The air is getting crisper, the days shorter and the leaves a myriad of bright, vibrant colors, but it’s not time to give up on the outdoors and dive right into winter hibernation just yet. The fall is undisputedly one of the most beautiful seasons of the year, and often times overlooked when it comes to planning outdoor activities. The air is still fairly warm and there are usually less crowds than during the summer months, making autumn the perfect season for day trips in New England.
Perhaps you’ve thought of a mountain trip, often to popular New England ski resorts, as primarily a winter activity, but think again; a mountain trip in the fall promises to be full of beautiful foliage and tons of fun outdoor activities for all ages, from adventure parks to fabulous hiking and biking.
As individual activities and hours of operation are subject to change with the seasons and without notice, be sure to call ahead when visiting these mountain trip destinations to confirm details. Have fun!
Can’t get enough of New England’s stunning fall foliage? Check out AAA Northeast’s Foliage Blog with extensive coverage of the area’s prime leaf peeping spots!
Mountain Trip for Those not Afraid of Heights
Mount Washington State Park, New Hampshire
Open only during the warmer months (May-October), Mount Washington State Park is perched on top of the Northeast’s infamously highest peak, which tops out at an astonishing 6,288 feet. Those brave enough to transverse the side of the mountain and reach the top will be rewarded not only with panoramic views, but with a surprising amount of civilization. The Sherman Adams Visitor Center houses the Mount Washington Observatory and Museum complete with an observation deck, where novice and aspiring astronomers can view and learn about the night sky, as well as a cafeteria and gift shop. There is also a weather station on top of the mountain, of which visitors can take a tour, and the historic Tip Top House, a structure that was originally built in 1853 as a hotel for hikers.
Those choosing Mount Washington for the mountain day trip should be prepared for drastic changes in weather as they climb in elevation. The mountain passes through four climate zones, and finding snow at the top when it’s a warm day at the bottom isn’t uncommon. Be prepared with warm clothes!
To get to the top of Mount Washington, day trippers have three options:
- Drive: Earn your very own “This car Climbed Mount Washington” bumper sticker by braving the Mount Washington Auto Road. Drive your own vehicle up the twisting, cumbersome, narrow and often right-on-the-edge-of-the-cliff roads, or opt for a guided tour drive, where you’ll hop in another vehicle and have the driving done for you while you sit back, relax, learn about the mountain and marvel as you pass through multiple weather regions while climbing to the top.
- Take the train: The Mount Washington Cog Railway offers three-hour narrated train rides from the base to the summit. Riders can choose between the historic and classic steam locomotive or a newer, eco-friendly biodiesel train.
- Hike: If you’re up for a challenge, and you’re an experienced hiker, climbing Mount Washington by foot can be a difficult yet incredibly rewarding adventure. Check out the trail maps published by the Appalachian Mountain Club when planning your trip.
Mountain Trip for the Outdoor Renaissance Man
Sunday River, Maine
During the winter, Sunday River operates as a ski resort, a destination of choice for many of the area’s winter sports enthusiasts, but the resort doesn’t just shut down when there is no snow on the ground in the off-season. In fact, they’ve turned it into an outdoor-lover’s adventure land, offering almost every Maine-esque outdoorsy activity under the sun across their eight-peak resort.
- Zip line: No mountain trip would be complete without a thrilling zip line experience. Sunday River has six lines, ranging in length from 100 to 300 feet, that whip riders through the trees, across streams and over the incredible mountain landscape at up to 25 miles per hour. They also feature twin lines, allowing riders to zip through the amazing course right alongside a friend or family member.
- Rock climbing wall: Test your rock climbing skills – or build new ones – on this 25 foot wall.
- Bungee trampoline: Strap in and jump as high as you can for a thrilling flying experience popular with visitors of multiple ages.
- Golf: A ski resort with a golf course? Yes, please! The Sunday River Golf Club is home to a top-rated 18-hole championship golf course, so be sure to bring along your clubs on this day trip!
- Disc golf: If you haven’t jumped on the disc golf bandwagon yet, Sunday River is the perfect place to play your first game. On the 18-hole course, players use discs similar to Frisbees instead of golf balls, which they sink in the goals.
- Biking: The Sunday River Bike Park contains 25 miles of mountain biking trails that cover over 20 miles and include impressive jumps and thrilling turns to entertain avid bikers. For mountain biking beginners or for those looking for a refresher course before hitting the trail, the Mountain Bike School at the resort features a 90-minute mountain biking clinic. Open September 9 – October 9.
- Hiking: With eight hiking trails spanning and winding across all of Sunday River’s eight peaks, there’s sure to be a path to please hikers of all interests and abilities.
- Chondola rides: Those visitors looking for a more relaxed, scenic experience than their adrenaline-loving counterparts can ride the lift to the top of the resort’s North Peak, which features views of the Mahoosuc Mountains and the Sunday River Valley. Once at the peak, ride back down or choose to venture back by foot along the hiking trails.
- Adventure Pass: The Adventure Pass is a great option for a fun-filled family-oriented adventure day at the resort. Purchasing the pass grants visitors unlimited, all-day access to the resort’s scenic lift rides, twin zip lines, bungee trampoline and climbing wall.
- L. L. Bean Outdoor Discovery School: Experience this fantastic collaboration in outdoor adventure education. Interested participants can sign up for lessons taught by L.L. Bean-certified experts in disciplines including archery, kayaking and paddle boarding. Open seasonally in the summer months.
Mountain Trip for the Hiker
Green Mountain National Forest, Vermont
While all the mountains featured in this post boast noteworthy hiking opportunities, Green Mountain National Forest, which spans across several towns and 400,000 acres in southwestern and central Vermont, is remarkable for sheer volume. And the 900 miles of trails aren’t just for hiking; there’s a large network of multi-use trails suitable for biking, horseback riding and cross country skiing and snowmobiling in the winter months. Here are some of the area’s top destinations:
- White Rocks Cliff Trail: Reachable by foot along a hiking trail, visitors will reach a stunning destination that is just what it sounds like: a cliff of white rocks. The cliffs are made of Cheshire quartzite, a geode exposed by glaciers in the last ice age.
- Stratton Mountain Trail: Upon reaching the top of this peak, hikers can climb further up the old fire tower there, which offers 360-degree views of the Green and Taconic Mountains, promising stunning foliage views in the autumn months. There is also a caretaker stationed at the summit who serves as a guide to the area and will answer visitor questions.
- Thundering Falls: Thundering Falls is notable not only for its spectacular being as the sixth tallest waterfall in Vermont at 140 feet, but it’s also the first universally accessible portion of the Appalachian Trail in Vermont, offering full wheelchair access.
- Little Rock Pond Trail: Follow this path for a hike around this pond with great water views and be rewarded with a swimming and fishing area along the way.
- Hapgood Pond Recreation Area: Boating and swimming season runs Memorial Day- Labor Day, but the area is still worth a visit for its nature trail and picnic area stocked with picnic tables and grills, perfect for a family meal among the foliage.
- Robert Frost Interpretive Trail: Literature junkies will love this 1.2 mile trail loop inspired by the famous poet Robert Frost and his works. Along the way hikers will come across a picnic area surrounded by pine trees, berry plants (when in season) and a long portion of boardwalk crossing over a beaver pond.
Mountain Trip for the Adventure Park Lover
Bromley, Vermont’s Summer Adventure
Bromley, Vermont’s Summer Adventure has jumped on the adventure park trend bandwagon with a go big or go home attitude. Located on Bromley Mountain, which operates as a popular ski resort during the winter months, the adventure park is located in southern Vermont, easily accessible for New England day trips. The attraction features not only one adventure park, but three! Open through Columbus Day.
Mountain Adventure Park
Mountain Adventure Park is the perfect destination for a day of family fun. Activities offered include:
- Alpine Slide: At 2/3 of a mile long, it’s one of the longest in the world.
- Climbing wall: Brings climbers 24 feet into the sky
- Mini golf
- Giant trampoline
- Bounce house
- Bumper boats
- Giant swing
- Scenic chairlift ride
Aerial Adventure Park
The Aerial Adventure Park blends zip lines with a canopy course and a classic ropes course for an adventure sure to challenge and thrill visitors. Explorers strap on harnesses and climb their way through the trees, passing across platforms and rope bridges from high above.
Sun Mountain Flyer
The Sun Mountain Flyer is a giant zip line. Riders strap into a chair and are then whipped along the half-mile line, starting five stories in the air and reaching speeds of up to 50 miles per hour.
Mountain Trip for the Primitive Outdoors Lover
Mount Greylock State Reservation, Massachusetts
You don’t have to venture all the way up to Vermont, New Hampshire or Maine for fantastic mountain day trips in New England. Mount Greylock, located in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, is just a few hours’ drive from New York City, and serves as the site for some of the best outdoor activities in the region, rivaling more northern mountains, and certainly offering fantastic foliage views. The peak is the highest in the state, topping out at 3,491 feet and offering views of 60-90 miles. During the warmer months (late May-November), passage to the summit can be made by vehicle on the road. Conversely, visitors can explore the mountain by foot via its many hiking trails and will find a variety of wildlife, forestry and geology along the way. Hunting is also permitted with the proper permits, and all visitors are encouraged to stop at the park headquarters and visitor’s center in Lanesborough, Mass., before setting off on their adventures.
Which of these mountain trip adventure would you like to take on this fall? Tell us in the comments.
For more fall travel tips and foliage destinations, visit AAA.com/Foliage.