver.htm. Burlington is only about 30 miles away with plenty of good restaurants, many of them taking advantage of the fresh produce from Vermont farms. Early October color is special.
Compared to many of the White Mountain peaks, 3,166-foot-high Mount Monadnock in southern New Hampshire is a pip-squeak. But it stands alone, with 360-degree views of the Connecticut Valley, central New Hampshire and Massachusetts, including distant views of the Boston skyline on a clear day. Monadnock is a very popular mountain especially in October, but fortunately there are many trails to the summit to help spread everybody out. Stop by the state park in Jaffrey for trail information, or download a trail map at http://www.nhstateparks.org. Choose Monadnock State Park from the pull-down menu. Early- and mid-October usually offers great color.
Contact Steve Grant at email@example.com