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Best Foliage Drive in New England?

Best Foliage Drive in New England?
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Stowe, Vermont
Photo/Art by S. Iversen
Stowe, Vermont

Vermonters claim their state has the most gorgeous foliage of all — and the 24,000 residents of Lamoille County will tell you that what they see in their 16 towns and villages can’t be topped. Follow along on these two back-road drives through the heart of the county, and see whether you agree.

Depending on when you time your trip, the colors will be either descending toward the greener valley or brightening the lowlands as the summits turn the dun shades of late autumn.


Loop One: South Through the Pass

The village of Jeffersonville, in west-central Lamoille County, is the starting point for this 42-mile journey, which includes the steep, snaking road through Smugglers’ Notch. Take Route 108 south (Mountain Road) out of “Jeff,” climbing as you follow the swift little Brewster River. That’s Madonna Peak directly ahead on your way out of town; as you pass an open field on the right about a mile up, though, the dominant view to the south is of Mount Mansfield’s Chin — at 4,395 feet, the loftiest point in Vermont.

Toward the left, the scarlets and oranges of red and sugar maples spread across the foothills of Whiteface (a.k.a. Sterling) Mountain; farther along, near the main entrance to Smugglers’ Notch Resort, yellow birches crowd the road. If you want to enjoy the colors nearer the uppermost portions of the Notch, you’ll have to be content with more subdued hues down below, as the higher reaches of Mountain Road — and, even more, the steep slopes that hem it in — will peak a week or two earlier.

There’s a good deal of birch near the crest, and their yellow turns golden as sunlight filters down between the beetling cliffs. Beyond, as you begin the descent into Stowe, blazes of red maple spread across Mansfield’s southern flanks.

“Red maples do well on poor growing sites,” explains Lamoille County Forester Ray Toolan, “and these trees shut down and change color early.”

For a grand gaze down into the valleys and as far west as Lake Champlain, take the Mount Mansfield Toll Road to the Nose of the mountain’s recumbent profile; the entrance is roughly halfway between the crest of the notch and Stowe. Or continue into the village, forking left onto Route 100 and heading toward Morrisville. Elmore Mountain looms ahead, beyond farm fields bordered with maples.

To skip Morrisville’s bottleneck streets, shunt off left (and then quickly right) onto Cady’s Falls Road (about 1.2 miles north of the Morrisville-Stowe Airport). It skirts Lake Lamoille and its reflected hardwoods and reaches Hyde Park by way of a one-lane bridge just before the village. Bear left onto Main Street in Hyde Park and head through town; keep an eye out for a horse-chestnut tree whose leaves blaze yellow in the fall. Off Main Street is a gravel road paralleling the “Ten Bends” section of the Lamoille River; it joins Route 15, which heads through Johnson to Jeffersonville.


Loop Two: Where the Rivers flow North

A slightly longer foliage loop (46 miles) also starts in Jeffersonville. Begin by heading north out of town on Route 108; follow it across the Lamoille River Bridge, and then switch to Route 109.

This road roughly follows the river’s North Branch toward Waterville; as the views to the north open up, you’ll see color spreading down the slopes of Laraway Mountain, directly ahead. “Trees on the higher elevations change color first,” explains county forester Toolan. “The soils are poorer up there, and there isn’t as much water.”

About a mile and a half north of Waterville, the Jaynes (a.k.a. “Kissing”) covered bridge, just off 109 on the left, spans a rocky stretch of the North Branch and stands against a bright backdrop of foliage. The road starts to climb here, and when it crests and begins to descend, you’ll be treated to open views of Laraway and, opposite, the Cold Hollow Mountains. Again, depending on when you time your trip, the colors will be either descending toward the greener valley or brightening the lowlands as the summits turn the dun shades of late autumn.

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Updated Sunday, June 15th, 2014

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4 Responses to Best Foliage Drive in New England?

  1. Rosalie Cooksey September 4, 2008 at 11:48 am #

    Great story for this part of Vermont. I am hoping you will do the same for The Lakes Region partially in Southern Vermont. Keep up the good work!

  2. Robert Skibniewski September 17, 2008 at 10:13 pm #

    We have been up to “Jeff” and the surrounding area many times and highly recommend spending time up there. The scenery is GREAT and the local people are fantastic and the food is the best in New England. Can’t wait to get back there to enjoy again.
    Robert Skibniewski
    Cheektowaga, New York.

    PS Hi Tom, Nancy and the kids.

  3. Nina Foley April 28, 2012 at 4:03 pm #

    I plan on coming to New England for about 7+ days with a friend and my mother. We are flying into Boston, renting a car and then free to do what we like. We all love nature, seeing the sites and not sitting to still for very long so we can take it all in. We have had one suggestion of going south to Newport, Cape Cod etc. The other to go north Bar Harbor, White Mountains, Green Mountains, Berkshires and back to Boston. I guess there is no way to get it all in one trip, will give us an excuse to come back! But any suggestions would be great! Mom is in great shape and loves to get around, just FYI….

  4. Judy Berce August 7, 2014 at 12:00 pm #

    Bar Harbor is very busy(too busy for me) this time of year and my daughter & I prefer going to Schoodic Point by following out of Ellsworth.If you’re looking for all sorts of shops then you’d like Bar Harbor..but the natural beauty is all around you at Schoodic! Point!

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