Who hasn't put a drive through New England in the fall on their bucket list? We certainly had, and in October of 2016, we fulfilled that long-time dream. Our trip took us from Freeport, Maine to the spectacular state parks of the White Mountains of New Hampshire, then on through some of the charming little villages of Vermont, and ending in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Three Nights in Freeport, Maine
The state of Maine, with its thick forests, many lakes, and rugged coastline, has been a favorite destination of ours for years. Rob's daughter, Michelle, her fiancé Matt, and our grandchildren, Mikey, Ellie, and Aria Rose, live there, so of course, our first stop of the trip was in Freeport to visit with them for a couple of days.
Freeport, Maine, a town of about 8,000 people 20 miles up the coast from Portland, was incorporated in 1789. It was known for timber and shipbuilding between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Now it's more famous as the headquarters of L.L. Bean, the internationally known outdoor store. The Freeport store is huge, filling an entire city block, with three floors of equipment and clothing for camping, hunting, fishing, hiking. Every visit to Freeport has to include a visit to L.L. Bean!
We spent three nights in Freeport one of our favorite hotels in the world, the beautifully restored old Harraseeket Inn. Each of the guestrooms is individually decorated, and we loved the charming 17th century feel of our large room on the top floor. There are two restaurants in the hotel: a light and lovely room that provides breakfast each morning and the The Broad Arrow Tavern that offers a huge buffet lunch and dinner. The large living room of the hotel includes an afternoon tea.
As soon as we got checked into our lovely room, we headed to the nearby Harraseeket Lobster Pound, our favorite local spot for fried clams and lobsters!
Our young grandchildren kept us busy for two days. The warm sunny weather was perfect for a drive up the coast to "Land's End" on the tip of Bailey Island to play on the beach. This built up our appetite for a huge lunch at Cook's Lobster and Ale House where we marveled at the huge piles of lobster traps. (And Rob marveled at the price of lobster rolls. He remembered buying them for about $5, and now finding one for under $25 was nearly impossible!)
Lunch was followed by the obligatory visit to L.L. Bean where the children enjoyed the trout pond inside the store and climbing on the giant boot outside.
The next morning, we all met up again at the Maine Wildlife Park, which serves as a sanctuary for local animals that are not able to survive in the wild. The huge park retains its natural woodland setting and the animals have large enclosures that allow them to roam. The children had a great time running full-tilt from one exhibit to the next. They especially liked the thousands of brook trout swimming in a huge tank at the fish hatchery, which provides 1.2 million trout to the lakes and rivers of Maine each year.
We ended the day at Michelle's family cottage by Range Pond, one of the thousands of little lakes that dot the New England landscape. Rob and I drove back to our hotel along little country roads lined with trees blazing with red and gold. The fall foliage here was not at its height yet, but there were explosions of color scattered through the thick green woods. It almost looked as if someone had spray-painted randomly through the forest. Just a taste of what was still to come!
Two Nights in the White Mountains of New Hampshire
We woke to rain, but it didn't dampen our spirits as we drove to our next destination, the White Mountain Hotel in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Our GPS took us along two-lane country roads through quaint little New England towns of church spires and salt-box houses. All along the way, Mother Nature was showing off her splendid Autumn robes of pinks, reds, yellows, oranges and browns.
Lunch was homemade mushroom soup at the hotel. The rain had ceased, so we used the cool, cloudy afternoon to take a long hike through the woods and around Echo Lake, enjoying the views of the fall foliage and the huge granite hills looming over us.
The next day was a festival of fall foliage! We woke to very cold temperatures but no rain, and set off to explore the "White Mountain Loop," which took us to all of the highlights of New Hampshire's White Mountains, which are the northern part of the Appalachian Mountains, and the most rugged mountains of New England. At this time of year, the huge white granite mounds were an abstract painting of color. The round peaks of the trees in the distance looked as if brightly multi-colored cotton balls had been glued to the mountain sides.
Our first stop was Crawford Notch State Park where we took a vigorous hike up to Ripley Falls. As usual, my very fit husband zipped on up, while I huffed and puffed my way to the top - but the views of the colorful world below were worth the climb! We were excited to discover that this trail was part of the famous Appalachian Trail, so we now have bragging rights that we have hiked at least a teensy part of it!
The next stop was a step back in history - the grand old Mount Washington Hotel, which was the site of the Bretton Woods International Monetary Conference of 1944, where the Allied powers met to hammer out agreements to stabilize the world economy following WWII. The Bretton Woods System remained in force until 1971 when the U.S. terminated the convertibility of the dollar to gold. The hotel, which opened in 1902, is enormous and filled with photos of its history. Behind the hotel stands Mount Washington, the highest peak in the northeastern United States. The mountain is notorious for severe weather and holds the record (231 miles per hour) for the highest measured wind speed not associated with a hurricane or tornado!
The early afternoon was spent at Franconia Notch State Park. We took a stroll to The Basin, a large pool carved out millennia ago by the ice age glaciers that scoured this area. We followed that easy walk with our second long hike of the day on the loop trail up to The Flume, a narrow passage carved through the granite cliffs. Along the way were a multitude of streams and waterfalls, chipmunks and squirrels, and of course, bright flashes of red and gold on the trees.
We ended this beautiful day with a drive back to the White Mountain Hotel along the famous Kancamagus Highway - 34 miles of colorful vistas and thick woods.
Three Nights in Stowe, Vermont
After our very full day yesterday, it was nice to have a slower paced day. We said goodbye to beautiful New Hampshire and drove under bright sunny skies to Vermont. The scenery changed from the looming granite hills and forested landscape of the White Mountains to a more pastoral scene of small farms and meadows in the low hills of the Green Mountains of northern Vermont.
By lunchtime, we arrived in the bustling little village of Stowe. Although the 2010 census put the population of the town at only 4, 314 people, this is a very popular tourist center, and it had a much busier feel than Freeport. Main Street was lined with cars creeping slowly down the thoroughfare and people crowded the sidewalks.
Stowe is renowned for a variety of activities. It is known as the "Ski Capital of the East," and the Stowe Mountain Resort boasts 40 miles of ski trails on nearby Mount Mansfield and Spruce Peak. Stowe celebrates this claim to fame in the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum. Of more interest to this musical loving girl, Stowe is also the home of The Von Trapp Family Lodge, still managed by members of the Von Trapp family of "Sound of Music" fame. The Lodge has become a full-fledged resort, with miles of hiking, mountain biking, and skiing trails, and an annual Oktoberfest Celebration (held in September!) We didn't visit the Lodge, but I bought Maria Von Trapp's autobiography while we were in Stowe.
Our hotel, The Green Mountain Inn, was right in the heart of town. It is a delightful place. The Inn, first built in 1833, started as a building of stables. As it grew, several wings were added and cobbled together helter-skelter on several levels. We had to walk up to the second floor, walk down a hall, then descend down a half-flight of stairs to reach our room...but, oh, what a great room! Tucked at the back of the hotel, so it was nice and quiet, with a big comfy four-poster bed, a huge jacuzzi tub, two armchairs, and a gas-powered fireplace.
After lunch in the Inn's old tavern, we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the town and, by chance, discovered the town's wonderful recreation trail. We strolled along the river for about a mile enjoying a delightful leisurely afternoon
The next morning found us back on the Stowe Recreation Trail, this time for a much longer hike. We criss-crossed Little River over several rustic wooden bridges, spotting evidence of beavers along the way - trees that had been gnawed down to little stumps and a few beaver dams and lodges in the river. Our seven-mile hike took us through woodlands, past farmland and meadow, with views of the Green Mountains, bright with the fall foliage in the distance.
We took a lunch break at Pie-casso Pizza restaurant for an excellent pizza, then returned to the hotel where I soaked my poor tired feet in the great jacuzzi tub in our room.
The rest of the day was spent browsing around the tiny town, which was decked out in a celebration of fall - every building decorated with corn stalks, pumpkins, and flowers of yellow and orange. I must admit, it made this California girl a little envious of those parts of our country that experience four distinct seasons!
The rain blew in with a vengeance in the early afternoon, so we spent the rest of the quiet afternoon reading and napping, then ended the day with a final walk in the cool evening.
Along Highway 100, the "Spine of Vermont"
The next day was a travelin' day, with several fun stops along the way. We left Stowe in the morning and spent the day exploring the little towns along Highway 100, called the "Spine of Vermont" as it runs north to south through the center of the state.
Just south of Stowe is the Waterbury Village Historical Village, and here you will find the original factory of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream. Well, naturally, this was a "must-stop-here" site for me. We took the tour of the factory, including an ice cream tasting. (Give me the choice between a wine-tasting and an ice cream-tasting, and I'll pick the latter every time!) Following the tour, we visited the hilarious Flavor Graveyard where retired (or disappointing) flavors were laid to rest. I was impressed by the social consciousness of this organization, which uses sustainable and fair-trade ingredients, renewable energy sources, and recycled water.
We stopped for lunch at a deli/bakery in the ski resort town of Killington where Rob used to ski during his college years at Rutgers University. The Wobbly Barn Bar where he and his buddies used to hang out after skiing was still there after 45 years.
The next stop was the cute and tiny town of Weston - really just one main street, but renowned for the famous Vermont Country Store, packed with wooden rafted room after room of cheeses, wines, snacks, soaps and body lotions, toys, clothing, tools. Basically, it was your down-home country general store gone wild. My best discovery there was Darn Tough socks. I had never heard of them, and I don't usually tout products in this blog, but they have now become a staple in my wardrobe.
As we drove south, we continued to ooh and aah at the gorgeous fall foliage that lined the highway and covered the hills.
Two Nights in Massachusetts
It was a long drive all the way to our final destination, so we stopped in Pittsfield, MA to sleep before continuing the rest of the way to Cambridge, the home of Harvard University. We turned in our rental car and checked into a lovely boutique hotel, the Hotel Veritas, then spent the afternoon walking around the gorgeous Harvard campus, which was crowded with both students and tourists. After a week of small villages and wooded countryside, the crowds and traffic felt a little overwhelming, but the city and campus were lovely.
There is a good reason that a New England Fall Foliage Driving Trip gets put onto so many bucket lists. This was one of the most beautiful weeks in all of our travels!