The Definition: Leaf peeping is an autumn activity in areas where foliage changes colors. Leaf peepers are those who participate in photographing and viewing the fall foliage.
I have always loved autumn. And autumn and New England go together like peanut butter and jelly or Tom and Jerry or me and oxygen. So, now that I was back on the east coast, I figured I might as well take advantage of the amazing color and light show going on just north of me. It may not be a psychedelic as a Pink Floyd Laser show, but it’s pretty damn cool.
New England is the northeastern most area of the United States and is basically comprised of six states: Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. When you think of this region, you think rolling green hills, white clapboard churches, coastal fishing villages, clam chowder and leafy college campuses. It doesn’t disappoint. And the autumn season here couldn’t be a better time to go and enjoy nature’s final fling before the snowy northeast winter sets in (of course that is really pretty too, but damn cold).
Catching fall foliage at its peak can be a challenge as different weather patterns, temperatures, latitude, altitude, and length of daylight can all affect it. Typically the colors are most vibrant from late September to early to mid October – this shifts a bit of course depending on how far north or south you are. If you are far north in Maine… the colors will turn earlier and likewise if you are down in Massachusetts or Connecticut, the best time will be a little later. Go early and see the colors mixed in with greens, go later and see the colorful confetti on back lanes and in streams.
But what exactly causes these flaming reds, bright oranges and golden yellows to come out? Why do leaves change color at all? After a little research, I have found that it has to do with the slow down and eventual cessation of chlorophyll production. In summer, the chlorophyll gives leaves their rich green hue. But as cool temps set in and the daylight hours decrease, less chlorophyll is produced which allows the other ingredients in leaves – carotenoids and anthocyanins (are these real words?) – to get their chance to be unmasked and shine through.
Our route from New Jersey would take us through the Litchfield Hills of Connecticut, the Mohawk Trail (MA 2) in the northern Berkshires of Massachusetts, a lovely stop in Hanover, New Hampshire – the home of Dartmouth University, the White Mountains of New Hampshire and up to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park in Maine.
Here are some highlights:
This cute, quintessential New England town is most known as the home to Dartmouth College which was established in 1769 and is one of nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution. With a total enrollment of 5,848, Dartmouth is the smallest school in the Ivy League. The main street of town is lined with cute cafes and shops and leads right into the wide college ‘green’ where students lie in the grass or pass the time tossing Frisbees about. For lunch, we tried Lou’s, a Darmouth institution since 1947 and Hanover’s oldest establishment, but as still one of the most popular joints, the wait was too long. We ended up at Molly’s, a wood-paneled bar-slash-restaurant adorned with black and white photos and menus inside old LP covers.
The White Mountains
The vast White Mountains cover one quarter of New Hampshire with New England’s most rugged mountains. There is no shortage of activities from camping to hiking to skiing to canoeing. I flew through the air above the tree tops on my second Zipline course with Alpine Adventures since my first one in Costa Rica. We sailed over the red and yellow treetops on five different lines from platforms ranging in height between 15ft and 65 ft. It’s an exhilarating and free feeling that always makes me giddy with laughter.
To come down from our zipline rush, we hiked the easy two-mile Gorge Trail in Franconia Notch State Park. The Flume Gorge is a natural wonder shaped over time by a wild stream that cuts through the granite to form a natural cleft with towering granite walls that rise 90 feet above.
The Kancamagus Scenic Highway (Rt. 112) – During my research, this winding road probably came up the most and is the hardest to pronounce. Locals call it the Kanc. But unlike a bad Canker sore in your mouth, this road was quite pleasant and really a beautiful scene from beginning to end. It wasn’t paved until 1964 and cuts through the White Mountains from west to east. It only takes about an hour or so, even with requisite photo stops.
Acadia National Park
Surprisingly Acadia is the only national park in New England and said to be the nation’s second most visited national park after Yellowstone. The most popular part of Acadia is on Mt Desert Island just outside of Victorian mansion-lined Bar Harbor. Admission to the park is $20 per vehicle. We drove the scenic and serene 20-mile Park Loop Road that circumnavigates the northeastern section of Mt Desert Island including a stop at the summit of Cadillac Mountain, the highest point in the park at 1530 feet.
There’s still time… jump in your car and road trip it up to New England! Then stick around for ski season.