Susan Gough Henly gets behind the wheel to explore the byways of bucolic New England

Tucked into the northeastern corner of the United States, New England comprises six states: Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, each of which exudes its own distinctive charm.

Most New Zealanders think of New England as the ultimate place to see autumn colours, which is true given how many maple, oak and chestnut trees dot the countryside.

But this is a fabulous region to explore in any season, with road trips the best way to discover craggy coastlines, covered bridges, red-barn-dotted farmland and classic villages with white-steepled churches.

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Here are four great drives to get you on your way.

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Scenic Byway 100, Vermont

Slicing north-south through the green heart of Vermont is the 338km-long National Scenic Byway Route 100, which runs between Stamford at the Massachusetts' border in the south and Jay, near the border with Quebec in the north.

Scenic Byway Route 100 runs between Stamford at the border of Vermont and Massachusetts, and Jay, near the border of Quebec. Photo / Supplied
Scenic Byway Route 100 runs between Stamford at the border of Vermont and Massachusetts, and Jay, near the border of Quebec. Photo / Supplied

Much of the road travels through the Mad River Valley, offering vistas of dairy farms dotted with red barns and framed by the Green Mountains. It offers the perfect way to access New England's finest ski resorts, including Killington, Sugarbush, Okemo Mountain, Mount Snow, Stratton and Stowe, as well as terrific hiking trails, pretty waterfalls, and even white-water rafting on the Mad River.

There are some great pitstops along the way, including the Vermont Country Store, which opened in the town of Weston in 1946 as the first restored rural general store in the nation, and the more eclectic Warren General Store, in the village of the same name. Each offers its own curated selections of practical and hard-to-find merchandise both from Vermont and around the world.

To discover some of Vermont's gourmet specialties, including artisanal cheeses, ciders, craft beers, honey and maple sugar products, stop at the Mad River Taste Place in Waitsfield, but be sure to leave room for a gourmet meal at Hen of the Wood restaurant and ice cream at iconic Ben & Jerry's in nearby Waterbury.

All in all, Route 100 offers a way to slow down and enjoy Vermont's bucolic scenery and small-town country life.

Roadtripping through New England is great any time of year, not just when fall leaves are turning colours. Photo / Supplied
Roadtripping through New England is great any time of year, not just when fall leaves are turning colours. Photo / Supplied

The White Mountains Trail, New Hampshire

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The White Mountains Trail is a 160km National Scenic Byway that forms a loop trip through the heart of the White Mountains between Interstate 93 and Route 16 in northern New Hampshire.

Winding through the White Mountains National Forest, which includes New England's most rugged mountains, the White Mountains Trail traverses three historic "notches" or mountain passes and seven covered bridges, and accesses roadside waterfalls, dozens of scenic outlooks and several historic sites. It is often described as offering some of the best autumn foliage viewing areas in the world.

You can access the long-distance Appalachian Trail at several places as well as numerous shorter hikes including the 2.3km Forest Discovery Trail near Conway and the 5km walk through the spectacular chasm at Flume Gorge in the Franconia Notch State Park. If you're lucky, you may even see a moose in the woods.

Stop at the grand Mt Washington Hotel for a panoramic view of Mt Washington, which at 1917m is the highest peak in the eastern United States, or ride the Mt Washington Cog Railway, the world's first mountain-climbing cog railway, all the way to the top. After all this stunning scenery, reward yourself with some fabulous deals at the North Conway shopping outlets.

Old King's Highway and more, Massachussetts

Drive along 127km of history and coastal beauty on Cape Cod. While the Old King's Highway officially runs between Sandwich and Provincetown, this suggested drive has been extended 30km to start in Plymouth, the site of the Pilgrims' first colony in New England.

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower in North America. The drive connects Plymouth to Provincetown, where the Pilgrims landed in November 1620.

This is a terrific road trip for history buffs and nature lovers. Originally a Native American trail, the Old King's Highway (also known as Route 6a) became a cart path for early settlers and, during the 17th century, evolved as an extension to the Plymouth Colony's "King's Highway".

Today, Route 6A still follows much of the original path along the north side of Cape Cod and is blissfully free of all but a few traffic lights. Architecture buffs will enjoy the wide array of historic buildings from the Colonial, Federal, Georgian, Queen Anne, and Victorian periods that line the route, which still features a few original stone walls.

Highlights include the Plimouth Plantation, which tells the story of Plymouth Colony, some of the most historic villages in North America including Sandwich, Barnstable, Yarmouth, Dennis, Brewster and Orleans, as well as the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.

These days, Provincetown is a colourful bohemian seaside resort on the tip of Cape Cod, particularly popular with the LGBTQ community. Whale-watching tours leave from here, Barnstable and Plymouth.

Take a break from driving to stretch the legs in Acadia National Park. Photo / Getty Images
Take a break from driving to stretch the legs in Acadia National Park. Photo / Getty Images

Highway 1 and the Acadia All-American Road, Maine

Starting in Portland, Maine's largest city, follow Highway 1 along the craggy coast for 260km to Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island on the edge of the beautiful Acadia National Park, where you can take a loop trip on the spectacular 64km Acadia All-American Road.

Feast on fabulous seafood and great craft beers in Portland, sometimes called the foodiest small town in America, before heading north to Freeport, home to famed Maine outdoor outfitters, L.L. Bean. Explore its seven-acre flagship campus (as well as a host of outlet stores) before continuing north to the historic 19th century shipbuilding town of Bath with its impressive Maine Maritime Museum.

Acadia National Park in Maine, New England. Photo / Supplied
Acadia National Park in Maine, New England. Photo / Supplied

Make time to visit the Farnsworth Art Museum, which celebrates Maine artists such as Winslow Homer and the Wyeths in the artsy town of Rockland before exploring the yacht-filled township of Camden. Circle the rocky shores of Penobscot Bay, an important fishing area, and stop at roadside shacks to sample Maine's famous lobsters, oysters and other seafood.

After crossing the bridge to Mount Desert Island, spend time in pretty Bar Harbor, which has been a popular summer holiday destination since the 19th century when powerful American families built their summer "cottages" here.

From spring through autumn continue your road trip along the Acadia All-American Road in Acadia National Park, New England's only national park. Wind your way along the rocky coastline and through woodland to the top of Cadillac Mountain for a panoramic view of the Maine coast and Atlantic Ocean.

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