Fall is a beautiful time of year in Connecticut. This year, leaf colors are expected to be particularly vivid as experts predict a superb foliage season thanks to summer and spring rainfall and moderate temperatures. Early estimates predicted peak foliage arriving in the northeast and northwest corners of the state in early October, then extending down to the lower Connecticut River Valley and shoreline through early November.
In this feature we’ve highlighted our favorite towns to visit during peak foliage. Here you’ll find scenic car routes, hiking trails, charming downtowns, lots of eating and drinking options, great lodging choices, and, of course, plenty of breathtaking views. As Connecticut’s Office of Tourism reminds us, our state generally has the longest foliage season in New England, making it an ideal destination for leaf peepers.
But, as much as we love foliage in Connecticut, we’re not blind to the beauty outside our state, so we’ve included a “Beyond the Border” section highlighting select foliage destinations in New York and New England. Read on and make your plans quickly, because foliage season is always fleeting, even in Connecticut.
Peak foliage schedule
If you want to see the deepest crimsons and golds, follow this regional schedule for Connecticut:
Northwest and northeast corners: Oct. 9-16
Eastern and western mid-state counties: Oct. 17-25
Shoreline and lower Connecticut River Valley: End of October or early November
A wilderness retreat of stunning natural beauty, Kent is home to dozens of hiking trails ranging from moderate to extreme. Its small but walkable downtown, thronged by towering hills, is about as quintessential New England as it gets. After enjoying the beautiful drive in (no matter what direction you come from you’ll pass scenic countryside), start your day with a hike at Kent Falls State Park, one of Connecticut’s most famous cascading bodies of water. Visitors can also trek the portion of the Appalachian Trail that runs through the area, or embark on one of many hiking options at Macedonia Brook State Park, or at the Bull’s Bridge hiking area, where travelers can cross a historic covered bridge before embarking on a walk alongside the Housatonic River.
Afterward, head downtown to the Panini Cafe for great sandwiches (the Philly cheesesteak is our favorite). In town you can stop by multiple bookstores (including “literary landmark” House of Books), art galleries and gift shops. Visit Kent Falls Brewing Co. to enjoy one of Connecticut’s best breweries in a scenic farm setting (it’s about a 15-minute drive from downtown Kent but worth the trip). Back in town, dinner options include the Kingsley Tavern and Fife ’n Drum Restaurant.
Where to stay: Both the Inn at Kent Falls, where guests can sleep within easy striking distance of the famous waterfall, or the Fife ’n Drum Inn, in the heart of downtown Kent, are excellent options.
New Fairfield & Danbury
Thanks to its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it downtown of a few shopping centers, tiny New Fairfield often gets overlooked, and that’s just the way residents of this hidden country gem like it. The town is home to Squantz Pond State Park, one of Connecticut’s most beautiful parks, which has rolling fields that overlook Squantz Pond. The park is connected to Pootatuck State Forest, which has miles of trails, several linking to rocky overviews of Squantz Pond and Candlewood Lake.
After soaking up these natural sights, head to New Fairfield Food Center. The family-owned grocery store operates a deli and butcher shop that is legendary in the area. Try the New York Italian combo. Afterward, follow Route 37 to Danbury where you can enjoy more foliage sights at the showstopping Tarrywile Park, with its 722 acres of scenic trails, the historic Tarrywile Mansion and the ruins of Hearthstone Castle, which looks like something from Game of Thrones after a dragon attack. Danbury dining options include the breakfast-and-lunch hot spot Mothership on Main, pizza and craft beer bar Stanziato’s and Portuguese comfort-food oasis The Atlantic.
Where to stay: There are many overnight lodging options in Danbury. Two favorites are the new Hotel Zero Degrees (an impressive modern hotel with a sleek, country-lodge feel), and Ethan Allen Hotel, a lodging just as nice as you’d expect from a company dedicated to high-quality furnishings.
“You’re almost there,” a fellow walker assures us as we approach the top of Talcott Mountain on a recent visit. The 1¼-mile trail from the parking lot at the state park to the top includes several steep sections, and took us longer than anticipated, but it is more than worth the effort. The top of Talcott Mountain is home to Heublein Tower, a 165-foot high castle-like tower that dominates the ridgeline. Built in the early 1900s, the structure offers truly stunning views of the surrounding farmland framed by rolling hills. Much of the trek to the tower hugs the ridgeline of the mountain, affording equally spectacular views. Just be careful; these views are at the edge of legitimate cliffs.
