An Insider’s Guide to Late Season Leaf Peeping in Vermont and New Hampshire

Posted October 11, 2021
By Jeff Wise 

The secret has long been out: There is nowhere better for autumn colors than the Northeast. While the region is so colorful in the fall that eye-popping views abound, a true foliage finder knows that peak leaf-peeping requires a little knowledge, a little planning and a little luck.  

First, a few tips: 

The window is shorter than you might think: Late-September to Mid-October is the best time to leaf-peep, depending on where you're visiting. Trees can quickly change from golden yellow to bright red to barren branches in as few as 10 days.  

Consider the science: Autumn colors are the result of intricate and unpredictable natural factors that impact the rate at which leaves change colors. These factors include rain, the amount of sugar in the leaves, the number of daylight hours, and the fluctuation between day and nighttime temperatures. This means that the date range to see peak foliage in a specific location varies year to year.  

Think North to South:
Peak foliage in the East begins in the North and works its way South over the course of several weeks. This means that the leaves will peak first at the Northern most and highest elevation mountains of Stowe in Vermont and Wildcat in New Hampshire. Our Southernmost resorts will likely exhibit peak foliage weeks later. 

Where to Go: 

Stowe Mountain Resort- Stowe, VT 

Let’s start with a classic and a scenic highway that’s received accolades from nearly every travel publication as the ‘Best for viewing fall foliage in the U.S.’ Stowe, located along the celebrated Route-100 scenic highway, is truly a top fall foliage destination in the Northeast.  

See It
– Two of the most popular ways to ascend Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak, is on the Gondola SkyRide and Auto Toll Road - both of which provide spectacular views. The Auto Toll Road winds  4.5 miles up an awe-inspiring, unpaved road, where you can park at 3,850 feet, relax, hike and take it all in. The easy way up – in the famous, and completely refurbished, Stowe Gondola SkyRide, (free for valid Epic Pass holders!) takes you to a recreation area below the summit ridge where you can picnic, hike or grab a homemade waffle or lunch at the Cliff House.  

Hike It – Looping around the Spruce Peak Village Center are the Spruce Peak Community Pathways, consisting of miles of gravel trails with timber bridges, rough-hewn stairways, and railings over ravines. The pathways are smooth and accessible, but pass into quiet mountain forests under a canopy of spruce, hardwoods, and hemlocks. 
Okemo – Ludlow, VT 

Just over 100-miles to the south on Route 100 is Okemo Mountain Resort, located in the bucolic town of Ludlow, VT. The thing that makes Ludlow perfect for an autumn escape is that visitors can get up-close-and-personal with the colorful fall foliage in a variety of ways. 
See It - An historic fire lookout tower on a mountaintop with 360-degree views makes for a great destination. Visitors are welcome to climb the stairs to the small room, known as a cab, atop the large steel support.  

Ride among the treetops on a scenic chairlift ride - The Sunburst Six is a sofa in the sky with roomy footrests and a retractable transparent dome to protect passengers from the mountain breezes. Play a game of cornhole, relax in the Adirondack chairs or enjoy a bite to eat at the Summit Lodge. Be sure to save room for a maple creemee – a traditional Vermont treat.  

Ride the Timber Ripper Mountain Coaster, located at Okemo’s Jackson Gore and offering a scenic and exhilarating descent through alpine forests and along the contours of the mountain.  
Hike It - Hike to the summit of Okemo Mountain via the Healdville Trail - The challenging, six-mile loop, Healdville Trail climbs from the base to the summit of Okemo Mountain along the western flank of the mountain. Highlights of this trail include the historic fire lookout tower on the summit, the remains of the caretaker’s cabin and a vista along the trail with views to the north and west. The trail gains about 1,900 feet of elevation and takes approximately four hours round trip. You can extend the trip to the Summit Lodge on the return from the fire tower by taking a right at the intersection of the Healdville Trail. You will exit the forest onto Mountain Road in about 200 yards, follow the road up to Glades Peak Quad and continue down the Buckhorn trail (it is approximately .4 mile to the Summit Lodge). 
Mount Snow – West Dover, VT 

Another 40 miles south on Route-100 is Vail Resorts’ southernmost Vermont resort, Mount Snow, located just three and a half hours from New York City. This popular resort offers a one-stop, multi-dimensional mountain resort experience the whole family will love. 
See It - See the summit via a scenic ride on the Bluebird Express. 
Open select days through October 11, take in the beautiful surrounding views with highlights including Somerset Reservoir, Mount Monadnock and on clear days, Mount Washington.  
Hike It - For a wonderful beginner hike, the Cross-Country Base Loop or a leisurely walk up the Mount Snow Trail to the summit are the best bets. Check out the summer trail map for details. 
Wildcat & Attitash – Northern New Hampshire 

Our two northern New Hampshire Mountains offer an interconnecting scenic drive, ‘The 16-on-16,’ that spans 16 miles along beautiful Route 16 and one of the state’s premier town centers. 
See It - With a backdrop of over 700,000 acres of protected White Mountain National Forest, visitors to the North Conway have access to some of the best scenic tours, outlet shopping and leaf peeping in the entire country. Shop tax free at the North Conway Settlers Green Outlet Village, local hand-craft shops, antique stores and art galleries. 
Hike It – The Black Cap Mountain Trail is a 2.3 mile loop located near North Conway that features beautiful wild flowers. The trail offers a number of activity options that are available until mid-October. 
Mount Sunapee and Crotched Mountain – Near North Conway, New Hampshire 

100 Miles to the south of North Conway via two scenic highways and one major interstate is where you’ll find more classic New England Mountains. Encompassing over 2,900 acres, Mount Sunapee includes three mountains, Lake Solitude and many brooks scattered through the woodlands. The fall foliage at Crotched starts flourishing in the Monadnock Region, and you can discover the brilliant autumn colors along some of the quieter country roads for that quintessential fall experience. 
See it - For leisurely foliage strolls, The Fells Historic Estate & Gardens are a walkers dream. Spend a day immersing yourself in the peace and tranquility at this historic estate. Explore the forests and beautiful gardens and walk the woodland trails. 
Hike It - The summit of Mount Sunapee (elevation - 2,743ft.) can be reached via the Summit hiking trail (Red Blaze). The start of the trail can be found to the right of the Lower Ridge ski trail, behind Sunapee Lodge. 

Jeff Wise began his career in the ski industry in 1994 as the snowboarding school manager in Stowe, where he ultimately combined his education and experience in mass media to work in resort marketing and communications. His favorite things to do include sharing his insider’s perspective with guests, whether it be on the snow or one of the countless experiences our mountain communities have to offer.