Subscribe Today -- It's Free!
The Heart of New England
Celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine ~ New Hampshire ~ Vermont
©The Heart of New England online magazine
...celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine, New Hampshire & Vermont!
Contact| The Heart of New England HOME | Search

Click Here to Get Your FREE Weekly Newsletter Today!

Join us on
FaceBook or
for exclusive updates
on travel specials,
& more!

Click here for your FREE
weekly newsletter! (And
get 12 FREE desktop

Bring the heart of
New England into your
home with beautiful,
affordable, high-quality
New England prints.
Visit our
Gallery today!

Visit our
Marketplace for
everything New England!

More Travel Info
Peak Season:
New England Looks Great in Plaid
by Polly Tafrate

“What’s peak?” asks our guest from Kansas as she watches the evening news in
our New Hampshire cottage. “The newscasters keep pointing to maps when they
talk about it.”

I have to chuckle. Of course the concept of peak would be foreign to her. But to
those familiar with New England lingo, that word, "peak," is as well known to
New Englanders as referring to one of the following: black flies, frost heaves or
leaf peepers.   

I explain that the media tries to alert viewers when the fall foliage is the most
vibrant—its peak.   

To the dismay of many, nature doesn’t always cooperate with Columbus Day
weekend. Often that’s too late for peak, but never too early. In actuality, there’s a
span of several weeks when the mountains, hills and valleys are spectacular.    

New Englanders know when foliage season is approaching without having to
look at their calendars. The most obvious hints are the flame-tipped leaves of
reds, oranges and yellows that appear overnight.

Subtler indicators are the wild turkeys seen pecking at rose hips along the
roadsides, orange signs posted for hunters at sporting goods and general stores
to designate them as Deer Registration Stations, and scores of signs stuck in
people’s front yards promoting candidates in the November elections.  

Not to be ignored are the infiltration of cars and trailers with license plates from
Texas, Ohio and Florida. “We’re sticking around to see the colors,” these visitors
will tell you, whether you ask them or not. Make no mistake, leaf peeping is a
season of its own, just like the other three—snow, mud and summer (a.k.a. July).

Driving north during peak, you’ll pass many tour buses, or they’ll pass you.
You’re both headed to the same place, only they have firm reservations.
Arthur Flour, the world-famous baker’s store in South Norwich, Vt., is one of
their favorite stops. Anyone is welcome, but if you see the buses parallel parked
in their lot, you know the place will be swamped. Last year they offered free
homemade pancakes with “real”-- that word in New England always comes
before the words -- maple syrup.

Another popular Vermont destination is the
Farmway Store, in Bradford. They
claim to be “Complete Outfitters for Man and Beast,” and that they are, selling
everything from country clothing to saddles to livestock feed. A huge and
recently-built gift barn is adjacent to the bus parking lot.

One of the hardest things will be choosing what to do. Local papers, library
bulletin boards and roadway signs will guide you towards these events --
pancake breakfasts, craft fairs, flea markets, yard sales, fall festivals, auctions,
book sales—they’re everywhere. Or you may want to stop at an orchard to pick
apples and munch on homemade donuts—one won’t be enough.

If you like to cook, stop at the numerous farm stands to buy squashes, potatoes,
and any fruits the frost hasn’t blessed. The difference in taste is astounding. It’s
also a neat time to buy your Halloween pumpkins, gourds and decorative
mums. For the more active folks, the back roads offer some of the most scenic
and peaceful spots to walk or bike. Hikers and rock climbers—you’re in for a

One thing you’ll quickly learn about New England is its ever-changeable
weather. It can be delightful with cool, crisp, clear sunny days and evenings
filled with the aroma of wood smoke and a hint of the frost to come which will
make you grateful for your  car’s seat heater. But the weather can also be fickle.
There have been weekends of torrential rains and wind, which caused the leaves
to fall prematurely to the ground. Another year it was unseasonably hot, humid
and hazy encouraging many to stay close to the lakes and forgo the traditional
fall activities.       

Getting to some of these destinations can take time, so pack your patience along
with your walking shoes, fleece and gloves. Speed limits are subject to change as
leaf- peepers think little of stopping, getting out of their cars and walking along
the road two or three abreast in search of the perfect picture. Rather than being
annoyed, just pull over and capture your own Kodak moment.    

When you get hungry for dinner, and you will, you can go to a restaurant where
you’ll probably have to wait in line for a table. Another option are church
suppers where the food is always home-cooked and delicious. Their menus vary
from turkey to ham and beans to spaghetti. One of our favorites is held in
Groton, Vt., —a chicken pie supper which usually feeds about a thousand
people. Residents cook and bake the fifty-six chicken pies and biscuits, make
gallons and gallons of gravy to accompany the pie, peel and mash over three
hundred and fifty pounds of potatoes and butternut squash and chop bushels of
cabbage for the coleslaw. Hundreds of apple and pumpkin pies and rolls are
made by bakers in town. All this is accompanied by homemade cranberry sauce,
sweet pickles and gallons of coffee and tea. There are four sittings every hour
starting at 4:30 . For this one you need reservations, but for the multitude of
others you just walk in.  

Finding a place to sleep is like looking for a place to stay during parents’
weekends at college. Those in-the-know make reservations weeks, months and
sometimes a year in advance. The quaint inns, summer rental cottages, hotels
and motels are likely booked as the receptionist on the other end of the phone
will tell you, “for foliage.” Some natives open their homes to “the peepers.” No,
not as in Bed and Breakfasts, but rather like the old-fashioned tourist homes
where the shared bathrooms are down the hall.

New England ’s fall colors are not something anyone should miss. In fact, The
Northeast Kingdom (the northern parts of Vermont and New Hampshire) is
listed in the book, 1000 Places to See Before You Die, describing it as “fall foliage

Over the years my husband and I have learned some things about leaf peeping,
the main one being to leave Columbus Day weekend to the tourists. In fact this
year we’re heading north at the end of September. Think we’ll hit “Peak’?  

About the author: Polly Tafrate is a well-published freelance writer who especially enjoys
writing about New England.