Take a Drive on New England’s Most Beautiful Scenic Byways
Get the most out of fall foliage with these trips.
From day trips to weekend getaways, our biweekly Traveler newsletter shows you the best of New England and beyond.
Roaring highways like I-95 and the Mass. Pike may be the most efficient way to travel through New England, but byways are where the magic of the northeast really catches you by surprise. The New England countryside is a veritable spiderweb of scenic local roads built for travelers with time to burn and an itchy camera finger. Whether you’re pulling G-forces from the hairpin turns of New Hampshire’s Kancamagus as it winds through the Sandwich Range or pulling over for some fresh-caught steamers on Maine’s Coastal Route 1, odds are you’ve already had a taste of New England’s scenic byways. This fall, go deeper and experience new dimensions of the Yankee landscape with these overlooked and visually splendorous drives.
Each state has its own unique definition of “highlands”—even Little Rhody. A scenic drive along Rt. 102 takes you up and over some of the Ocean State’s mightiest hills, which are speckled with dense forests and villages where you’ll find homestyle cooking, handcrafted gifts, and historic relics that speak to the centuries-old allure of Rhode Island. Begin in North Smithfield with breakfast at Coffee & Cream, where glistening cinnamon buns and loaded crepes are served in a barn-like dining room—or grab some Portuguese baked goods for the drive at Brigido’s Fresh Market. As you pass through Burrillville, check out St. Theresa’s Catholic Church to visit the world’s first shrine to St. Theresa of Lisieux, and don’t miss the cool cave-like grotto beneath the “Holy Stairs.” (The place has Big Lord of the Rings Energy.) Next, consider some meditative forest bathing at the nearby George B. Parker Woodland Wildlife Refuge, where Revolutionary War-era carriage roads and boardwalks offer prime deer and fox-spotting opportunities. Commemorate your journey with Rhode Island art foraging at Yes! Gallery in North Kingstown.
Imagine moving through a rustling tunnel of orange and crimson leaves so dense and alive that the trees seem to have swallowed the other cars. That’s what driving the Currier and Ives Byway feels like: a deep immersion into the mysterious woodlands on the west side of New Hampshire’s Lakes Region. The quietude of the region—plus the covered bridges and historic villages with 19th Century aesthetics—give the drive a palpable time-traveling vibe. Kick off the journey with a maple-drizzled halfstack at the Intervale Farm Pancake House in Henniker before motoring to Contoocook Village to hunt for unusual jewelry at Indigo Blues & Co. As the Currier and Ives Byway forks near Warner, turn left onto Rt. 103 for a climb to the summit of Mount Kearsarge at Rollins State Park. Then backtrack to the junction and turn left onto Rt. 127 to follow the byway to its terminus in Salisbury, where the sun-splashed patio of Black Bear Vineyard beckons.
Woonsocket, RI—Orange, MA
Most Bostonians are familiar with the Quabbin Reservoir as a vital source of drinking water. But how well do you know the rustic and boggy ecosphere surrounding the Quabbin? The Rt. 122 scenic byway is a breathtaking immersion into this overlooked corner of the Bay State, taking you through deep evergreen forests and mossy wetlands where moose are prone to making appearances. (That’s right—there are moose in Massachusetts.) This drive is for the traveler who wants to leave civilization behind for a few hours and reacquaint with the landscape. While Rt. 122 technically begins in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, we recommend setting off from Worcester with a visit to Cascades Park, where spattering waterfalls pour into the city’s northwest suburbs. As you approach Petersham, veer west to visit the Dana Town Common, the eerie site of a village that was leveled and flooded by the state to create the Quabbin Reservoir. Next, continue onward to Soapstone Hill, a 2.7-mile hike with a gradual climb that leads to a stunning panoramic vista of overlook of the Quabbin’s deep blue waters. And on the return journey, don’t miss Barre’s Stone Cow Brewery, where you can enjoy milk stouts or “field-to-flame” BBQ beside cow pastures.
Clarksburg, MA—Newport, VT
Side-winding and climbing through the Green Mountains, Rt. 100 is often called “Vermont’s Main Street” and if anything, the moniker undersells the superlative beauty of this drive. By fall, the humpback peaks have transformed into amber and crimson giants. Farmstands along the road will have you reaching for the turn signal. Many travelers drive Rt. 100 to experience the southern half of Vermont, but it’s worth driving the entire distance to the northern mountains of Stowe and the cow pastures in the remote Northeast Kingdom. So make a weekend of it. Pick up the byway near Brattleboro. Visit Calvin Coolidge’s childhood home in Plymouth Notch. Marvel at Moss Glen Falls as you drive through Granville. Indulge your apple cider donut fixation at Waterbury’s Cold Hollow Cider Mill, and as you enter “the Kingdom,” stock up on fresh-hopped ale and malty barleywine at Rock Art Brewery in Morristown. Cyclists should also consider bringing their wheels: an especially gorgeous section of the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail is accessible from Oxbow Park.