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New England 1-8 October

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My friend and I (from UK and in our 60s) are hiring a car from Manchester airport NH. mid-day 1st October.
Our purpose is to see the fall foliage. I have looked at several sites and suggested routes but they seem to be by state and I need guidance across the 3, ME, NH VT. I am now completely confused! The coastal towns of Kennebunk/Oginquit look interesting , are they? Would we then head to the White Mountains,? If so, where do we go once we are there and from there please? Any itinaries/suggestons would be very very welcome! we are returning the car to Manchester. Thank you.

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    Ogunquit and Kennybunk are both very charming coastal towns but you will not be likely to have lots of color along the coast that early. Driving up through the White Mountains will be more colorful and hitting the Green Mountains in Vermont will too. You could spend some time there and get a bit of seafood then head for the hills. You would need to back track aouth on i 95 then to NH 16 north to 11 north. You might get some color in the area around lake Winnipesaukee, say in the Meredith area and then head up north on i93, but if you continue on 16 north to Conway and then take the Kancamagus Hwy (112 west) to Lincoln there is likely to be nice scenery. from there you could take i93 north to St. Johnsbury, VT and then west to Montpelier, VT. Pick up i89 north to 100 south and work your way back to the airport.

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    Thank you for your advice. We will forget the coast. Leaving from Manchester airport, about 1pm where would you suggest we drive to for our first night? Please bear in mind neither of us have ever driven on your wide highways. We both live in Portugal, two lanes are unusual and, of course, we drive manual cars - the original country bumpkins are coming! Would you recommend we then stay 2 in the White Mountains area, the same in Montpelier/Burlington area then 2 nights in the Green Mountains area. Should we put Stowe on our list please?
    Our preference would have been to visit for 8 days including the Columbus weekend but we are deterred by the anticipated volume of 'leaf peepers' and the difficulties of reserving accommodation. Thank you, once again.

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    If you can wait until tomorrow, I will work out a possible route for you. I have driven, hiked, climbed, and snowshoed over much of this area. It would be useful to know roughly your budget for lodging and your other interests (museums, shopping, birding, hill-walking) etc.

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    Kennebunkport and Ogunquit are gorgeous seaport villages, well worth a visit - and early October will get you shoulder/off season rates. I'd recommend going there first. Lodging in Wells (in between the two) tends to be more economical.

    The foliage starts in the far north and east around the last week of September (though there is a bit of color earlier) and moves south and west, so you should go as far north as you care to go and travel in the same direction as the foliage.

    Last October 2-3-4-5 we were as far north as Dixfield Notch, NH and Island Pond, VT. It was "early", but there was plenty of color all over.

    Stowe would be preferable to Montpelier, and I wouldn't bother going all the way to Burlington, unless you want to see that city and the lake.

    The farther north and east you stay, and higher up in the mountains, the more colorful the foliage.

    Be advised that you should make overnight reservations forthwith.

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    Okay, I promised a route, and here it is, albeit late.

    First, you needn't worry about our highways since where you are going is far from heavy traffic, except perhaps on the way back to the airport. Besides, you have wonderful motorways in Portugal.

    Second, you needn't worry about automatic transmissions since the difficulty is the other way -- from automatic to manual. You also have the advantage of driving on our side of the road from your time in Portugal.

    Third, some terminology. You will encounter three sorts of roads: Interstates (abbreviated "I+number), which are dual or more carriageway motorways with limited access; US highways, abbreviated US plus number, which are like A routes in the UK, comprising either dual or single carriageways with many crossing roads and junctions. We do not use roundabouts to manage these, and you may encounter traffic signals or Four way stops. Finally, there are state routes (VT 100 or NH 103) which correspond to B roads in the UK. Standards of curvature and maintenance vary, but they are almost always very scenic.

    Fourth, some of the areas you will visit are very remote. You may well see bears and are almost certain to see moose and deer. I would avoid driving after dark for this reason. You should also carry some snacks in the car and top up your fuel when you get a chance because you may not find what you need when you need it. Think driving in the Yorkshire moors or Scotland.