Talcott Mountain is only one of many reasons Simsbury is a must-visit foliage destination. Settled in the 1670s, the beautiful town has historic houses, acres of working farms and is walker and bicycle friendly. Really friendly, that is. There’s even a free bike-share program that allows visitors to borrow a bike for a jaunt on the Farmington Canal Heritage and Farmington River greenways (find out more at the website simsbury.bike). The town is also home to the Old Drake Hill Flower Bridge, a wonderfully decorated footbridge, and the Pinchot Sycamore, recognized as the biggest tree in Connecticut.
In terms of food and drink, grab coffee at Dom’s in nearby Avon (Dom’s is one of the spots featured our roundup of best coffeehouses this month) and enjoy some of the best farm-to-table dining in the state at Millwright’s Restaurant, which also offers guests waterfall views as they dine.
Where to stay: The Simsbury Inn, The Simsbury 1820 House, and Green Acres Bed & Breakfast all offer overnight lodging with various strengths.
East Haddam & Chester
If there is a better way to enjoy foliage in New England than from the deck of the historic Chester-Hadlyme Ferry, we’ve never seen it. Looking up at Gillette Castle from the center of the Connecticut River is one of those distinctly Connecticut experiences. The ferry has carried passengers and their vehicles across the river since 1769. A “voyage” today lasts only a few minutes but provides plenty of photo opportunities. From the ferry, it’s a short but steep walk to the castle itself. The interior of the castle is closed for the season (as of Labor Day), but visitors can still enjoy panoramic views of the river valley below. They can also hike along a number of trails.
After visiting the castle grounds, leaf peepers can take the ferry across the river to Chester or drive a short way to East Haddam; both are picturesque towns. In East Haddam, visitors will want to check out the Goodspeed Opera House, also on the banks of the Connecticut River. Those who have not gotten their fill of hiking can visit Devil’s Hopyard State Park. Chester, across the river from the castle, is one of our favorite small Connecticut towns. Here you can stop by the famous River Tavern in Chester or L&E French and its sister restaurant Good Elephant Bistro, which specializes in French-Vietnamese fusion.
Where to stay: The Riverwind Inn in nearby Deep River is a charming, classic New England bed and breakfast with easy access to the area’s attractions.
Litchfield & New Preston
When it comes to foliage viewing, you can’t go wrong anywhere in Litchfield County. The city of Litchfield and nearby New Preston are both prime examples of why this is true. Both have all the country charm of Vermont with far less driving necessary. The spectacular hiking options are many, with the 4,000-acre White Memorial preserve and Mount Tom State Park serving as prime leaf-viewing spots. Liquor lovers will also want to stop by Litchfield Distillery, one of the state’s best spirits producers. Guests can enjoy high-quality cuisine in the pub setting of At the Corner or head to the fine-dining establishment Arethusa al tavolo.
New Preston is home to Lake Waramaug, one of the most scenic bodies of water in the state, especially during foliage season. A great spot to enjoy expansive views of the lake is Hopkins Vineyard, where the experience of sipping wine and taking in beautiful scenery is reminiscent of something you might experience in Europe. If you are looking for more hiking, another gorgeous outdoor destination is the Steep Rock Preserve in Washington.
Where to stay: Across the street from Hopkins Vineyard is the Hopkins Inn. Like the vineyard, it offers panoramic views of Lake Waramaug and is the perfect choice for overnights for those who have enjoyed a few bottles of wine. Another option is Winvian Farm, a luxury resort in Morris that borders the White Memorial Conservation Center and has some incredible cottages available for rent, including a treehouse.
The famed Last Green Valley in the Quiet Corner should change its name in the fall, so dramatically does the color wheel spin to autumnal hues. One of the region’s standout communities is quirky Putnam. (On what other Connecticut town’s Main Street will you find 17 little “fairy doors,” each representing a different theme?) It’s also a key stop along one of New England’s great foliage train rides. Each October, the Norwich Bulletin sponsors a Fall Foliage Train excursion aboard the vintage Providence & Worcester train. Scheduled for Oct. 14, the ride begins in Norwich and proceeds north along the Shetucket River through Windham County to Putnam. Disembark and check out Putnam’s downtown or continue north to Massachusetts and eventually back to Norwich.
