Fall Leaf-Peeping Road Trip: East Coast Style
Adventurer & Photographer
Maine, New Hampshire, & Pennsylvania
Start / End
Newark, NJ; New York, NY; or Boston, MA
Acadia National Park
As you may know, vibrant fall foliage can be found all over the East Coast. However, since most folks only have a week or two at a time for vacation, we chose only three states to include in this itinerary. Along the way you’ll drive through others, but you’d need more than a few weeks if you wanted to truly experience it all. To begin this road trip, we recommend flying into Newark, New York City, or Boston—these cities are all located somewhere along the route. From there, you’ll drive north up the coast of Maine, then west into New Hampshire, and finally down to the mountains in Pennsylvania. Other than fall foliage, this road trip will focus on outdoor adventure, city exploration, and good food—all of our favorites!
We recommend at least 12 days for this trip, but the more the better! During our 13-day version of this itinerary, we spent six of those days exploring the coast of Maine, two in the White Mountains, three in the Poconos, and two days were allotted for travel on either end. While there are a lot of miles to cover, it’s mostly done in between states, allowing you time to rest and explore in each destination. Choosing the right time to experience peak fall foliage can be tricky, as weather conditions are a big factor of when the leaves change colors. Coastal Maine typically peaks mid-October, while the White Mountains and Poconos tend to be at their boldest anytime from the end of September through the second week of October. We recommend planning your fall road trip between mid-September and mid-October. As always, weather is unpredictable, so don’t plan on it being perfect sweater-weather the whole trip. Rain and snow are definitely possibilities in these areas. Since the map of this itinerary is sort of a “figure 8”, feel free to drive it in either direction. This itinerary is only a guide, and we encourage you to tailor it to your needs and timeline so that you can have the most personalized experience possible!
FLY IN AND DRIVE TO KENNEBUNKPORT, ME
From Boston: 1.5 hours/90 miles
From Newark or NYC: 5 hours/300 miles
Depending on where you decide to fly into, you’ll either drive a short or long distance to your first stop: Kennebunkport, Maine. We flew into Newark in the early afternoon and made our way to a gorgeous riverfront hotel in Kennebunkport—Nonantum Resort, where we spent two nights. You wouldn’t believe how quaint the town of Kennebunkport is until you arrive and spend some time roaming the streets (there aren’t many)! The town is situated right on the coast, between the Atlantic Ocean and the Kennebunk River. Grab a cup of coffee and explore town by foot or bike, then walk over to the sandy ocean beach just a mile away.
36 MINUTES – 30 MILES
Just about 40 minutes north up the coast is the larger harbor city of Portland. Known for its fresh seafood and historic cobblestone streets, Portland is the most “city-like” experience you’ll get in Maine, though it doesn’t feel quite as big as it is. It’s not all shopping and dining, though. Portland offers a ton of outdoor adventure from kayaking on the Scarborough Marsh to hiking up Bradbury Mountain. If possible, try to stay in a hotel in “Old Port”, where you’ll find the cobblestone streets and historic architecture. We recommend Portland Regency Hotel & Spa.
As you make your way north towards Acadia National Park, stay on Route 1, the highway in Maine that runs parallel to the coast. The drive takes a few hours, so consider stopping along the way for a night in Camden, Rockport, or Lincoln. You can get rustic and camp at Camden Hills State Park or go New-England-luxury at the beautiful Inn at Ocean’s Edge—an infinity pool and oceanfront property?! Yes please!
What to do with the kids:
On the water:
Get the local catch:
Best sunset sail:
ACADIA NATIONAL PARK & BAR HARBOR, ME
3 HOURS – 175 MILES
Only a few hours from Canada, turn off Route 1 towards Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor. Depending on the time of week, finding a hotel in Bar Harbor can be difficult, so make sure you plan ahead for accommodations. That being said, we recommend staying in Bar Harbor during your stay as it’s the best basecamp for all of your Acadia adventures. Start your visit by walking through town and getting a lay of the land, then drive the Park Loop. Give yourself plenty of time for this loop so you can stop at the various overlooks and landmarks like Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, and Otter Cliffs. In addition to planning hikes and other outdoor adventures, we recommend walking to Bar Island from Bar Harbor, which can only be done during high tide, so it must be timed just right!
WHITE MOUNTAINS, NH
4 HOURS – 213 MILES
After getting a taste of coastal life, it’s time to head inland to the White Mountains of New Hampshire, where we recommend spending at least two nights. Get an early start from Bar Harbor and arrive in North Conway around noon. Grab a bite at the Muddy Moose Restaurant & Pub before checking into your hotel. For the rest of the afternoon, drive west on US-302 exploring the incredible fall colors of places like Crawford Notch State Park and Mount Washington.
NORTH WOODSTOCK, NH (via the Kancamagus HIghway)
1 HOUR – 42 MILES
From North Conway, drive the Kancamagus Highway west to North Woodstock. This is a 34.5-mile National Scenic Byway—and that classification is an understatement! This highway had some of the best fall colors we saw throughout our trip on this route. There are plenty of pull-outs along the highway for hiking and photographing. Stay the night in the charming town of North Woodstock. If you have time, Franconia Notch State Park is only a short drive from North Woodstock and definitely worth it!
Best picnic stop along the Kancamagus:
Most unique dinner experience:
Best fall-colors hike:
Best hike along the Kancamagus:
Best local spot for dinner:
Most photogenic stop along the Kancamagus:
THE POCONO MOUNTAINS, PA
5.75 HOURS – 353 MILES
This section of the trip will be your longest drive yet, but it can be done in a morning if you’re ambitious! We recommend spending at least three nights in the Poconos, as it’s a large area to cover. Drive first into the quaint town of Milford, and stay at the historic Hotel Fauchere. You’ll find plenty of activities around Milford while enjoying the fall foliage, such as exploring Greys Tower National Historic Site and hiking to waterfalls in Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
Next, drive up to Hawley and stay at Silver Birches resort on the shores of Lake Wallenpaupack. Kayak or canoe the waters and take in the views of the changing leaves all across the lake. Pop up to Honesdale for an afternoon before making a detour out to Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River. Depending on your time, the Poconos can be driven in a loop as shown on our map, or simply as an “out and back”. Other places we recommend stopping at include Jim Thorpe—the town known as the “Switzerland of Pennsylvania”, Lacawac Sanctuary, and Bushkill.
Hike to the tallest waterfall in Pennsylvania:
Where to go for an adult beverage:
For a fancy night out:
Hike with a view:
For the whole family: