At the onset of freefalling gold tones and fiery red maple leaves blanketing the sidewalks and highway rails of New Hampshire, you know fall has arrived. This is “the” premier season in the Granite State, when foliage hunting becomes a sport for all ages. The goal: to predict which regions are at “peak” and then map out the scenic drive. Like a perfect food and wine pairing, so is leaf-peeping and apple picking. The added challenge is to coordinate timely stops during the harvest of McIntosh, Courtland, or more seemingly countless varietals. It’s best to know your favorite and then coordinate a trip when pick-your-own is at its prime.
Once you’ve figured out the timing and mapped the route, you’ll want to clean out your vehicle to make room for your harvest of apples, a few hearty pumpkins, and to bring home as many bottles of New Hampshire wines you can fit in your car. Take advantage of this special harvest time in New Hampshire, when there are plentiful activities to enjoy and at least one winery where you can pick-your-own table grapes.
Now it’s time to map out your plan. What direction will you take -- White Mountains, Seacoast, Lakes Region? – it’s time to grab your favorite flannel button-down and hit the highway. Here are suggested activities separated by regions.
Seacoast & Southern New Hampshire
Estimated peak foliage dates: October 20-31
Now is the time to book your stay at one of five tiny Rivercrest Villas in Epping, located in the southeastern part of the state. Come dusk, cozy up in an Adirondack chair with a glass of wine from your day’s take at Flag Hill Distillery & Winery. Flag Hill is a walk away from the villas, and in fall the activity du jour is U-pick Table Grapes.
Before you depart from this side of the state, you’ll want to stop for a barrel tasting at Sweet Baby Vineyard in Hampstead. A taste of crisp cranberry apple wine is fitting for the season.
Head to Riverview Farm in Plainfield for fun apple-picking activity or have your pick from 50 varieties at Alyson’s Orchard in Walpole, a site overlooking the Connecticut River Valley.
Spend another day driving across to the southwestern region of the state for a stop at Poocham Hill Winery in Westmoreland. In September, this is the location of the River Valley Artisans Wine Art Tour, a fun event for all. Before you leave Westmoreland, be sure to stop at Summit Winery for a taste from 20 wine options and then enjoy dinner at one of several spots less than an hour’s drive away. Hungry for Thai food? Siam Orchid Thai Bistro in Concord will fulfill your craving. Feeling French-Canadian? Stop at Chez Vachon in Manchester for a classic poutine.
If you’re seeking another winery stop, Haunting Whisper in Danbury is the perfect place to savor the scenery on this 75-acre property, complete with lake and mountain views. Here, you can taste from an extensive list of wine and spirits, including dry and sweet grape wines, fruit wines, and rum, whiskey, and barrel-aged brandy.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, take it easy at Red Blazer Restaurant & Pub in Concord, where burgers are on the menu with a roster of interesting choices such as peanut pub burgers and red fox burgers. If it’s chilly outside, a seat by the fireplace will warm you. Craving sweets? Treat your family to peanut brittle or homemade fudge at the Granite State Candy Shoppe. Keep the nostalgia theme going with a stop at Poor Boy’s Diner in Londonderry.
Starting further south from Westmoreland, an hour drive will take you to LaBelle Winery in Derry. Taste their amazing wines and stay a while longer to enjoy the entertainment, such as “Bennie & The Jets: An Elton John Tribute” on the first of September. Check the website calendar for more fall events as you plan out your visit.
On the Seacoast, apple picking is aplenty and where Applecrest Farm in Hampton Falls boasts New Hampshire’s oldest and largest apple orchard. Kids will swoon on a storybook hayride and be challenged in the corn maze. Once you’ve picked your bag of apples, grab an eat-now warm cider donut and take a bag home for later.
If you’re more interested in a day spent relaxing on a river cruise, Portsmouth Harbor Cruises is the ticket for a foliage-drenched view along the coastline of the Cocheco River.
Central New Hampshire & The Lakes
Estimated peak foliage dates: October 10-20
Adventure awaits in a 30-plus miles Lakes Loop drive from Meredith to Lake Winnipesaukee. Recommended stops along the way begin with a stop at Whippletree Winery in Tamworth, worth a stop for its history alone. This winery in the woods is the location of a 1940s summer cottage originally owned by Virgil D. White, who in 1917 patented the snowmobile. In order to save the cottage, it was moved from Ossipee Lake to Tamworth.