For those who get off in Putnam, there are plenty of shopping and dining destinations, including Jessica Tuesday’s, a delightful lunch spot with a large patio right next to the train tracks; Deary Bros. Mike’s Stand, a classic burger and dog stand; and new barbecue joint Sugar & Smoke. Later in October, Putnam celebrates its annual Great Pumpkin Festival with loads of family-friendly activities, such as arts and crafts, pumpkin carving and decorating, live music, pumpkin-themed menus, another foliage train ride, and a scarecrow contest. The fun is scheduled for Oct. 21 from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
A fall foliage ride of a different kind takes place just down Route 44 in Pomfret. Hop on a horse and join the Pomfret Horse & Trail Association for a jaunt through a wooded property on Oct. 15. Wood-fired pizza will be provided by the Rolling Tomato. For more information, go to pomfrethorseandtrail.com/events.
Where to stay: Just up the road in Woodstock is the Mansion at Bald Hill. Befitting its Quiet Corner location, the bed and breakfast is the perfect place to get some peace and quiet. With expertly manicured grounds and wonderful foliage views, you won’t have to stray very far to see gorgeous surroundings. If you’re thinking about a stay, it would be wise to book early, as this secluded spot has only a handful of rooms.
Salisbury, Cornwall & Norfolk
With some of the earliest-arriving foliage in the state, the hills of the Northwest Corner offer the chance to be among the first to see autumn’s glory. The highest of all peaks in Connecticut is Bear Mountain in Salisbury, just a short distance from the Massachusetts line. At 2,316 feet, your legs might burn a bit from the ascent, but with an expansive view that includes some of the southern New Hampshire summits, the colors of fall all around will leave you numb.
For some good eating on the drive east to Norfolk, make a stop at Pop’s Diner where Route 44 meets Route 7 in North Canaan.
Nicknamed the “icebox of Connecticut,” Norfolk is a prime foliage town. It’s home to Dennis Hill State Park. Walk or drive up to a dramatic gazebo overlook at a height of more than 1,500 feet and a summit pavilion that reveal the beauty of the surrounding hills, as well as New Hampshire, Vermont’s Green Mountains and Massachusetts’ Mount Greylock. Haystack Mountain State Park is another great stop. A 15-minute walk brings you to a granite tower atop the peak, providing a 360-degree panorama of the countryside.
To fully experience Norfolk, take in a show at the 300-seat Infinity Music Hall. On Oct. 5, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, headed by Black Crowes singer Chris Robinson, brings its blues rock to town.
In Cornwall, Mohawk State Forest offers more scenic vistas. A drive up Mohawk Mountain Road brings you to a lookout tower, from which you can see the Catskill, Taconic and Berkshire ranges. Also check out — and drive through — the West Cornwall Covered Bridge, one of the few that still survive in our state. For a unique dining experience, try West Cornwall’s RSVP, with its open kitchen and no menus.
Where to stay: Salisbury’s 19th-century White Hart Inn is an ideal launching or ending point of your adventure. With its luxurious rooms that tastefully combine old and new touches, the inn will make you feel right at home. If your schedule allows, the Sunday brunch is a wonderful weekend treat.
Mystic & Stonington
Most leaf peepers head north when in search of fall colors. But if you don’t go to the Sound in the fall at least once in your life, you’re missing out. For our money, no Sound-adjacent destination beats this stretch of shore in southeastern Connecticut. Driving along the Mystic River, near where it empties into the Sound, during peak foliage season is an experience, the vibrancy of the leaves creating an interesting juxtaposition with the dark waters below. The recommended journey from west to east begins in downtown Mystic on the river’s western bank. While you’re there, stop in to the Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream parlor for some of the best frozen treats in the state. For those who don’t consider ice cream an adequate meal, the culinary options in Mystic are legend. The seafood choices are myriad — Red 36, Oyster Club and S&P Oyster Co. — while Rise offers breakfast and lunch, Engine Room pumps out New American classics, and 4 Roosevelt Asian Bistro is a nice change of pace.
After you’ve had your fill, head north on Pearl Street until it connects with River Road. Continue on with the river on your right until you hit Route 27 South. (For a quick detour, head north to B.F. Clyde’s Cider Mill for ciders, apples, pies and more.) Now moving south along the eastern bank of the river, you’ll pass by the frozen-in-time Olde Mistick Village, Mystic Aquarium and Mystic Seaport, all of which are worth a stop. As you take in the foliage along the Sound, head east on Route 1 into Stonington. What this seaside town lacks in notoriety compared to Mystic, it more than makes up for with its old-time New England feel, architecture and great dining options. The Velvet Vine is a refined bistro with a robust wine list, the casual Dog Watch Cafe offers seafood and sandwiches, and seafood haven Breakwater is situated on a long dock at the mouth of Stonington Harbor. Saltwater Farm Vineyard offers wonderful wine and a tasting room in a restored World War II-era airplane hangar.
