7 Scenic Foliage Drives

So, you want to see stunning foliage this fall? Three words: Visit New Hampshire. It’s the quintessential autumn-in-New England experience—where winding roads lead you through a painted leaf-covered landscape, quaint villages and covered bridges. Where you can take heart-pounding hikes with glorious views. Where rivers and lakes are hugged in vibrant hues, and mountains are draped in colorful canopies of crimson, orange and gold. There are so many unique ways to take in the breathtaking views all within a short drive. So, grab your cup of pumpkin-spiced coffee, buckle up and come along for an epic leaf-peeping ride across New Hampshire.

Currier & Ives Scenic Byway
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New England Covered Bridge, Henniker, NH, Photo by: Central New Hampshire Regional Planning Commission

First thing’s first. You’ll want to clear the smartphone photos and camera cards—you’re gonna need plenty of space to snap all the jaw-dropping foliage along the 30-mile Currier & Ives Scenic Byway in the Merrimack Valley. Take Route 202 in Hillsboro and travel northeast along the Contoocook River, which delivers a dazzling view of Pat’s Peak in Henniker.

The byway will then take you through the picturesque village of Hopkinton—once New Hampshire’s state capital. When you hit the Route 103 to 127 junction, jump on and head north toward Warner and Webster. Along the way you’ll catch another glimpse of the Contoocook River and the oldest surviving covered railroad bridge. This is a great place to stop to grab a bite to eat and pop into local shops. As you head onward, you’ll be treated to brilliant views of Mount Kearsarge over in Wilmot while passing through Salisbury. If you want to keep cruising from there, check out some of the other divine scenic drives in the Merrimack Valley.


Monadnock Region Loop Scenic Drive
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Mt Monadnock, NH, Photo by: Denis Tangney Jr

Up for a luscious little foliage loop? Hop on the Monadnock Region Loop Scenic Drive in Keene and head down Route 101 toward historic Marlborough. Take Route 124 south and for 12 miles you’ll be treated to vibrant views, including Mount Monadnock’s reflection in Perkins Pond, and pasture vistas.

Continue down to Jaffrey where you’ll find treasures in tax-free shops, and essential fall treats at sugar houses, and farm stands. Head north on 137 and west on 101 past the lovely Dublin Lake to circle back. When you’re ready to retire, grab a bite to eat and check into a nearby inn and or bed and breakfast.

The Lakes Tour Byway
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Lake Winnipesaukee, NH, Photo by: Denis Tangney Jr

What happens when the sun sets on Lake Winnipesaukee’s fun-filled summer days? Nature steps in to steal the show, surrounding this beloved body of water with an electrifying display of leaves. Start your tour around the Lakes Region in Alton and take Route 11 toward Gilford and family-friendly Weirs Beach where you’ll find fun attractions, arcades and shops. Then jump on Route 25 in Meredith, and meander through Center Harbor, which proves a charming place to stop for food or photos. Continue along 25 to Moultonborough, then hop on 109 and head down past Cow Island toward historic Wolfeboro—the oldest summer resort town in America. To complete your loop, take Route 28 at the junction back to Alton.

Don’t drive away just yet! Rent a lakeside cabin or cottage. Get a fire going. And take to the hot tub for a bit of relaxing in the crisp New Hampshire air.

Lake Sunapee Scenic Byway
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Photo by: @borntotravel2

The half-hour trip along the Lake Sunapee Scenic Byway reveals a kaleidoscope of color across lakes, mountains, riverways and farmlands. Start off in Newbury and travel north on Route 103 and you’ll get great views of Mount Sunapee. When you hit the Route 11 junction, head north back toward Lake Sunapee and grab lunch on the harbor—a picture perfect place to take in the fall foliage.

As you continue east on 11, you’ll get healthy dose of autumn surrounding Otter Pond, Little Sunapee Lake and Pleasant Lake. As you come into the small town of New London, the views of Mount Kearsarge will wow. Head over to Winslow State Park and Black Mountain Forest for a light hike through falling leaves.  
 
The White Mountain Trail
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White Mountain National Forest, NH, Photo by: Jon Bilous

The White Mountains may be a world-class hiking destination, not to mention nationally known for its epic leaf-peeping route, the Kancamagus Highway, but did you know some of the best foliage in New Hampshire can be found off the beaten path? Yep. If we’ve learned anything from our beloved, Franconia resident, Robert Frost, it’s that taking the road less traveled may indeed make all the difference.
 
Set your sights on the 100 miles that make up The White Mountain Trail—a national scenic byway. It’s an eye-popping loop that’ll take you past cascading waterfalls, covered bridges, dozens of mountain and valley outlooks—all alight with a rainbow of colorful leaves. Begin at the White Mountains Visitor’s Center in North Woodstock. From Route 112 West jump on 3 North (which will merge with 93 for a stretch), through the gorgeous Franconia Notch State Park (and incredible stops along the way). Then head southeast on 302 through Crawford Notch State Park where you’ll score views of Mount Washington and other peaks in the Presidential Range. For even more magnificent sights, head north again on 16 from there.

Moose Path Trail
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Dixville Notch, NH, Photo by: Denis Tangney Jr

Spotting moose in the wilderness? Unfettered tranquility beyond belief? Rich splashes of reds, oranges, and yellows? It’s all up here for you in New Hampshire’s Great North Woods. (See what National Geographic had to say about Moose Alley.)

Start the Moose Path Trail starting in Gorham, and travel north on Route 16 toward Errol. Take Route 26 to Dixville Notch, then cruise Route 3 North to Pittsburg. If fresh air and outdoor adventure are on your fall to-do list, there are hundreds of miles of ATV and hiking trails in the region, and stellar fly fishing on the Connecticut River.   

American Independence Byway
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Portsmouth, NH, Photo by: Denis Tangney Jr

If you like a side of history with your scenic drives, you’ll love the New Hampshire Seacoast region’s American Independence Byway. Settled in the early 1600s, there’s plenty to learn on this 21-mile route—not to mention awesome autumn sights to see. Start your loop in Exeter center—home of the American Independence Museum—and take Route 150 south through Kensington.

From there you’ll want to jump on Route 84 east toward Hampton Falls—we recommend an apple-picking break at an area orchard! Then, as you take Route 1 North, the old stagecoach road from Portsmouth to Boston, keep an eye out for spectacular birds, as you’ll pass beautiful salt marshes, ponds and waterways. Then take Route 27 toward the coastal scenic Route 1A to enjoy more impressive views, fresh seafood, the soothing sound of waves and the crisp ocean breeze.
 
Check our New Hampshire foliage tracker all season long to keep tabs on peak leaf-peeping times across the state.