Each and every September, Massachusetts proudly shows her colors. Burnt sienna, crimson red, and tawny yellow dance around swaths of evergreen, creating a palette that draws you in. The annual passing of summer and onset of autumn shine brightly in New England’s foliage.
Leaf peeping is not always about riding in your car. A drive can provide glorious views, but if you explore the region on foot, you will find yourself literally immersed in the colorful canopied wonderland.
The foliage season in Massachusetts begins in mid-to-late September and typically peaks around Columbus Day. The peak moves west to east across the state, as will our fall foliage road trip.
1. Lake Mahkeenac
Stockbridge, home to the Norman Rockwell Museum, is a picturesque New England town and the ideal spot to start your fall foliage road trip. Located in the Berkshires, Stockbridge is dotted with family farms and tree-lined country roads. It is the perfect place to take a leisurely drive to nowhere and see where it takes you.
Travel down Route 183 and stop at the Stockbridge Bowl, also known as Lake Mahkeenac. The 372-acre lake provides a spectacular backdrop for photos of the forest’s autumn colors. When the morning sun hits the still lake and the vibrant hues of the trees are reflected in the water, you will be happy you set your alarm and grabbed a to-go cup of morning joe. Photographers come from near and far to capture Lake Mahkeenac’s peaceful beauty in autumn.
2. Bash Bish Falls
Head south about 10 miles to the highest single-drop waterfall in Massachusetts, Bash Bish Falls. The spectacular landmark hemmed in by rocks and framed by delicate, colorful maple trees is worth the hike.
There are two popular options to get to the falls. You can park in Bish Bash Falls State Park’s Upper Falls lot and climb down along the falls, but this can be a little slippery at times. Alternatively, you can park in the lower lot and hike up the Bash Bish Falls Trail, an easy 2.1-mile out-and-back hike.
3. Canyon Ranch Wellness Resort
Heading north, Lenox is situated on Route 183. The famous Canyon Ranch Wellness Resort is a luxurious retreat waiting to help you relax and rejuvenate.
Canyon Ranch offers traditional spa services, including massages and skin care. They also offer wellness services like spiritual wellness and life management sessions. It is the perfect place to center your mind and body as you celebrate the changing seasons.
The resort’s grounds are meticulously maintained and beautiful in the fall.
4. Mount Greylock State Reservation
If you are searching for a view, head to the Mount Greylock State Reservation, one of the best leaf-peeping spots in the state. At 3,491 feet, it’s the highest peak in Massachusetts and offers a truly spectacular panoramic view. Showcasing the annual riot of crimson, yellow, orange, and green better than almost any other spot, Mount Greylock is a stop that should not be missed.
If hiking to the top sounds intimidating, you can skip the exercise and drive up the auto road to the summit. Enjoy a meal at Bascom Lodge or pack a picnic lunch and a blanket. Then sit back and enjoy the incredible view.
If you feel like becoming one with the foliage, jump on the Appalachian Trail for a hike.
5. Mohawk Trail State Forest
The Mohawk Trail State Forest is composed of 6,000 acres of mountains, gorges, and woodlands with the Deerfield River running through it. The trail is an old Native American path connecting the Connecticut and Hudson River Valleys.
You can choose from several excellent trails to explore in the area. The Mahican-Mohawk Trail to Indian Trail Loop is a 4.7-mile moderately rated hike. The payoff is the stunning view from the top of Indian Trail.
6. Old Sturbridge Village
The Old Sturbridge Village offers history in addition to beautiful fall foliage. Leaves rustle and crunch as you walk the old carriage paths. The costumed historians bring colonial times to life, enacting stories of early settlers and their lives in New England. Explore the village shops and homes while docents explain Early American crafts.
Finish your visit with a meal at the Publick House Historic Inn & Country Lodge. Think roasted native turkey, cornbread stuffing, and deep-dish apple pie — essentially, New England on a plate. The Publick House Historic Inn is a step back to 1771, with its 18th-century charm paired with modern-day touches. If you are looking for a fun place to stay the night, the inn offers four distinct options, including the main Publick House Historic Inn and the Country Lodge.
7. New England Botanic Garden At Tower Hill
New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill is one of the prettiest places in Massachusetts to enjoy fall foliage. With views of the Wachusett Reservoir and Wachusett Mountain, the garden is breathtaking, providing ample photo opportunities.
Quiet corners and strategically placed benches are the perfect places to enjoy some personal reflection.
8. Minute Man National Historical Park
Welcome to the birthplace of the American Revolution. Minute Man National Historical Park is a fun place to explore for people of all ages. Old carriage roads lined with hand-stacked stone walls meander around the park.
Sign up for one of several guided tours and watch the fight for American independence come to life. At Hartwell Tavern, a minute man will regale you with stories of the local militia and demonstrate how to fire a musket. You can also tour The Wayside, home to three famous authors: Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Harriet Lothrop.
Next, walk the Battle Road Trail, where the Battles of Lexington and Concord took place on April 19, 1775. The 9.1-mile trail will take you through fields and forests, bringing you back in time to the American Revolution. Since it is an out-and-back trail, you can easily make the hike shorter. The wide, shaded paths are breathtaking when covered in brightly colored fallen leaves.
9. Arnold Arboretum At Harvard University
Continuing eastward, Arnold Arboretum is a 281-acre preserve designed by famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. With more than 17,000 plants, the arboretum is an outdoor museum of sorts. The riot of color in autumn is unsurpassed, considering that each plant offers its own unique leaf show.
Bring your camera and your curiosity. You will see plants you have never seen before. The arboretum offers app-guided tours. The Explorers Garden Tour is a quarter-mile tour through the garden, highlighting specimen trees like the Chinese stewartia and the dove tree.
10. Boston Public Garden
No fall foliage road trip through Massachusetts would be complete without a stop at the Boston Public Garden. Lush green lawns, the lagoon with its swan boats, 80 species of plants, and winding walking paths — this is the place where Bostonians relax. Find a takeaway joint and grab a picnic lunch, lay out a blanket, and read a few chapters of a great book on a crisp autumn afternoon.
Stop by to see the Make Way for Ducklings tableau, sometimes seasonally dressed in Boston sports gear. Modeled on those from the beloved Robert McCloskey book, the ducklings are near and dear to every Bostonian’s heart.
Enjoy a leisurely 15-minute ride on the swan boats. They are part of Boston history and a memorable addition to any visit.
Foliage season is high season for many Massachusetts resorts. If you are looking for a specific spot to stay overnight, reservations will most likely be required several months in advance. Pack layers of clothing, since the temperature can vary from warm to chilly.