Where to stay: At the Inn at Stonington, you’re right in the middle of it all — just steps from the water, shops and restaurants. The rooms are beautifully outfitted, with balconies, gas fireplaces, and floor-to-ceiling windows providing breathtaking harbor views. And a bonus: Room prices come down a bit during the colder months.
Middlefield & Meriden
There’s a school of thought that says you have to get out into the middle of the countryside, away from big towns and cities, in order to get the best foliage views. There is a knot of traprock ridges right around the intersection of interstates 91 and 691 that show you don’t need to drive into the far reaches of the state to get some great fall colors. Here’s the itinerary. The first stop is Meriden’s Hubbard Park and Castle Craig, where you can look out over the city from the cliffs that ride as high as 700 feet over Meriden’s north side. These are the Hanging Hills of Meriden, part of the much larger traprock ridge that travels north-south through the center of Connecticut like a spine. Along with East and West Rock in New Haven, the Connecticut traprock ridges are accessible to vehicles, and offer wonderful scenes for those unable to go on hikes and walks.
If hikes are your thing, jump on 691 East over to Mount Higby just over the Middlefield line, where a short hike will take you to another traprock ridge, this time offering excellent views looking west. Interested hikers can follow the ridge north for a mile to a second vista. To keep the foliage sights rolling after seeing the top of Mount Higby, jump back in the car and head into Middlefield straight to Lyman Orchards, which runs along another smaller ridge on Powder Hill Road, offering some of the best views in this part of the state. This time of year at Lyman’s, you can pick your own apples and pumpkins.
Where to stay: The exits off I-91 offer the usual assortment of Marriotts and Howard Johnsons, but for something a little more unique, head straight down Route 66 into Middletown, where the Inn at Middletown sits in the old converted Middletown armory. Walk to plenty of restaurants, art galleries, bookstores and a movie theater to make a night of it.
In the lower Connecticut River Valley, as the name suggests, the mighty river is the defining geographic feature. On the west bank of the river, Route 9 can take you to all manner of cozy, cheerful and interesting towns. In terms of views and foliage-themed expeditions, there’s really too much to do for just one day. The Chester-Hadlyme ferry will give you outstanding views from the unusual vantage point of the middle of the great river. (At the cheap rate of $6 per vehicle on the weekends, why not take it back and forth a few times?) The famous Essex Steam Train and Riverboat allows for leaf peeping from both land and water. Take the vintage locomotive from the 1892 Essex Station and hop aboard the Becky Thatcher riverboat for 2½ hours of fall fun.
In terms of the communities up and down this part of the river, the jewel in the crown is Essex. The old colonial center of Essex sits on a spit of land jutting out into the river, and in places offers a 270-degree view of the river in all its glory. There’s plenty to check out in the village, but we recommend the Connecticut River Museum, where Executive Director Christopher Dobbs has for years put together an incredible series of exhibitions celebrating the living history of the river from which our state gets its name. For a nice bite along the riverfront, Abby’s Place is the place to be, with its seafood and American favorites and outdoor seating next to a boatyard.
Where to stay: If you snatch up one of its 33 rooms, it has to be the Griswold Inn. This wonderful relic dates to 1776 and features an excellent taproom and dining room downstairs. It is mere walking distance from the river itself.
Beyond the Border
Connecticut offers some awesome autumn scenery, but what if you want to leave to go see other leaves? To check out New England’s best foliage outside Connecticut, you’re in for a bit of a drive. But trust us, you won’t regret taking in these wondrous locations. A word to the wise, though: some of these places hit their peak foliage even earlier than Connecticut. So if you wait until late October to hit the road, you might have already missed the most brilliant colors.
MASSACHUSETTS: Mohawk Trail Scenic Byway, The Berkshires
A bountiful bevy of Berkshire beauty awaits in western Massachusetts on the Mohawk Trail, a 69-mile byway that was once a Native American trade route. Scenic at any time of year, the fall foliage only enhances the experience of traveling on Route 2 through deep forests, alongside rivers, and in the shadow of mountains. Two options for when you stop the car: the 62nd annual Fall Foliage Parade in North Adams on Oct. 1, and book a zipline canopy tour at zoaroutdoor.com.
Where to stay: Cavalier Cottage is a pet-friendly bed and breakfast located on a country road in Charlemont, right in the middle of the Mohawk Trail. If you’re leaving the pets at home, try the Dancing Bear Guest House, a European-style bed and breakfast in the village of Shelburne Falls.
