Golden ferns strewn along the roadside and fiery red trees reflected in dark, marsh waters—this year’s foliage has arrived with a bang! The colors are spectacular so far and only expected to increase as peak viewing nears.
Last weekend, the region felt abuzz with locals soaking in the staycation vibes and visitors taking advantage of all the outdoor autumn activities. Scores of motorcycles, cars with rooftop kayaks, and even avid cyclists were out and about. If there’s anywhere to be right now, it’s Southwest New Hampshire.
Whether autumn is woven into your soul or you’re new to the leaf-peeping game, the Monadnock Region has plans to make your fall forever memorable. But don’t wait long because the leaves won’t last!
Apple Picking Adventures
This autumn classic comes with so many lovely perks. First and foremost, it’s outdoors, providing lots of space in which to distance, making it a great activity for these times. Just be sure to contact the orchard of your choice in advance to find out about their hours, guidelines, and offerings; some things may be slightly different than in years past, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had.
Once you have arrived, a day of pick-your-own gives the opportunity to taste the flavorful fruits of local orchards, which offer a wonderful variety of apple types. At some spots, you may even find offbeat apples you’ve never heard of before, like the antique Roxbury Russets at McLeod Orchards in Milford. The farm grows several trendy, new varieties, as well.
While picking, it’s the perfect chance to enjoy the Monadnock Region’s sweeping vistas from orchard overlooks, such as Alyson’s in Walpole and Washburn’s Windy Hill in Greenville. What a sweet moment to capture a picture of your favorite couple or family and check that holiday card photo off your list!
Pull the littles in those classic red wagons, enjoy a hayride round the grounds, devour a cider donut, slurp down a cider slushee (yup, that’s a thing), and take home a ton of goodies that will make you smile for the next week. If you’re feeling adventurous, you might even opt for a destination with a corn maze so you can get lost for awhile in awe of the tall stalks above.
No matter your favorite flavor of fall, the area’s awesome orchards are a must at this time of year. Don’t forget to support your local farm stands, which are also bursting with gourds and pumpkins in every shade, cider by the gallon, and all-things autumn.
Take to the Trails
Hiking is another fall favorite here and for good reason. It’s a totally immersive way to experience the season, with brightly colored leaves underfoot and cascades of colorful branches above. If you’re looking for something short and simple, the Monadnock Conservancy has just announced a new jaunt out to the Sip Pond Peninsula in Fitzwilliam.
An easy stroll down the Rail Trail leads to an offshoot that meanders through the woods to the edge of Sip Pond. Fishing enthusiasts are also welcome to use the area. Situated along the water, this relaxed hike is sure to impress with its showy leaves.
If you’re looking for a higher outlook, Honey Hill (view of Monadnock) and Mount Caesar (sweeping views from a rock-ledge summit) in Swanzey both offer a big reward for a moderate climb. The same goes for Kidder Mountain in New Ipswich, which has a wide summit and interesting sights along the way, including two giant urns left atop after a wedding.
There are, of course, Monadnock State Park and Pack Monadnock, both popular destinations at really any time of year. Big views, moderate to challenging trails, and great stories for later make these terrific options, as well, though they may be substantially busier. They also currently require reservations due to Covid-19, so be sure to contact the state park of your choice prior to planning your visit.
Two Wheels or Four?
Maybe you prefer to explore at a faster pace with the wind blowing through your hair. In that case, take a spin around the region and slow down here and there to experience some of the magic that makes this part of the Granite State so special.
If you set aside the day, you can make quite an impressive loop and take in the region’s eclectic towns. Keene is the perfect place to start, with its wide Main Street, which includes unique shops, such as the Hannah Grimes Marketplace. It’s simply filled with finds from local artists and artisans, and you’ll always leave with something surprising.
Stroll around town and visit the other one-of-a-kind stores. On fine days, their doors are open-wide, and the city of Keene requires face coverings when entering any business, so everyone is working together to stay safe. Once you’re starting to feel peckish, pop over to CC&D’s Kitchen Market at 79 North St. to grab a plate of award-winning BBQ and locavore fare for a picnic.
Enjoy your feast on the grass or in the gazebo of Central Square, or step outside the bustle at one of the city’s lovely parks. After lunch, pack it up and head out of town on Route 101 to Marlborough, hooking a right onto Route 124 toward Jaffrey. This not-to-miss route boasts an epic view of Mt. Monadnock with a small pull-off for photo taking.
Route 124 will wind you through historic Jaffrey, the downtown area, and onward past farms and foliage. Look for Route 123, which you’ll take north toward Peterborough, taking advantage of quintessential New England roadways en route. Each stone wall, old oak, and dirt drive resonates with the charm this area is known for.
You’ll find the same upon reaching Peterborough, where the downtown area is filled with lively spots, such as the Toadstool Bookshop (note that the Toadstool also has a Bookshop in downtown Keene). Browse the thoughtfully curated shelves and then zig zag through the other clothing, antiques, and arts businesses all around town.
When you’re ready to get back on the road, pick up Route 136 on the far end of Peterborough and aim for Greenfield. Rural and peaceful, it’s a perfect fall backdrop. Catch Forest Road to connect with Route 123 once more, and spill out into Hancock’s idyllic town center.
Here you can visit the Hancock Inn & Fox Tavern for an outdoor cocktail (garden tables by reservation) and conversation while you’re in town. Make a point of poking your head into the wonderful market nearby, as well.
Though you’d likely love to stay longer, the rest of the loop will be worth your while. Continuing on Route 123, pass by farms and hillsides through Stoddard until you reach Marlow, a photographer’s paradise. The town center rests beyond a still pool of water, and just off Route 10, there’s also the Christmas Trees Inn, a privately-owned, Victorian-style building rich with history.
From here you can start back to Keene on Route 12A South or push onward to Route 10 and down through Gilsum, which will also return you to Keene. Both are surrounded by forest and river, though the Gilsum route delivers more small-town charm if you just can’t get enough. If you head down Route 12A through Surry, be sure to stop off at Crescendo Acres Farm to see the alpacas and other farm treats.
Perhaps you thought you checked out all Keene had to offer at the start of your day, but Life is Sweet Candy Store is an ideal place to wrap up your travels. Enjoy something sweet, like cupcakes, ice cream, or fudge—oh my! And simultaneously revel in the sweetness of your day. There’s simply nothing quite like fall in New England.
Editor’s note: For information on how COVID-19 has impacted the Monadnock Region, visit our COVID-19 information page.