    Finally, before we do the route itself, I am not telling you where to stop nor eat nor am I giving absolutely detailed directions. I would suggest working out the route on Google Maps, then printing them off. I am taking you on what will be a series of loops through beautiful scenery. You may want to stop for photographs, shopping, coffee, the loo (in short supply, never pass one up). This area is filled with country inns, and this is their busy season. There are also ordinary hotels at most of the major road junctions, and I will tell you where these are likely to be. But only you can decide how much you want to drive and where and how early you want to stop. Vermont is famous for cheeses and dairy products, Maine is known for fish and shellfish. NH is pretty much American!

    Follow the signs from Manchester airport to I-293, then I-93 north toward Concord. Just before Concord, take I-89 toward White River Junction and Burlington, VT. At Exit 9, turn west onto NH 103, and follow it through the Sunapee region, taking NH 103B alongside scenic Lake Sunapee itself before joining and following NH 110 to I-89 again at exit 12A.

    Continue on I-89 to White River Junction, then exit to US 4, westbound. This will take you to Woodstock, a town of great charm with nice restaurants and a rare public loo in the town parking lot. If you flew to Manchester from the UK and are jetlagged, this makes a nice evening stop. You have driven about a hundred miles, some of it on twisty roads. You will need to book in advance as it is a very popular place.

    Leave Woodstock on US 4 west to a junction with VT 100. Turn north at VT 100. This is an extremely scenic road that runs through the narrow valley known as Mad River Glen at the bottom of the Green Mountains. Mind that you bear left at the junction with VT 107, then stay on VT 100 all the way to Stowe, though there are certainly plenty of places of interest to stop along the way.

    From Stowe, take VT 100 all the way north to VT 58 at Lowell (sounds grander than it is). Follow VT 58 east to Irasburg, then turn south on VT 16, detouring slightly to pass through Craftsbury Common and Craftsbury, quintessential Vermont white villages. Follow VT 16 to its junction with VT 15, and follow that east to US 2, which goes on to St Johnsbury, a good-sized town with lodging and restaurants. Alternative: when you are at Lowell or Irasburg, you are really not very far from the Canadian border. If you haven't been to Canada, you can add it to your bag, but there isn't much to see in that part of Quebec. But don't miss Craftsbury.

    Leave St Johnsbury eastbound on US 2. Cross the beautiful Connecticut River at Lancaster and continue east past the Presidential Range of the White Mountains. The largest peaks, named for American presidents and between 1500 and 2000 meters, will be on your right and are likely to have snow on the peaks when you are there. At Gorham, there is a nice railway station. Turn south on NH 16 just beyond Gorham and drive through Pinkham Notch (notches are passes). You will have the Presidentials on your right the entire time and will see Mt Washington, the tallest, especially well from the beginning of the Auto Road. On your left will be the Carter Range, mostly around 1500 meters. You can drive the Auto Road to the summit of Mt Washington or be driven in a van, but there are better ways to the summit, which I will cover later.

    Shortly after you crest the Notch and begin to go down, you will come on your right to the Pinkham Notch center of the Appalachian Mountain Club. It is open to the public and is a base for hiking, climbing, and Nordic skiing. There is a restaurant, shop, lodging, and lots of public toilets. Just beyond the lodge is a famous sign that says: "The area ahead has the worst weather in North America. Many have died. Do not attempt this climb unless . . ." It is a wonderful place to take a photo to send to your friends. The weather is so bad -- the highest wind ever recorded anywhere was at the Mt Washington Observatory -- because there is essentially nothing to stop a wind from the North Pole until it hits the White Mountains. Huntingtion Ravine on the slope of Mt Washington has been used in winter to train for Everest. It is often foggy at the top, and rime ice and snow can form twelve months of the year.