VERMONT: Shires of Vermont Byway
Keep heading north over the state line and you’ll be in rustic, rural southwest Vermont. Quintessential old New England villages dot the landscape in the corridor carved out between the Green and Taconic mountain ranges. The Shires of Vermont Byway — Routes 7 and 7A starting in Bennington and undulating north to Manchester — provides stunning views of the autumnal colors drenching the mountainsides. But the bonus here is the Vermont postcard scenes come to life: farmhouses, historic churches, covered bridges and general stores, all set against a backdrop of fiery orange and red.
Where to stay: Roaring Branch Cabins in Arlington is a handful of secluded log cabins on a 36-acre area of forest and woodlands overlooking a mountain stream.
NEW YORK: The Shawangunk Ridge, near New Paltz
A mere 63 miles from Danbury, the Shawangunk Ridge in New York is a world-renowned nature and climbing destination. There are several areas to hike on the ridge including the Minnewaska State Park and Mohonk preserves. Minnewaska State Park is home to a beautiful, aqua-blue mountain lake surrounded by woods and viewing points, and Awosting Falls, a dramatic waterfall. Mohonk Preserve is the most popular spot for mountain climbing on the ridge. The adventurous can try their hand at climbing under the tutelage of experienced guides.
Afterward, the below-the-ridge town of New Paltz is a fun spot to visit where hippie culture reigns supreme. Gluten-free options abound and the town is home to several brewpubs including the critically acclaimed Bacchus New Paltz, a brewery and beer bar.
Where to stay: There are several options but the most famous is the Mohonk Mountain House, a historic resort on the ridge with its own hiking paths and mountain lake. The house has been the subject of many travel features and is truly a one-of-a-kind experience.
MAINE: Acadia National Park
Although it’s the farthest from Connecticut, this natural wonder on the Atlantic is well worth the drive. And fall is one of the best times to visit the park — the foliage is exploding with color and the crowds are relatively light. Drive around the 27-mile Park Loop Road on Mount Desert Island and take in the rocky shores, evergreens, crimsons and golds. You can drive or hike up the pink granite of Cadillac Mountain — its 1,530-foot summit is the first spot to see the sun rise in the U.S. from October to March. Spanning Mount Desert Island, Schoodic Peninsula and Isle au Haut, the park boasts 155 miles of hiking trails for all levels of experience. Another 45 miles of carriage roads provide plenty to check out via bicycle or horse-drawn carriage.
After all that, you’re sure to have worked up an appetite. Stop by the Jordan Pond House restaurant, famous for its addictive popovers and jam. And on Oct. 7 comes Acadia’s annual Oktoberfest, at which Maine’s many breweries offer their finest beers, ciders and meads.
Where to stay: You’ll find less expensive options if you stay on the mainland, but if you want to seek lodging on the island, the Bar Harbor Inn & Spa on the eastern shore is hard to beat. For more seclusion, try the tucked-away Acadia Cottages in Southwest Harbor. But act fast, the seasonal cottages close Oct. 17.
NEW HAMPSHIRE: Kancamagus Highway and Franconia Notch State Park
This National Scenic Byway, which locals call “The Kanc,” is known the world over for its foliage-filled vistas. The 35-mile, east-to-west highway cuts through the heart of the White Mountain National Forest, and is unspoiled by structures or service stations, making for quite the woodland journey. As you might imagine for a location in northern New Hampshire, there is some elevation along the way. But that makes the views that much more stunning. You’ll ascend 2,860 feet up Kancamagus Pass to the roadway’s highest point, where there are several scenic overlooks. A popular attraction just a short hike from the highway is the photogenic Sabbaday Falls.
For even more wonders of nature, take Interstate 93 north toward Franconia Notch State Park. This incredible mountain pass is perhaps best known for the Flume Gorge, where a stream passes through an 800-foot-long valley with nearly 100-foot-tall granite walls. A boardwalk allows for unbelievable views. There may not be a better spot for fall photos than the gorge’s historic covered bridge. Speaking of great views, take a ride on the aerial tramway at Cannon Mountain, which brings you to the 4,080-foot summit and delivers views from Canada to New York on a clear day.
Where to stay: A great place to unwind after a big day in the great outdoors is the Horse & Hound Inn, a charming former ski lodge in Franconia. This carefully restored inn has all the touches you’d expect, and the staff is eager to share its knowledge of the surroundings to help you find your favorite adventure.