Best Foliage Drive in New England?
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.
Head through the cluster of homes that make up the village of Belvidere Center; if you feel like lingering awhile, Tallman’s Store here may just be the most authentically un-selfconscious country emporium in the state.
Now you’ll begin a steep climb. Bright-yellow birches light up this portion of the route, but the main event lies just ahead, as the road tops out and drops to reveal a spectacular view of Belvidere Mountain.
Chances are you’ll spot a lot of vivid red maples along the slopes rising to the left. When you reach the end of 109, bear right onto 118. Just past the junction of the two routes, the view is a bit starker, as the gray skeletons of trees drowned by beaver dams mark the southern edge of Long Pond (on your left) and frame the brighter colors beyond. This is moose country, and the roadside warning signs should be taken seriously, especially near dusk.
The pond, with its undeveloped shores, is a lovely reflector of the surrounding forest. For a more active view, pull over at the Long Trail State Forest parking area less than a half mile ahead; from here, trek either north for the 2.8-mile climb to the Belvidere Mountain summit and fire tower, or south for a gentler, 1.7-mile ascent to a lookout over remote Ritterbush Pond. But even if you never leave your car, you can still enjoy a fine display of reddish-orange sugar maples as you pass the trail crossing on your way toward an open plateau and the intersection with Route 100 at Eden.
Bear right at the general store to head south on 100. Follow the avenue of pines — a pleasing contrast to the variegated hardwoods in the middle distance. You’re looking south now, toward conical Elmore Mountain and the peaks of the Worcester Range. Bear left at the Y in North Hyde Park to stay on 100, as you enjoy faraway vistas and, closer at hand, the tidy farms and stands of birch along the way to the village of Hyde Park.
Turn right onto Route 15 at Hyde Park and head northwest toward Johnson, as you follow the valley of the Lamoille River, where colors come a bit later and linger longer. Just the opposite is true on the steep sides of Whiteface Mountain, which dominates the view to the left. Beyond Johnson to the drive’s conclusion at Jeffersonville, the valley panorama continues, with one interesting variation: Along this stretch are a few of the area’s surviving elms. But don’t expect a color extravaganza from these handsome, vase-shaped trees — elm leaves simply turn yellowish-brown.
Try both routes and you’ll make a rough figure 8 through some of Vermont’s best foliage country. For a graduate course in Lamoille leaf-peeping, grab a map and head farther afield — perhaps around Mud City, to the nether reaches of Morristown, or along the back roads south of Route 15 in Wolcott, leading to the hills above Lake Elmore. And come back for an annual refresher, because the colors are different every year.
WHEN YOU GO