Northeast Foliage — Indian Summer Vacations
By Ryley Hartt
Across the mountains of New Hampshire and along the Southern Coast of Maine, the autumn winds carry a strange perfume in their vectors that attracts a serious following on the roadways, particularly around the second week in October. Part organic and part imaginary, the smell is an amalgam of turning leaves and ocean spray, gasoline and tire rubber. For city dwellers and foliage scavengers it is the smell of roads untraveled, and its remedial powers are no secret to those who have lived around these parts. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote; “I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house. So I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air.”
What follows is my take on the perfect Northeast weekend road trip, requiring little more than a tank of gas, a camera and a thick sweater. Of course, anyone following suit in his or her own car should be advised that I do not guarantee the same experience. It turns out that vacationing on a motorcycle is inconceivably more fun, and 639 lbs of chrome and torque are just the ticket to unlocking the real magic of these twisty mountain passes and narrow coastal roads. Luckily, if you don’t own one, EagleRider Motorcycle Rental (www.eaglerider.com) has an outpost just outside of Boston with a full range of Harley Davidson rentals available, sometimes for as little as $75 a day. Their website also features special limited-time offers under ‘Hot Deals’ and a ‘One-Way Specials’ board where you can find some incredible bargains.
Coastal Route 1A: Portsmouth & Southern Maine
Just an hour and a half north of Boston, Portsmouth, NH sits on the northern tip of the shortest—and arguably the prettiest—stretch of coastline in New England. Past the surf breaks and wide-open salt marsh surrounding Rye Beach, just before crossing the Piscataqua River into Maine, Portsmouth offers weekenders a bevy of restaurants, inns and boutique shops to explore. I had intended to make it all the way to Freeport by nightfall following 1A through Kittery, Ogunquit, the Kennebunks and Portland, but after stopping for breakfast in Portsmouth’s Market Square district and stumbling on the newly renovated Ale House Inn (www.alehouseinn.com), killing an afternoon pedaling around the Market Square district on one of their vintage beach cruisers sounded too good to pass up. Located in what used to be the historic Portsmouth Brewing Co. building, this 10-room boutique inn is a perfect blend of its owners’ local cultivation and expertise, combining rustic mid-century charm with modern amenities like the iPad left on the night stand. The innkeepers here will gladly offer recommendations on the 60+ restaurants that lie scattered along the charming back streets of town, though I strongly recommend taking advantage of the 40% meal discount at nearby Ri-Ra, an Irish pub that serves a mean Sunday brunch in a converted bank building dating back to 1803.
Just across the river, Kittery, Maine is perhaps best known as a destination for outlet shopping, though sticking to Route 1 will take you past a string of beautiful, historic vacation homes once favored by 19th century artists and writers like Mark Twain. Even if you’re not interested in antiques or kitsch, it’s worth stopping a few times in the short distance between here and Cape Neddick to check out the historic landmarks of Old Gaol prison and Nubble lighthouse, the Victorian shops along the boardwalk at York Beach and to watch the ocean surge against the rocky outcrops jutting out from underfoot along the Marginal Way Foot Path. If you happen to pass through here before September 30th you can find a stunning panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean from the main gallery at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art, along with 1,600 classic works of art by artists like Edward Hopper and Thomas Hart Benton.
Portland is one of those cities that attract so many superlatives it’s hard to know what to do with them all. For everything that has been said about its dining, history and rugged splendor, it is, above all, a place to discover on foot. Climb the Observatory overlooking Casco Bay and Mount Washington after you have had a taste of the Old Port district, and check out Fore Street (www.forestreet.biz) for their famous wood-oven roasted mussels and seasonal fare made simply from the best ingredients around. For those in need of a comprehensive crash course in the art of being a Mainer, the Harraseeket Inn (www.harraseeketinn.com) in Freeport has it all taken care of. Whether your weekend plans include bagging a lobster, striper, largemouth bass or just picking up enough gear to look the part, this cozy country inn—located across the street from L.L. Bean—makes a perfect home base for an adventure-packed weekend. Just a few miles away, the North Loop Trail at Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park gives hikers easy access to some incredible fall foliage along the shores of the Casco Bay.
Mountains and Lakes
From Freeport, doubling back to head west on 115 brings you to North Windham and 302, which leads up through the Sebago Lakes region to the town of Conway, just across the border into New Hampshire. Stretching from Conway to Lincoln, the Kancamagus Highway (Route 112) is the kind of road that bikers and hikers dream about, a ribbon of undeveloped switchbacks dotted with trail heads and scenic turn-offs that cuts straight through the White Mountain National Forest. The Omni Mount Washington Resort (www.mountwashingtonresort.com), planted at the base of the highest peak on the east coast, boasts 200 rooms and a variety of activities for all seasons, including resort-stabled horseback riding, fly-fishing, a zip line Canopy Tour that operates year-round, hiking and repelling in Bretton Woods. Further south, the Wolfeboro Inn (www.wolfeboroinn.com), which stakes its claim as ‘The Oldest Summer Resort in America,’ also allows its visitors direct access to Lake Winnipesaukee and the historic town of Wolfeboro.
Check out www.visitmaine.com and www.visitnh.gov for more information, trip ideas and foliage reports.