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Massachusetts fall foliage touring

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Did You Know … ?

  • The red maple, which can grow to 120 feet, is America’s most common tree.
  • About 400 of North America’s 1,000 cranberry farms are in Massachusetts.
  • The Topsfield Fair, first called the Cattle Show, is America’s oldest agricultural fair (1820).
  • The colors in autumn leaves are brightest when days are cool and sunny, and nights chilly but without frost.
  • Americans consume some 400 million pounds of cranberries annually, about 20% of that during Thanksgiving week.

Red, yellow and orange

The image of trees aglow with autumn’s reds, yellows and oranges is irrevocably linked to Massachusetts, and for good reason. The state’s ample supply of maples and oaks has made it one of the prime U.S. destinations for viewing fall colors. As with the rest of New England, Massachusetts puts on its intense display of color because of almost pure stands of a few types of trees that change color simultaneously.

October is the time to visit, but good viewing varies across the state. Colors peak first in the west, with top viewing times moving east across the state as the month progresses. At three weeks or more into October, colors generally peak in Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. There are several widely accepted foliage driving routes for catching these scenes, but visitors in a hurry can do their leaf peeping in and around Boston, too.

Made-for-the-camera scenes are enhanced, particularly in the central region and in the Berkshire Mountains, by river valleys and mountainsides that offer striking vantage points for taking it all in.

For enhancements of another kind, in southeastern Massachusetts, cranberry bogs add their own color. The berries ripen and redden in the fall. Harvest season for cranberries runs from late September through October’s leaf-peeping season and sometimes into November.

In fact, autumn is harvest time for lots of foods, making a seasonal trip through Massachusetts a good time to shop at local farm stands, tour an orchard, take a hayride or maybe navigate a corn maze. It’s also an opportunity to attend harvest festivities celebrating the apple, cranberry or pumpkin.

Foliage touring and Thanksgiving don’t coincide, but Thanksgiving — which is America’s national harvest celebration — took its inspiration from events that occurred in Massachusetts in 1621. It seems logical, therefore, amidst all these autumnal scenes and activities, to pay a call at Plimoth Plantation, the living history museum at Plymouth that recalls the days of Pilgrims and that evocative 1621 Thanksgiving meal.

It probably goes without saying, but it’s a good idea to book hotels comfortably in advance of a foliage tour in Massachusetts.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Fly over the colorful foliage on a zipline.
  • Climb to the top of Wachusett Mountain, north of Worcester, for the foliage on the mountain and, once at the top, for sweeping views across Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Or, alternatively, and for similar reasons, climb Mount Greylock, the highest peak in Massachusetts, in the Berkshires.
  • See the bogs at the annual Cranberry Harvest Celebration from a helicopter. The event, held in October in Wareham, includes demonstrations of the wet cranberry harvest and cooking demonstrations.
  • At the Northfield Mountain Recreational and Environmental Center in Northfield, get your foliage fix by rock climbing at Rose Ledge.
  • Hot-air ballooning is a great way to see the landscape and its colors across impressive distances.
  • Hop on a bicycle and watch the bright foliage glide by — while your legs get the exercise.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Sign on for bread baking or another cooking class, or a barnyard lesson focused on farm animals, all at Plimoth Plantation. A re-creation of the original Pilgrim settlement, Plimoth offers a glimpse of what life was like in the 1600s.
  • Build a scenic foliage drive around the cranberry bogs in southeastern Massachusetts for the double benefit of seeing the colorful bogs and the leaves.
  • At the Northfield Mountain Recreational and Environmental Center in Northfield, overlooking the Connecticut River, take in the scene from a kayak or while aboard a guided riverboat cruise.
  • Combine your day’s foliage outing with a day on horseback.
  • On an October weekend at Old Sturbridge Village, taste heirloom apples and try your hand at cider making. Make your own sachet of mulling spices for use at home.
  • Rent a canoe or kayak and paddle through the serene, tree-lined Quabbin Reservoir at Belchertown.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Join a multiday motorcoach tour designed to show passengers the state’s best colors.
  • A number of farms welcome tourists. Look for one where you can enjoy a horse- or tractor-drawn hayride.
  • Walk around Concord’s Walden Pond, a noted scenic spot for foliage and the pond made famous by Henry David Thoreau.
  • Choose your scenic drive. The Mohawk Trail, part of the east-west Route 2, is regarded as one of the most beautiful.
  • Or, drive the north-south Connecticut River Byway, and stop at South Hadley for a short river cruise to admire the trees at waterside.
  • Take a half-day, full-day or one-week fall foliage cruise out of Boston.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism at