Five Untraditional Ways to Go Leaf Peeping This Fall

Take a treetop stroll, or speed through the branches on a roller coaster.

colorful foliage in the berkshires

Photo by Denis Tangney Jr/Getty Images

One of the joys of foliage season is discovering new venues for leaf-peeping—usually woods and fields where you can stroll or bike beside old sugar maples and birches. But have you ever considered getting into the fall foliage itself? Or high enough above the treetops to admire their colors with a cinematic “God’s Eye” perspective? From treetop paths and zipline tours, to scenic mountain railroads, alpine coasters, and gondola rides, New England offers an alluring menu of opportunities for savoring the fall foliage from unusual vantage points. On some of these arboreal adventures, you might even find yourself merging with the amber and crimson canopy itself.

Travel through the Mountains on the Conway Scenic Railroad 

Before the rise of the automobile, the White Mountains contained passenger rail routes that delivered riders to wildflowering meadows and buzzing bogs. The Conway Scenic Railroad allows you to step back into history by taking a journey along one of the last active passenger railroads in the Granite State. Refurbished 1950s passenger cars replicate the WWII-era train experience as you chug through the fields and hardwood forests near North Conway before emerging from the woods and traversing the enormous cliffs of Crawford Notch—the doorstep of the Presidential Range! All of the trains depart from a depot in the center of North Conway. You can choose from a “Mountaineer” trip to the notch or the shorter “Sawyer River Excursion” tour, which visits one of the region’s most idyllic waterways. Advanced reservations are strongly recommended, and for a peak foliage viewing experience, consider splurging for a seat inside the glass domed car.

Prices and days  of operation vary, 603-356-5251, 38 Norcross Circle, North Conway, NH, conwayscenic.com.

Enjoy a Scenic Ski Lift Ride at Sunday River Resort

Have you ever gawked at the towers of a ski lift in late summer or fall, yearning to take a scenic ride with your legs dangling above the tree canopy? If so, we have good news. The folks at Sunday River Resort keep their lifts running on Saturdays and Sundays even when there’s no snow in sight. Hop into an open ski lift chair or an enclosed gondola cabin and enjoy astounding views of northwestern Maine’s Mahoosuc Range as you glide toward the summit of North Peak. Once you’ve reached the top, you can ride the lift back to the base of the mountain or take a slower descent on one of the resort’s hiking trails. (These routes range from a gentle auto road to steeper and more rugged paths like the Tango Trail.) Tickets for the lift can be bought online or in-person, but you’ll want to arrive here on the earlier side, as the last chair from the summit departs at 4 p.m.

$25, Sat.-Sun., 10 a.m.-4 p.m., 800-430-0772, 15 South Ridge Road, Newry, ME, sundayriver.com.

Take a Treetop Walk at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science

If there’s one place in New England where you can live out your fantasy of exploring the treetop paths of an Ewok village, the Vermont Institute of Natural Science is the natural winner. The museum’s ADA-accessible Forest Canopy Walk allows visitors of all abilities to experience the heights of the Vermont woods. This thrilling boardwalk path begins at the top end of a steep slope in the woods. As the land plummets, the Canopy Walk remains practically level, taking you through corridors of rustling leaves. If you’re game for climbing a couple sets of stairs, there’s also an adjoined tree house and an “Eagle’s Nest” lookout platform that can be accessed directly from the Canopy Walk. But the real highlight here is temporarily becoming a denizen of the branches. Access to the Forest Canopy Walk is included with your general admission pass to the museum.

$18, daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m., 802-359-5000, 149 Natures Way, Quechee, VT, vinsweb.org.

Explore Ziplines and Obstacle Courses at the Discovery Museum

Flying through the trees on a zipline is about as up-close-and-personal as you can get to fall foliage. But at the Bridgeport Discovery Museum, ziplining is just the beginning of your canopy climbing options. Adventure Park—the museum’s own obstacle course—has created 14 treetop “trails” that combine elements like swinging bridges, ladders, and cable runs for an experience that’s both serene and adrenaline-seasoned. Each trail is rated by difficulty in the manner of ski resort trails. Even if you’ve never stepped into a climbing harness before, odds are you’ll find the path that best fits your comfort zone and experience level (friendly staff members are also onsite and ready to assist.) And if you decide that you’d rather remain in close contact with the ground, you can always work on your warrior lumberjack skills at the park’s outdoor ax-throwing course.

$63+, Friday 3 p.m.-9 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.-6 p.m., 203-690-1717, 4450 Park Avenue, Bridgeport, CT, myadventurepark.com.

Brave the Alpine Coaster at Berkshire East Mountain Resort

Most roller coasters take you on a screaming ride above the trees. But the Thunderbolt Mountain Coaster at Berkshire East is a different beast, taking you on a plunging, swervy ride through the forested slopes of Mount Institute. You’ll gain over 1,500 feet of vertical elevation as the lift carries your car up the mountainside, and then you’ll lose it in dramatic fashion as your car embarks on its descent down 3,870 feet of track. Each car comes with its own braking system, which allows you to slow down on those hairpin turns (or you can accelerate and treat yourself to G-forces that would make Tom Cruise grin.) The Thunderbolt runs on weekends through November 12 and prospective riders are encouraged to book their seats online before arriving at the resort.

$17+, Thursday/Friday noon-5 p.m., Saturday/Sunday 10 a.m.- 5p.m., 413-339-6618, 66 Thunder Mountain Road, Charlemont, MA, berkshireeast.com.