    Continue down the Notch to Glen, passing Jackson, a pleasant skiing and touring center on your left. There is good lodging and good eating there. At Glen, you have to make a huge decision. To your left is North Conway: there are lots of places to sleep and eat amidst horrible outlet shopping places for those whose idea of a holiday is buying discount clothing. To your right, follow US 302 through Bartlett, an old railroad town, to Crawford Notch and beyond. The Appalachian Mountain Club has another hiking hostel at the top of the Notch, and if you are walkers, there is a wonderful easy trail, the Mount Willard trail, leading from here to splendid views down the Notch. Further along in Crawford Notch on the right is the Mt Washington Hotel, site of the Bretton Woods monetary conference during WWII and a lovely place to stay provided you can afford it.

    Shortly after the hotel, you will see signs to the Mt Washington Cog Railway in Fabyan. This is the earliest cog railway in the world -- the Swiss and Indian cog railways only copy this one -- and steam trains take visitors to the summit of Mt Washington. You may want to take the ride whatever the weather, but views from the top are by no means guaranteed. I have hiked it a number of times, from both Pinkham and Crawford notches, and you do have to be fit.

    Back on US 302, continue northwest to Twin Mountain, where there is a major junction. You want to turn south on US 3 to Franconia Notch, the third and last great notch in NH. You will pass through the Notch on I-93, a rare section with slow speeds and lots of access to parks and viewpoints. There just isn't enough room here to get in all the roads! This notch is the former site of the stone formation "Old Man of the Mountains", which, alas, collapsed several years ago. But don't worry. There is a park (with toilets) that will explain it all, and the lake is still picturesque.

    Enjoy the looming mountains until you reach Lincoln. Then watch for NH 112 east, the Kancamagus Highway. In two weeks, this road will be clogged with tour buses because it is famous for its color. Even on your early visit, you will not be alone. But it is a very pleasant drive, and if you want to stop at any of the trails along the way and take a walk, you are quite likely to be alone.

    The Kancamagus ends at NH 16. Turn north to Center Conway, where, if you can resist the temptations of the North Conway outlet malls, you can rejoin US 302 toward Fryeburg, Maine, and ultimately to Portland, Maine, about 60 miles away.

    Portland is an extremely pleasant small city with excellent shopping and restaurants. It is also a good base for touring to the north and south. To the north, the college town of Brunswick and the island village of South Harpswell are charming. To the south, Ogunquit and Kennebunkport are less than an hour away. If you have not hit outlet malls, Freeport, home of the outfitters LL Bean, is a good place to let loose.

    Best of all, Portland has a public ferry system that serves the islands of Casco Bay, many of which have people commuting daily to the city. After all your driving, you should pack a picnic, take the inexpensive ferry to Bailey's or one of the other islands, and enjoy a well-deserved rest.

    If you like lobster, this is certainly the part of the country where you will find them at the end of every road that meets the sea.

    When you are ready to return home, Manchester is less than two hours away.

    Have fun!

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    Still, it would be better to head for the coast of Maine first, then as far north and east as you care to go - as there will be more color farther northeast (Gorham, Bartlett in NH, the Northeast Kingdom in Vermont) than Woodstock, VT.

    The above, nicely detailed, driving route would be better done in the reverse, in my opinion - for maximum fall color.

    Even a few days can make a great difference in the amount of color.

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    I think it is weather-dependent, dj. If the weather is not so hot, I would go to Maine first since there are more indoor possibilities.

    There isn't likely to be much color along Lake Sunapee or near Woodstock, but they are pretty areas and a lot more pleasant, in my view, than blasting up I-93. The higher they get (altitude and latitude) the more color, and we have them at Connecticut Lakes by day 2 or 3.

    Our family used to climb Mt Chocorua every Columbus Day. Some years color was fantastic, some years it was still green, and some years the leaves were all on the ground. Weather and September storms make all the difference. Trying to tell someone where the color will be or if it will be a good year, as you wisely note, isn't simple. So let 'em see good stuff, whether it is as colorful as it might be or not.

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    For sure, the weather is wildly variable. We've been in Northern NH the first weekend of October many times - one year Indian Summer with very warm temps and sunshine, the next needing down jackets for the snow flurries!

    We never worry about the weather, since we're in the car most of the time. And, I think the colors are even more beautiful in the chillier and/or overcast weather, even when it's raining!

