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5 Ways to Leaf Peep in New England Without a Car

Enjoy a Fall Foliage Escape Using Public Transportation


So, you're an urban dweller... based in New York City or perhaps Philadelphia or even Washington, DC. And you want to head to New England during fall foliage season, but there's one catch: You don't own a car. Maybe you don't even possess a valid driver's license, so renting a car isn't an option.

You might also be visiting from afar... perhaps even from overseas. You've flown into Boston or NYC, and you're longing to see spectacular leaves, yet the thought of navigating your way out of the city in an unfamiliar vehicle—especially if you drive on the left side of the road back home—may be intimidating. It's costly, too, to rent a car (check rates) and pay for fuel.

I won't lie to you: Driving is really the best way to see New England's autumn scenery. But if you're determined to leaf peep and don't have the full week typically required for New England fall foliage bus tours, here are five fabulous ways to enjoy a short fall foliage escape in New England without a car:

1. Take Amtrak to Brattleboro and Bike

The Amtrak Vermonter train departs from Washington, DC, daily, with stops in major urban hubs including Philadelphia and New York City en route to St. Albans, Vermont. Not only can you leaf peep along the way, when the train pulls into Brattleboro, Vermont, you're a three-block walk to the Brattleboro Bicycle Shop, where you can rent a hybrid bike for just $25 for a 24-hour period (as of 2013). Call ahead to reserve a bike: 802-254-8644. MapMyRide suggests plenty of scenic Brattleboro Cycling Routes for you to explore. From the Amtrak station in Brattleboro, you're also literally steps from Whetstone Station Restaurant and Brewery, where you can savor foliage and water views while sipping a pint of their latest brew: This nanobrewery only crafts one beer at a time. You're also just a four-minute walk from the Latchis Hotel & Theatre (check rates): a cool place to crash for the night.


2. Leave Boston Behind on a Leaf Peeping Bus Tour

© Kim Knox Beckius

If you're in Boston without wheels, one of the easiest ways to join the leagues of leaf peepers is to buy a ticket for the Fall Foliage Spectacular bus tour (book direct), a nine-hour odyssey offered daily in season. The bus will pick you up right from your hotel, and you'll soon be soaking in the New England countryside in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. There are plenty of stops for photo ops and food, and you'll have a half-hour to pick your own apples and watch cider being pressed at an apple orchard, too.


3. Retreat and Reenergize in Vermont

As days grow shorter and the leaves put on their annual display, it's the ideal season to refocus on your inner rhythms. Good Commons in the village of Plymouth Union, Vermont, is a former country store turned yoga and culinary retreat, where fall foliage season guests relish not only the opportunity to learn from some of New England's finest yoga instructors and chefs, but the chance to enjoy fall walks, to unwind in the hot tub or by the fire and to feast on healthy comfort food. Choose from a variety of themed retreats in the fall, and best of all for those without a car: Getaways are priced to include transportation from New York City or Hartford, Connecticut, aboard The Good Bus.


4. Escape Reality in the Connecticut Hills

Rock Hall - Addison Mizner Mansion Turned Inn in Colebrook Connecticut
© 2009 Kim Knox Beckius

Architecturally intriguing Rock Hall and its lush surrounding 23 acres can be your very own fall foliage play place, even if you don't own a Rolls-Royce or even a Prius. Once you check in, all of the delights of autumn in Connecticut's Litchfield Hills await at this inn, which was built in 1912 as a private mansion estate. The grounds feature an antique apple orchard and one of New England's largest private collections of specimen trees, so you won't need to venture off-property to leaf peep. And every romantic indulgence you can imagine can be arranged for you, too, from a horse-and-carriage ride to a gourmet picnic to spa treatments beside the fireplace in your room. Bicycles are provided for guests who want to explore country roads, but with a fitness room, game room, billiard room and movie screening room right inside the mansion, you'll be thoroughly entertained. So, just how will you get there without a car? Hop aboard a Peter Pan Bus bound for Winsted, Connecticut, or take a Metro-North train to Waterbury, Connecticut, and simply make advance arrangements with the innkeepers for car service to the inn when you reserve your stay.


5. Hike with the City in Sight

Photo of Fall Foliage at Houghton Pond Blue Hill Reservation Massachusetts
© Lien Nguyen

The protected natural expanses of the 7,000-acre Blue Hills Reservation lie just about 10 miles south of Boston, but that's a long distance away when you don't have a car at your disposal. Good news: This state park and its 125 miles of trails for hikers of varying abilities are accessible via public transportation. Your trip will be a bit complicated, but embrace the adventure! To reach the Blue Hills Trailside Museum, a good starting point for a day of outdoor fun beneath a colorful canopy of fall foliage, you'll need to take the T—Boston's subway—to Ashmont Station (use the Red Line). There, you'll connect with the Mattapan High-Speed Line to Mattapan Station. To reach the reservation, the final leg of your journey requires a ride on JBL Bus Line's Mattapan to Canton Center bus (Route #716), which does not operate on Sundays and holidays or after 12 noon on Saturdays. The trek will be worth it when you follow the 3/4-mile Red Dot Loop Trail from the Blue Hills Trailside Museum to the top of Great Blue Hill. From Eliot Tower at the summit, views stretch out over the autumn landscape to the Boston skyline. The Trailside Museum sells snacks and drinks, but you may want to pack a picnic. Several other public transportation options are available, weekends included, if you wish to reach other areas of the park.


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