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Some of My Favorite Things: Fall in New England

by Joy Gray, PassPorter Guest Columnist and Travel Constulant

The first step in planning any vacation is choosing when to visit. I, along with thousands of tourists, think early fall is the top pick for a visit to New England! The arrival of autumn brings a chill to the air and with it the glorious foliage for which New England is famous. "Fall foliage season" in New England officially begins the last week of September and continues through the week of Columbus Day. Hotels are more expensive during this period, but well worth the price when you consider the scenery and the variety of activities available.

How long should you stay? A long weekend will give you time to sample one of my favorite areas, while a week will allow you to sample all three.

Check for special events (and/or foliage conditions) during your New England stay by visiting the official state tourism web sites: 

Getting to New England
If you choose to fly, Manchester Airport (MHT) in New Hampshire is centrally located and offers the widest range of flights available north of Boston. Discount carrier Southwest offers multiple daily flights into Manchester, including non-stops from Nashville, Chicago, and Orlando. All the major rental car companies have on-site airport locations and you will find the area easy to navigate. 

Amtrak is one of my favorite ways to see New England, particularly in the fall. This can be one of the best ways to see a lot of area in a little amount of time, and the tracks all seem to follow especially scenic routes in this part of the country. Visit, click on Routes and check out the Vermonter, the Ethan Allen Express, the Downeaster, and the Acela Express to see the schedules. 

Must See Vermont
From Manchester, head up I-93 North to I-89 North. Make this drive in daylight hours so you can enjoy the gorgeous New England scenery. Take a break at Vermont Exit 1 off of I-89 and stop at Quechee Gorge for a quick peek. If you have younger children, you may also want to visit Quechee Gorge Village, which boasts a train and antique carousel, as well as a small but enjoyable toy museum. 

Enjoy your break, but don't stay too long, you still have a little driving left to do. Your destination is Stowe, a quaint village that is a wonderful year-round destination. Just 2.5 hours north of Manchester via car (non-stop), Stowe offers a relaxing atmosphere and ample activities for those of us who wish we were physically fit, but aren't quite there. Note: If you choose to travel Amtrak, the Vermonter conveniently stops near both Quechee Gorge and Stowe. 

Stowe is located ten miles off of I-89 at exit 10. Got a sweet tooth? The Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream factory is right off of exit 10 and boasts an ice cream shop and tours.  For information on the factory tour schedule call 1-866-BJ-Tours - operating hours vary depending on time of year. The tour is short and enjoyable, and kids who don't usually enjoy factory tours can be placated by the free ice cream at the end! 

For lodging, consider the budget and family friendly Commodores Inn -- a family-owned establishment with some of the friendliest 'crew' members in New England. My six year old daughter loved this Inn for the lake out back, which features complimentary paddle boats, canoe, and kayaks for guest use. The Stowe Yacht Club races remote controlled model yachts weekly on the lake from May to November. 

Slightly more upscale (and expensive) is the Stoweflake Inn and Spa. Be forewarned, they just completed a major addition to the spa that includes Sanctuary Lounges and an Aqua Solarium complete with indoor waterfall -- you may not want to leave! 

If only the best will do, overlooking Stowe is the Trapp Family Lodge (remember the Trapp family from "The Sound of Music"?) One of Travel & Leisure's 500 Best Hotels of the world, this property is worth a visit even if you don't stay there. Day visitors are welcome to tour the main floor of the lodge and the grounds, or to dine at the Austrian Tea Room. 

As for activities in New England, one of my favorites is the Stowe recreation path. If, like me, your idea of mountain biking is to ride a bike on a relatively flat, paved surface with mountains in the distance· this is for you! Rent roller blades or touring bikes (training wheels and tagalongs available) and cruise this scenic 5.5 mile paved trail along the West Branch River.

For the less ambitious, try a drive up Route 108 through Smuggler's Notch (closed in winter). Warning, this is not for the faint of heart - and the driver needs to pay attention to driving, not the scenery! Have your camera ready. 

Horseback riding, hiking, gondola rides and farm tours are also available within minutes of Stowe. There is so much to do; your challenge will be deciding what to do in your available time.

Must See New Hampshire
Where can you ride a Cog Railway to the home of the "World's Worst Weather"? In the White Mountains of New Hampshire! Also enjoy family-friendly hikes complete with a waterfall at the end, shop tax-free at the North Conway outlets, ride an aerial tramway, or visit one of three family-friendly theme parks: Storyland, Santa's Village, or Six Gun City. Be sure to check park schedules online to see if the parks are open during your New England visit.

If you have ever considered staying at an old country inn, or a bed and breakfast, this is a great place to try it out. The historic Eagle Mountain House in Jackson, NH offers great views. We also like The Covered Bridge House Inn B&B in Glen, which boasts its own privately owned covered bridge and some of the friendliest innkeepers we've ever met. 

My husband is a rail fan and so, by default, am I. We especially enjoy this region. The Cog Railway, the Hobo Railroad, Clark's Trading Post, the Conway Scenic Railroad and the Hartmann Model Railroad will all score points with the train lovers in your family. Many offer special holiday and foliage season packages, so be sure to check online for details.

Unfortunately, with all of the great rail excursions available, Amtrak does not operate in this area, so if you are traveling Amtrak, you will need to connect via motor coach or rental car.

Must See Maine
Finish off your New England tour by visiting the Atlantic coast in southern Maine, which includes the now famous town of Kennebunkport. Take a boat tour from Kennebunk Marina and see if you can catch a glimpse of any of the Bush family!

Don't miss seeing the Cape Neddick "Nubble" Lighthouse. Have your camera ready and dress the kids in nice (coordinating) colors, because you will want to snap some family photos here. 

Rail fans need not despair, Amtrak services this area on the Downeaster, plus the Seashore Trolley Museum and the Maine Narrow Gauge Railway and museum are great fun. 

If by now the kids need something just for them, they will love York's Wild Kingdom which combines zoo and amusement park facilities in one location. 

Shoppers will want to stop at the Kittery outlets or venture North a bit to Freeport (home of LL Bean). The return drive to Manchester from Kittery is approximately 90 minutes if you drive like me, an hour if you drive like my husband. 

For more information about the New England activities mentioned in this article, check out these web sites:

About the Author: Joy Gray is a travel agent affiliated with and She resides in NH with her husband Kevin Brey and their daughter Sydney. She is busy planning a tenth anniversary cruise to Alaska, where she and her husband were married atop a mountain in 1997.

This article appeared in our September 24, 2004 newsletter -- subscribe to our popular newsletter today for free!

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Updated 02/17/07 

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