    If the purpose of the excursion is to see fall foliage, which is best enjoyed by driving all over, it's just make the most sense to head where there's the better chance of the most color.

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    You've already gotten some terrific suggestions. If you hit some bad weather, you can consider touring some museums or doing some shopping. I think you've picked a great time to visit. There's a good chance the color will be good to great north of Concord NH. It might look pretty green when you arrive in MHT but it will change as you head north. Apples are terrific that time of year if you visit a farmstand with a good selection, not just the traditional Macintosh and Cortlands. You can get a list of orchards on each state's dept of agriculture website. You will be doing a lot of driving so you might look for some events or special places to visit. On Oct 3 Brandon VT has a harvest festival with leaf people. We haven't attended this particular event but we love Brandon and have enjoyed their 4th of July events. If you don't mind some good walking, the Great Vermont Corn Maze in Danville VT is near Littleton NH. The maze is very challenging and fun but you can take an "emergency exit" to the top and enjoy the views. Danville is sort of between Stowe and Littleton which is north of NH's White Mountains. The scenery in VT is more rolling, open farmland in some areas whereas NH's White Mountains are rocky and craggy. VT's Green Mountains are more like big hills. A visit to Maine's coast would make a nice end to your trip or middle or beginning. Keep in mind that many of the lobster shacks will be open weekends only that time of year but there are plenty of year round restaurants that serve lobster etc.

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    Thank you Ackislander for your hard work and time, thank you everyone else for your contributions. I have passed this on to my friend and I am waiting to hear from her.
    I think she will probably prefer to go the the coast first and then go to the White Mountains as she had initially wanted to go to Mystic CT or Martha's Vineyard having seen them on a travel programme. Time doesn't allow that unless we reduce the N.E. part to about 3 days. I worked in P.Town some years ago so I am famliar with your charming traditional sea-side properties.

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    The route suggested will be lovely. But I can't emphasize this enough -- you need to make hotel reservations NOW. You may already be limited in your choices. This is a very popular destination at that time of year.

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    Now I have a major challenge! My friend is unable to accompany me. I am eager to come but will have to do it on public transport
    with my luggage. I don't have the confidence to drive and find my way! I can get to North Conway/Gorham route) or to Littleton/Franconia/Lincoln on the 93. I am thinking maybe it would be better to make a base for 2 nights on the 93 and on the 16. Any ideas where please and how would I get across the Kamcamagus route, Cog Railway and Conway scenic railway? Coach/Rail tours are out of my budget (2000$ plus single) Any thoughts please? Rooms right in the centre of the towns could also be challenge. Thank you.

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    I am pretty sure it cannot be done in any way you will find satisfactory. I used to take the bus to the White Mountains to climb and hike, and it is not satisfactory for the ordinary tourist owing to odd arrival and departure times.

    Please do not be afraid of driving here. North of Manchester there is little traffic, and what there is will be going quite slowly on smaller (state) routes. I would not suggest you drive to Boston. That can be daunting. But the Vermont state routes are like rural drives in the UK and better than Scotland :-) as there are no sheep on the roads!

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    Thank you for your re-assurance! As I will be coming from Buffalo I am thinking about flying into Burlington VT and picking up a car there, are there freeways from the airport? the alternatives are Lebanon (White River Jct)or Concord It depends on the volume of traffic! I could drop off at Manchester, if I was brave, or would it be wiser to drop off at Lebanon or Concord? There is public transport from Burlington to Lebanon. Lebanon to Manchester, Concord to Manchester. I have to do the least stressful. I am going to UK tomorrow and then Indonesia to see my son and family so won't have net access until 15th July. I really wanted this sorted but don't have the time to book flights, car and accommodation. Not a good idea to do it in a rush. I haven't even looked at the accommodation situation yet. I am stll working on arriving on Friday 2nd October/9th October giving me 6 full days. Do I need that long? Any advice please? Thank you.

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    Burlington is fine, and really there is no heavy traffic until one is south of Manchester, which is in Boston commuting distance. While the interstate from Burlington to Concord is itself scenic, you really want and need to get onto the back roads.

