The last few weeks have been peak season for fall foliage in New England, and I spent the weekend of October 9-11 wandering New Hampshire and Vermont looking for perfect photo opportunities. From the iconic scenery of Sleepy Hollow Farm in Woodstock, Vermont to the industrial skyline of Manchester, New Hampshire, leaves around the region were in full transition.
Whether you want waterfalls, mountains, rambling streams or rainbows of turning leaves, New England offers no shortage of color in mid-October.
With a little help from Google Maps, I was able find a neat location in Lebanon, NH along the Mascoma River, which runs parallel to Interstate 89 near the New Hampshire-Vermont border. After a a 40-yard hike over fallen trees, a blanket of leaves and decommissioned train tracks, I reached the river’s edge near a bridge that once carried trains over water. It presented a perfect fall scene.
Next up was Quechee Gorge, where I hiked along the Ottauquechee River looking for an iconic bridge and gorge photo, but instead found the holes in a fence. On the bridge that carries Route 4 over the chasm, the chain-linked fence has windows cut out that work great for iPhones, but they’re inconveniently placed for tripod shooting. Pesky auto guardrails stand where your tripod legs want to be. So I got creative with the shot rather than trying to manipulate the camera though the window.
Running out of daylight after a 15-minute hike, I ended up with some neat shots at nearby Deweys Pond instead. And what a find it was! The silent and still water provided a near-mirror-quality reflection of fall colors, allowing for some terrific long exposures.
After sunset, I tried some roadside long exposure shots with foliage in the background and auto light trails in the foreground. The results were interesting, but not quite what I envisioned in my mind’s eye.
Retiring to a friend’s house in Ludlow for the night, the plan for Saturday was to visit nearby Buttermilk Falls, and finally stop by the legendary Sleepy Hollow Farm in Woodstock.
After a brief hike through Okemo State Forest, Buttermilk Falls was awaiting with a stronger waterfall flow than I’d expected. A few weeks prior, I’d gone to see Thundering Falls, and was disappointed by a nearly dried up stream. Buttermilk, however, was running strong.
Later I explored a bit more around Ludlow, finding more picturesque train tracks draped in leaves and seated on a bed of white pebbles that provided crisp contrast against a blue sky. After initially driving past Camp Plymouth State Park, I decided to double back and shoot around the grounds and beach on Echo Lake.
I’d left the 70-200mm lens in the trunk, so I was determined to get a close-up zoom shot of bunched trees at my next location. I found the perfect spot for said shot at the nearby Calvin Coolidge Historic Site in Plymouth.
The last site on the Vermont checklist for the day was Sleepy Hollow Farm. Just two weeks prior this location was unencumbered by tourists, but for good reason: the leaves hadn’t started to change. But on October 10, peak season was in full effect in Woodstock, Vermont and as such, at least 100 or more tourists (and a few “Instagram influencers”) were on hand to get their version of the iconic picture you’ve probably seen.
Even in person, the scene looks more like a painting than a real vista. A winding downhill road, draped in fallen leaves, leads to a farm surrounded by every color in the rainbow. Perfect autumn weather conditions generated quite a traffic jam on the otherwise obscure Cloudland Road.
I-89 was especially colorful on my return to Boston, and it was tempting to pull over many times throughout the two-hours-plus ride back to Massachusetts. With sundown approaching, the one stop I did make was off I-93, to find a spot along the banks of the Merrimack River.
Manchester, New Hampshire doesn’t have a very impressive skyline, but it certainly is unique. Fall colors dotted my exposure, delivering better results than I’d expected from the old milling town.
There’s countless photo opportunities in New England throughout October, as peak season starts up north at the beginning of the month and tapers its way south across the region. Some years, the peak lasts longer than others. The 2020 zenith was brief, but it was magnificent while it was among us.