New England - The Colours of Fall
Written by Gregg Henglein
Within the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts sits Mt. Greylock, one of the Eastern USA’s most scenic places, boasting vibrant fall colours across much of its roughly 1,066m (3,500ft) – a height enhanced by a slope steeper than most mountains in New England.
There are several paths up Greylock, the shortest of which takes less than 90 minutes. Perhaps its most alluring feature is the summit, which is larger in area than that of most mountains this size, allowing room to walk and enjoy the views of the Green Mountains to the north, the Catskill Mountains to the southwest, and the Adirondacks in the northwest. On a clear day you can even see the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
The main hiking trail here is known as Hopper Trail. This begins as a moderately steep, narrow, forested path, but eventually widens and flattens out, framed by ferns, spruce, and beech trees. Ultimately, you will reach an intersection with the Overlook Trail. If you take this, it will lengthen your journey by about 1.5km (one mile) or so, and the view, while nice, is only worth the extra length in peak fall season. When you reach more rocky sections on Hopper, you’ll know you’re in the final push to the summit, a national historic landmark with the 28m (92ft) Memorial Tower commemorating Massachusetts war veterans. This can be climbed, but the structure's upkeep is erratic, and as such the views through grimy windows may detract from rather than enhance the vistas from the summit itself.
Perhaps the most varied ecosystems you’ll find are contained on Mt. Equinox in Vermont, where two trail systems offer diverse encounters with wildlife and flora. The foliage is exquisitely picturesque: golds and burnt oranges vivid and sprawling over the surrounding forests.
One system begins in the valley and includes a number of easy to moderate loops of various lengths, trails around Equinox Pond, a path to the Vermont Arts Center, and the only trail here – known as the Burr and Burton, or Blue Summit trail – that actually ascends the mountain. Along this lower trail system, fall hikers may spot whitetail deer, moose, bobcat, black bear, fisher cats, porcupines, and a variety of hardwoods and plant life.
The mid-level transition portion of the mountain is rich with yellow birch and red spruce, after which ascenders reach the second system, focusing on the summit. This includes the route to Lookout Rock – the best view in the state – and a few other short trails. Here you may see peregrine falcons, eagles, snowshoe hare, and the Bicknell’s thrush, where the sweet smell of balsam trees and a variety of mosses, lichens, and sedges abound.
The small state of New Hampshire is home to New England’s highest peak: Mt. Washington. Reaching nearly 1,920m (6,300ft) into the sky, Mt. Washington is home to the strongest wind ever recorded on land – 372kph (231mph). Don’t worry, though, it’s not common. The ascent of Mt. Washington is scenic and serene in the summer, and a real challenge in the winter. Fall combines these characteristics well, as the trees take on dark hues that contrast neatly with the abundance of rock. This is particularly true on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. The 6.7km (4.2-mile) Class-2 hike is a vibrant green during the summer and pure white during winter. By catching it during the autumn transition, you miss summer and winter crowds, thus making quiet appreciation of views such as Hermit Lake (a little more than halfway through) and the grand Tuckerman Bowl a treasure.
With less than a kilometre to the peak, five trails meet at Tuckerman Junction. Rather than staying on Tuckerman, head towards the Lake of the Clouds. There you will not only find a convenient hut at which to rest, but more importantly you will be able to take in the breathtaking merger of the range’s stunningly colourful spectrum framing a lake that, on a clear day, reflects the seemingly touchable clouds in dazzling, softly rippled brilliance. At 467m (1,532ft), Cadillac Mountain in Maine’s Acadia National Park is the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard of the United States. Short compared with others noted here, Cadillac is big – huge, in fact – in scenic stunners.
Around the equinoxes, it is the first place in the USA to see the sun rise. Cadillac is largely composed of pink granite with forests of spruce and pitch pine, woven among small sub-alpine plants (such as cinquefoil), squat, gnarled trees, wild blueberries, and erratically shaped boulders.
Like many of the ridge trails in Acadia, this one is along exposed granite ledges much of the way, offering grand views of land and sea. Here the views include Bar Harbor, Frenchman Bay, and a series of distinctive rocky islands, beginning with Bar Island and extending into the bay with the Porcupines.
The ascent along the primary North Ridge Trail is considered to be moderate, including some steeper grades and level stretches. Other trails are available, but the beauty here is the open ascent which offers a plethora of fine views of Bar Harbor and the islands in the sea surrounding Acadia for pretty much the duration of the hike. The views of Acadia National Park from the top of the mountain are spectacular, hues drizzled across the miles while blue waters make an elegant barrier. The Cranberry Islands are to the southwest, while Bar Harbor – the main town on Mount Desert Island, on which Cadillac sprouts – sits to the northeast.
On a clear day, it is possible to see Mount Katahdin, Maine’s highest mountain and the end of the Appalachian Trail, to the north, and the Canadian province of Nova Scotia to the east – both more than 160km (100 miles) away.
If you’re lucky, it is also possible to see yourself there, enjoying nature at its most inviting.
New York, USA
If you’re willing to venture a bit west of New England, enter northern New York State and visit Whiteface Mountain just outside the small, picturesque town of Lake Placid. One of the Adirondack Mountains’ High Peaks, Whiteface approaches 1,525m (5,000ft), was home to the skiing events of the 1980 Winter Olympics, and features the steepest vertical drop of any ski area east of the Mississippi River. The view from the summit is majestic in all directions, with a host of lakes weaving through a seemingly endless mass of pines, white birches, and maples.
Don’t forget Rhode Island. Sure, the tiny state can’t match its New England partners in mountain hikes, but it’s worth the visit for Newport alone, and a stay at the Mill Street Inn. The former 19th-century mill blends historic charm with elegant amenities and a fantastic location – nestled in the town’s Historic Hill neighbourhood, one block from bustling Thames Street.