A drive along the “big lake” Winnipesaukee will take you through Wolfeboro, a resort town from 1770 named The Oldest Summer Resort in America. Book a stay for the night at the Wolfeboro Inn and explore the area for a day or two. One of the most fun ways to explore the big lake is to book a ride on Winnipesaukee Belle, a 65-foot replica 19th-century paddle boat. Reservations can be made through Cruise Lake Winnipesaukee.
Continue The Lakes Loop south through Union to Farmington and Route 11 east in Rochester, where you can stop along the way at various antiques shops. In Rochester, you may want to stay a day or two and enjoy a seat at the Rochester Opera House for a music or theater show. Save time to shop at Stonewall Kitchen before you head southwest to Northwood, and to Nottingham, Raymond, and Deerfield.
If you’ve worked up an appetite, a stop at The Lazy Lion Bowl in Deerfield will fuel your stomach’s desire with varied menu selections that include a veggie burger with truffle fries, pan-seared duck, and many options in between.
Continue onward through Epsom, Pittsfield, Barnstead, Gilmanton, and Laconia. If you decide to stop at Laconia, you’ll fall in love with this popular destination located between Lake Winnipesaukee and Lake Winnisquam. It’s also the location of Weirs Beach. Take a walk on the pier and peruse the souvenir shops and take in a movie (yes, there’s a theater here!) and stay overnight at The Manor on Golden Pond to channel Jane and Henry Fonda, who filmed the movie on this magnificent property.
Your final leg of the drive will take you to Route 3 back to Meredith. Loop accomplished!
In Meredith, apple picking at Moulton Farm is only the beginning. Fall is the time when visitors can enjoy getting lost in the farm’s corn maze. Before you leave, you’ll want to search and rescue the perfect pumpkin to bring home.
The White Mountains
Estimated peak foliage dates: October 5-10
Pluck an armload of juicy red apples from the trees at Windy Ridge Orchard in North Haverhill before a stop at the pumpkin patch to personally select a trunk load of gourds and pumpkins to take home. Lunch in the Cider House Café on-site will wow your tastebuds. Think fresh-pressed apple cider and sweet cider donuts as a snack before devouring a specialty sandwich here. Walk off the calories on the property’s nature trails before hitting the road for the area’s abundance of photo opps.
All photo buffs desire a photo of a covered bridge, especially a red one framed in fall foliage. Go west of U.S. 302 on Pettyboro Road in Bath to snap a few photos of this almost 200-year-old bridge that spans the Ammonoosuc River.
The place to stop for breakfast is Banners Restaurant in Conway for a homemade and hearty Woodsman’s Breakfast of three eggs, two fluffy pancakes or French toast and a choice of bacon or sausage links. Call ahead to reserve a spot for lunch in Lincoln at Black Mtn. Burger Co. If you’re a glutton who enjoys telling tales of over-the-top foodie experiences, you’ll want to order the burger that’s layered between two grilled cheese sandwiches and topped with bacon.
The White Mountain Cider Co. in Glen is the place for foodies to experience award-winning plates created by Chef/Owner Miles Williams. This quintessential New England experience is here in a red barn at a table near a crackling warm fire. There’s also a gourmet market for to-go sandwich items and on-site cooking classes.
A visit to The White Mountains during the month of October wouldn’t be complete without viewing the Pumpkin People. This self-guided tour maps out more than 80 locations displaying pumpkins in all acts of life, including deep-sea diving and flying across yards. You have to see it to believe it! The tour begins in Jackson and points south through Conway.
North Conway is where you’ll want to stop, shop, and tap your credit card to bring home fabulous outlet finds. And about 25 minutes away on scenic NH Route 16, the Mt. Washington Auto Road’s unique location in Pinkham Notch will steal the show with mountains of foliage-covered maples. If you’re booked for a stay at Cranmore Mountain Lodge, you can take advantage of a free voucher for a discount on a guided tour.
Whatever region you decide to visit during the fall, you’ll surely drive away fulfilled with foliage-infused memories -- and a carload of apples, pumpkins, cider, and New Hampshire wines.
In order to experience all of the great wineries located throughout the granite state, check out the article “Travel in the Live Free State of Wine” and also download or pick up the NHWA winery passport, available at each participating winery. If you’re driven to win, bring your passport to each member winery in New Hampshire to collect a special prize for visiting them all.