    You are rushed, though, and you may want to postpone until another time if it seems stressful.

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    MHT is a fairly small airport, only 10 gates I think. The hardest part is following the signs out of the airport. There's not a lot of traffic. I'm familiar with Manchest/MHT, not with the other airports and it might be the cheapest. Follow signs for Brown Ave/ I93. The airport road puts you on a regular city street. You will make a right hand turn to get onto 101 east/ I93. It's right before you go under a bridge and there are traffic lights.
    What can be confusing is that Brown Ave/Airport is off Rt 101 which is halfway between I293 and I93. It doesn't matter whether you get on Rt 101 east or west or end up on I93 instead of I293 because both merge into one interstate hwy I93. BUT going back to the airport, stay on I93 southbound and then take Rt 101W to the airport because there is less traffic in that direction and the airport exit to Brown Ave is a simple right hand off ramp. A friend who flies frequently says each way is the same mileage.

    Since you plan to arrive on Friday Oct 2 northbound traffic will be very heavy until you get north of Concord esp between 4 and 6 pm during commuting hours. Don't fret if it becomes stop and go or crawls along. This is typical of Friday afternoons. There is a toll booth in Hooksett where there might be some backup. Get in the right hand lane to pay the toll. The middle lanes are for people with automatic transponders in their cars that pay for the toll by a billing system. If there is a lot of traffic they will open up the left most lanes for cash tolls but it's better just to get in one of the two most right hand lanes because they are always open. If you take I93 you will already be in the left hand lanes when the two highways merge so you don't have to cut across traffic.

    Now you can follow the directions to Rt 89 to head to VT or stay in Rt 93 to go to the White Mountains. You will have plenty of time to enjoy some foliage. Even if you had to stay in a Concord hotel or motel, it's a lovely small city. The Holiday Inn is right on Main St. Once parked you can walk to the downtown shops and restaurants. The other hotels are very convenient to I93. The lakes and mountains are 1-2 hours north. The seacoast is 45 minutes to the east and VT is an hour to the west. It is about 3 hours from Concord NH to Burlington VT to give you an idea of how small the region is.

    I would choose a few things to do that will let you get out of the car, like a boat or train ride or simply walking around a downtown area. You can make a short visit to one area but I think with 6 days you can easily see the mountains and the coast. Maybe by the time October rolls around another friend will decide to join you. If there's a lot of traffic someplace it will be moving at a slow speed so just be patient.

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    I have checked out car hire and I can hire from Burlington airport and drop off at Lebanon airport with no extra cost. However if I go into NH I pay extra. I have looked at hiring from Portland but I have to pay a drop off charge going to Manchester. So it comes back to Burlington v Lebanon. I can pick up/drop off at Lebanon but my decision will be made upon which airport gives me the easiest access to the main road! Is anyone familiar with both airports please? Thank you again.

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    I've driven in the Lebanon area but not seen the airport. It must be very small so you shouldn't have any trouble at all. It's not a city area although Dartmouth College and Dartmouth Hospital are nearby. It's near the VT/NH border and convenient to Rt 89. Here's the link to the website, you can see by the photo that it's very small. http://www.flyleb.com/ The only commercial flights I see listed are Cape Air. Some people don't like small planes.
    Burlington is an International Airport but probably smaller than Manchester. I've only driven in the area, not seen the airport but Burlington is a small city. It's a beautiful area. Here are the driving directions from that airport's website http://www.burlingtonintlairport.com/directions/directions.html

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    I have decided that I will hire a car from Burlington and drop off at Lebanon as I can then visit Quechee and Woodstock before getting the bus to Manchester. Can you please give me your opinion on my thinking of looking for accommodation in the Stowe, St Johnsbury area for one for two nights them heading towards Gormham and down to N. Conway\Bartless, Crawford Notch to do the scenic railway and Cog Railway. Where do I go from there Lincoln, FranconiA OR ???? This is hoping that I CAN actually obtain simple/single lodgings in these areas but am I on the right track please? I will require 7 or 6 nights either moving on every moring or staying two nights in each place? Decisions, decisions!!!! Thank you.

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