date published: September 29, 2003

Autumn arrives every year, but only in climates like New England’s is its splendor so completely realized. October in Massachusetts comes wrapped in the reds, yellows and oranges of peak foliage season, and communities throughout the region claim ownership of the best viewing spots—that is if Mother Nature is on their side. When and where you travel can make a big difference in the variety of color you’ll see, with the leaves turning their bright hues earlier the further north or west you travel from Boston. But even sites within the city limits could be showing some color as early as the middle of October. If you’re hoping to do some leaf-peeping while in town, the following routes will steer you in the right direction.

The Arborway, Jamaica Plain, 617-524-1718
The good news is that this Harvard University-run botanical garden is located within the city limits and boasts some of Boston’s highest hills. And its 265 acres are filled with an eye-popping array of plants and trees, including the brilliantly colored leaves of the witch alder and katsura varieties. The best time to enjoy its offerings, however, is later in October. But no matter when you’re able to pay a visit, the Arboretum offers excellent views of the Boston skyline, impeccably groomed landscaping and free walking tours of the its vast plant collections (Wednesday at 12:15 p.m., Saturday at 10:30 a.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m.).

From Cambridge: Take Rte. 2 to Rte. 2A to Rte. 27 South to Rte. 117 East to Rte. 128 to the Mass Pike
Driving some of the smaller, less-traveled roads through Concord, Acton, Maynard and Stow is a relaxing way to take in the foliage while making pit stops at historic sites such as Concord’s famous North Bridge and Walden Pond (978-369-3254), where Henry David Thoreau wrote his famous tome Walden. The route we’ve listed above would be about an hour’s drive roundtrip. If you have more time, pick up Rte. 62 (off of Rte. 117) and continue traveling west to Wachusett Mountain Reservation (978-464-2300), where you can drive, hike or take the skyride to its summit for a panoramic view of the countryside.

From Boston: Take the Mass Pike (I-90) to I-91 North to Rte. 2 West; or take Rte. 2 West from 128
The Mohawk Trail runs 63 miles from Orange, Massachusetts west towards the border of New York. It’s one of the oldest scenic routes in the country, dating back to post-glacial times when it was a well-travelled footpath used by Native Americans for trade, hunting and socializing. Fall foliage season is by far its heaviest traffic time, but with top views of the surrounding mountains, historic towns and state parks, you won’t mind the slower pace. It also boasts more than 100 sights of interest, making frequent stops a must. Don’t miss spots like Mt. Greylock Reservation in Adams, the highest peak in the state, and Turner Falls with its impressive namesake waterfall.

From Rte. 2: take Rte. 7 South
The splendor of the Berkshire Mountains can be toured further by heading south along Route 7, a prime path for leaf-peeping and a convenient route to several historic sites and points of interest. Start your trip with a visit to Mass MoCA in North Adams (413-662-2111), the country’s largest contemporary art center, then make a stop in Pittsfield and visit the historic home where Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick (413-442-1793). In Lenox, you can take in the beauty of Edith Wharton’s estate and gardens (413-637-1899) and, once in Great Barrington, hike to the top of Monument Mountain.

From Boston: Take 93 north to Rte. 101 West
If you want to stay closer to Boston but still want to catch the peak foliage, try heading north. Wilton, New Hampshire is only an hour drive and is home to the Wilton Scenic Railroad (603-654-RAIL). There you can leave the car behind and board a diesel train to see foliage the old-fashioned way. The two to three hour trip takes you past scenic Zephyr Lake and offers serene views of the most climbed mountain in the Northeast, Mt. Monadnock. If you choose to climb it yourself, on a clear day, you can see all the way to Boston from its summit.

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