When the weather chills and Mother Nature puts on her fiery coat of fall color, there is only one thing to do: Get out and enjoy it! So we planned an itinerary based in New England – the epicenter of leaf peeping in the United States. Variety is the spice of life, so our three trip picks mix it up with roads, rails, and water! You can take them one at a time, but if you’re really ambitious – and have some time – they combine into one epic fall color tour!
It’s no surprise that the most time honored way to go leaf peeping is in the family car. Winding through mountain highways and country backroads, you get a window full of beauty at every turn. As a bonus, you can pull over at any spot that looks promising for photo ops, or to stretch your legs with a hike into the woods. As a bonus, you’ll experience the charms of rural America: small towns, farm stands, and pumpkin patches!
In the United States, chances are good that you are not too far from a great fall drive. There are remarkable fall drives, often with unexpected and delightful attractions, across America. Our pick for the road trip portion of this adventure is Lake Champlain, whose shores are shared by Vermont, New York, and Quebec. If you’re flying in, you’ll probably start in Burlington. Feel free to book a round trip flight, because this leaf peeping adventure comes full circle.
The Roosevelt Highway (US2) will take you through some fall color on the way north to the Sand Bar National Waterfowl Area and State Park, then across to Apple Island. The Allenholm Farm is a little off the highway, but a good stop to pick your own apples, and enjoy a Maple Creemee or sweet cider. It’s the sort of fuel you’ll need for a traditional New England road trip.
Highway 2 continues island hopping almost all the way to Canada before turning west towards New York. In Rouses Point, a left onto US11 will take you south through town. The adventurous can continue to skirt the lake shore on Lake Street and local roads. Otherwise, US11 will take you out to Interstate 87, the Adirondack Northway. As interstate highways go, this is one of the country’s prettiest. It was once named America’s Most Scenic Highway. Whether you take the interstate or local roads, you’ll wind up in Plattsburgh.
If you’re going for a day trip around Lake Champlain, you can cross the lake back to Burlington from Plattsburgh. However, we recommend continuing down US9 for more fall color and views of historic Valcour Island, which played a role in the Revolutionary War. Stretch your legs at Ausable Chasm where a short hike takes you to beautiful waterfalls in “the Grand Canyon of the Northeast.” Stop at the North Star Underground Railroad Museum and learn how Lake Champlain became the Gateway to Freedom for runaway slaves. (Check the websites for seasonal hours.) Afterwards, Route 373 will take you to Port Kent, where you can take a ferry back to Burlington.
Depending on your route, the roundtrip to Burlington is about 127 miles, or 3.5 hours of driving time. Add in some time for stops to pick apples, take pictures, hike to Ausable Falls, and ponder the natural beauty of Lake Champlain in the autumn. At very minimum, it’s a full day adventure.
From Roads to Rails
For the epic version of this trip, you’ll want to book a night or two in Plattsburgh to explore the area and enjoy the fall color. The Point au Roche Lodge at the Point au Roche State Park is a good base for exploring nearby attractions like the ELFS Farm Winery & Cider Mill, the War of 1812 Museum, and the Champlain Valley Transportation Museum. We love the rustic look and charming décor. Views over the State Park and Lake Champlain don’t hurt.
When you’re ready for part two of our fall color trip, be at Plattsburgh Train Station by 1:00 to climb aboard the famous Amtrak Adirondack. Amtrak partners with the National Park Service for Trails & Rails on this train. Volunteer guides narrate a portion of the trip, sharing the region’s history, nature and culture. (Although we’re catching the train in Plattsburgh, the route runs from Montreal to New York.)
It’s no surprise that this route has been named one of the Top 10 Most Scenic Train Rides in the world. The tracks skirt Lake Champlain and the Catskill Mountains, then wind through lush Hudson Valley vineyards. The trip ends among the bright lights of Midtown Manhattan.
What truly sets the Adirondack apart, though, is car number 10031, Amtrak’s only remaining dome car. The “Great Dome” car is an autumn tradition, in service only from late September to the first of November. The car’s upper level has windows on all sides and overhead for panoramic views of the magnificent scenery and splendor of Upstate New York’s fall foliage season. It’s the sort of trip train and leaf peeper dreams are made of.
The Adirondack is worthy of a trip on its own. The train runs daily between Montreal and New York’s Penn Station. Tickets are generally $69 per person. At ten hours, the journey makes another great stand-alone day trip, though you’d have to overnight in either New York or Montreal.
Setting Sail from NYC
So far, we’ve been on roads and rails. Time head to sea with a fall cruise! Setting sail gives us the chance to admire fall colors in port cities along Atlantic shoreline. With stops in New England and Canada’s Maritime Provinces, port days offer excursions into the charming towns and surrounding mountains.
This part of the journey requires the most planning, as there are many options but relatively few dates every year. Most of the major cruise lines offer round-trip sailings from New York (or Quebec, if you’re going in reverse order). We promised to end up back in Burlington, though, so let’s look at a few top one-way options:
- Royal Caribbean has a 10-night Fall Foliage Cruise with stops in Portland, Rockland, and Bar Harbor, Maine, Halifax and Sydney, Novia Scotia, and Corner Brook, Newfoundland, en route to Quebec City.
- Holland America’s 10-day Colors of Canada & New England cruise takes in Boston, Bar Harbor, Halifax and Sydney, and Prince Edward Island before disembarking in Quebec City.
- Though substantially more expensive, luxury small-ship line Regentoffers a 10-night Canada & New England cruise aboard Seven Seas Mariner. This cruise stops at Newport, Boston and Bal Harbor, plus Halifax and Sydney, Corner Brook, and the Saguenay Fjord. There is a call in Quebec before ending in Montreal.
- Our “Money is No Object” pick is Silver Sea’s Canada Cruise aboard Silver Whisper. The 11-night cruise from Manhattan to Montreal includes a myriad of port calls. Among the highlights are Cape Cod, Boston, Saint John (New Brunswick), Halifax, Gaspe (the Birthplace of Canada!), Quebec’s Saguenay Fjord, and finally, Montreal.
- Leaf Peeping Coast to Coast
- The Best New England Fall Road Trip
- A Fall Weekend in Vermont’s Green Mountains
Average prices for cruise itineraries like these run from as low as $600 per person for the large ships, to as much as $7,700 on the luxury lines. If you are open to a roundtrip sailing from New York or New Jersey, there are many more options. That would mean you don’t return to Burlington, but it would still be one epic fall color trip!
Back to Burlington
We tend to be completists. We have to finish what we started. So, to close the loop, there are two options between Montreal and Burlington: A mini-road trip through southern Canada’s vast farmlands, or hopping back on Amtrak to ride the Adirondack back to Plattsburgh. Either option is great.
While we planned this trip for fall color, it’s worth noting that these areas have stunning spring seasons, also. As we mentioned, this journey can be taken as a series of trips, lasting from one to ten (or more) days. When you put them all together, you’ll have spent a day around Lake Champlain, 10 hours on Amtrak, and at least 10 days at sea. The whole itinerary covers as many as four states and three provinces in the U.S. and Canada. That is a lot but, believe it or not, there are even more fall leaf peeping trips to take:
We want to hear about your trips! If you’ve taken a fall getaway to see the colors, where did you go? What kind of trip did you take? And would you tackle two weeks…just to look at leaves? (Call us crazy, but we would!)