In many parts of New England, when fall reaches its crescendo it seems you can count on seeing gloriously colorful trees while just running errands around town. But at a time when being outdoors feels more necessary than ever, look to your feet to carry you away from the manmade world and into the natural one, where the colors are laid out in brilliant carpets and canopies. And you don’t have to embark on all-day treks to get an intense foliage fix — nature walks and laid-back hikes can be just as rewarding, in their own way, as a sweaty uphill climb that promises a big payoff.
Even better, easy foliage hikes are plentiful in New England’s rural landscape, with many lesser-known ones that tend to be free of crowds. Below, we’ve rounded up suggestions for where to find great easy foliage hikes in every New England state, each with its own unique appeal. If you have one you’d love to share, please let us know in the comments!
The Best Easy Foliage Hike in Every New England State
Courtesy of The Nature Conservancy in Vermont
Easy Vermont Foliage Hike | Barr Hill Trail
Head to Greensboro to gaze out at a landscape that inspired the great American writer and environmentalist Wallace Stegner, who was a summer resident in this part of Vermont’s famed Northeast Kingdom. Owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy of Vermont, Barr Hill Natural Area is a 256-acre preserve crowned by a 2,100-foot summit that provides views of a pristine glacial lake and a horizon filled with distant mountains including Jay Peak to the north, Mount Washington to the east, and Killington to the south. Take your pick of two easy loop trails (0.3 mile or 0.8 mile) through fern glades and grand old conifers; maples, birches, and beeches provide splashes of autumn color. Note: Some visitors have reported that the unpaved access road to the preserve can be a little challenging — but it’s worth the effort to get there.
Easy Maine Foliage Hike | Jordan Stream Trail
Though Acadia National Park’s Jordan Pond Trail will be more familiar to people, this less-trafficked route in Acadia and the neighboring Mount Desert Land & Garden Preserve offers a beautiful, easy walk through forest foliage and along historic carriage roads. Even better, it includes a visit to a century-old rock bridge and a view of an idyllic pond. Running a bit more than 3.5 miles round-trip, the trail begins near Jordan Pond House and follows tranquil Jordan Stream through a mix of evergreen and hardwoods like oak, maple, and beech. Take time to marvel at the c. 1917 Cobblestone Bridge, said to be one of the earliest bridges designed by philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr., who created the park’s signature carriage roads and 17 elegant stone bridges. A quick jog right at the end of the trail leads to Little Long Pond, where you can catch your breath and look back toward Acadia’s Penobscot Mountain.
Rhode Island Commerce Corporation
Easy Rhode Island Foliage Hike | Lincoln Woods Trail
Situated in the town of Lincoln amid the Blackstone River Valley, Lincoln Woods State Park has been a haven for outdoor enthusiasts of all types for more than a century: swimmers, anglers, horseback riders, mountain bikers, snowmobilers, and of course, hikers. And at more than 600 acres, it gives its visitors room to spread out. Though there are a variety of interconnected trails to choose from (more than one hiker has advised bringing a GPS-enabled device if you’re intent on exploring them), one of the most popular options is the 3.1-mile Lincoln Woods Trail loop that starts from the Route 146/Twin River Road Entrance. Routed partly on paved road and over fairly level terrain, it takes hikers past Olney Pond, whose still waters make a beautiful mirror for the foliage colors, and through woodlands studded with glacial boulders and small cliffs.
Easy Connecticut Foliage Hike: Sleeping Giant Tower Trail
OK, OK, we know that this is a very popular pick, but this route in Hamden’s Sleeping Giant State Park has a mix that simply can’t be beat: short and easy hike, big views, and a stone observation tower that looks like something out of a fairytale. (Oh, and the foliage is pretty great too.) Running 3.2 round-trip, the wide gravel trail starts at the picnic area across from Quinnipiac University and leads to the summit of Mount Carmel, where a Depression Era stone tower offers a fantastic vantage overlooking Long Island Sound and New Haven.
Julie Mankowsky/Mass Audubon
Easy Massachusetts Foliage Hike: Wachusett Meadow
Set on a swath of land that once included a c. 1770 farmstead, this 1,200-acre Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuary in Princeton is a haven for autumn hiking. Its mix of woodlands, wetlands, and meadows is crisscrossed with a dozen miles of trails, but if you want to take in sweeping views of the sanctuary be sure to make your way up 1,312-foot Brown’s Hill. Try the Wachusett Meadow North Loop, an easy-to-moderate 3.5-mile loop that offers plenty of meandering to make up for the short but steep uphill portions. And along with the autumn color edging the meadows and blazing in stands of oak, hickory, maple, and birch, you’ll spy a mammoth glacial boulder, historic buildings and barns, and abundant wildlife. Be sure to say hi to the resident sheep!
Easy New Hampshire Foliage Hike: West Rattlesnake Mountain
Love water-and-color vistas? New Hampshire’s Lakes Region has some of the best in New England. While you can find trails alongside the region’s centerpiece, Lake Winnipesaukee, many folks looking for an easy climb head northwest to Squam Lake, which is much smaller but just as stunning, and dotted with scenic islands. You can get a bird’s-eye view with a hike up West Rattlesnake Mountain, less than 2 miles round-trip mainly on the family-friendly Old Bridle Path. The mostly dirt path traverses thick hardwood forest — meaning ample fall color along the way — before reaching the summit, where bare granite ledges offer eye-popping views of Squam.
Which easy New England foliage hike is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!