Boston Fall Foliage: Where to Go Leaf-Peeping In and Around Boston
Thousands travel through New England every autumn to witness the changing colors. From the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire to the northern reaches of Maine, there are plenty of places to soak in the atmosphere. But you don’t have to travel too far from Boston, either; in fact, some of the best places to see the trees are close to the city. Here, the color peaks around mid-October as it “travels” from northwest to southeast across the region.
Boston Public Garden
One of the most accessible leaf-peeping spots in the city.
A quintessential Boston green space, the Public Garden is a year-round mecca for experiencing the beauty of nature right in the middle of downtown. At the northeast entrance, see the “Make Way for Ducklings” sculpture, based on the famous children’s book of the same name. Then, check out the pond at the center of the gardens, where swan boats ply the calm waters (until Labor Day). Even if the season for those is over, you can still enjoy the weeping willows and marvel at the surrounding skyscrapers. Then, hop on a tour of the Freedom Trail to learn more about the city’s history.
The Emerald Necklace
An unfinished gem in central Boston.
Designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the same architect as New York’s Central Park, the “Emerald Necklace” refers to a 1,100 acre (445 hectare) string of parks and green spaces stretching from the Boston Common to Franklin Park. Though the complete vision was never realized, the highlight of the downtown section is the Fens, which sits near Fenway Park and the Museum of Fine Art. This section of small ponds, sports fields, and gardens runs through the Longwood area, which is also home to most of the area’s hospitals. You can also walk or bike through the changing colors down to Jamaica Pond, just a few miles away, or join a bike tour through the adjoining neighborhoods.
For fans of slightly more exotic trees.
Situated within Boston and easily accessible thanks to the Orange Line, Arnold Arboretum is a park owned by Harvard University that doubles as a research institution. It’s the oldest of its kind in the United States and a perfect place to witness the changing seasons because of its great variety of trees. It’s home to species not just from New England but from around the world, with a special focus on China and Taiwan. Today, more than 14,000 individual plants from around 4,000 different species call the Arboretum home. A view of Boston also awaits you at the top of the well-maintained main path.
Middlesex Fells Reservation
Home to striking fall views.
Just north of Boston and easily accessible through both public transit and Interstate 93, the Middlesex Fells is a 2,200 acre (890 hectare) reservation that stretches across five different towns. In the west, you can enjoy the fall foliage and climb to Wright’s Tower, which has an excellent view of downtown Boston. In the eastern portion, use the aptly-named Rock Circuit Trail to scramble up and down various outcroppings that each present their own views of the surrounding area. When you reach any of these peaks, you’ll be shocked by how much of the surrounding area seems to be changing color. After your hike, you’re already halfway to Gloucester, where you can enjoy a whale-watching tour off the coast.
Blue Hills Reservation
Hikers and leaf-peepers alike will be kept entertained here.
In the opposite direction from Boston as the Fells, the Blue Hills is another large reservation, also only about 20 minutes by car from downtown. It’s a place with a long importance in the region for the Native people of the area: “Massachusett,” which is the origin of both the name of the main local tribe and the state itself, refers to the highest point in the reservation. Now called Great Blue Hill, that high point provides another perfect vista of the Boston skyline, the Harbor, and the South Shore. At over 7,000 acres (2,833 hectares), this reservation offers plenty of variety—and challenge—for a leep-peeping day trip.
Mount Auburn Cemetery
Chase your leaf-peeping with some local snacks.
This historic resting place is famous for its well-manicured trails, evocative ponds, and wide variety of trees. From the Washington Tower, built in the mid-19th century, look over the rest of the cemetery as well as the skyline of downtown Boston. Many historic figures are buried here: Mary Baker Eddy, the creator of the Christian Science church; the early healthcare activist Dorothea Dix; and the Senator and abolitionist Charles Sumner. Ponder the many unusual graves (including a large Sphynx) before heading across the street to the award-winning Turkish bakery Sofra or exploring the art and food scene of nearby Central Square.
The Western Greenway
Indulge in outdoor activities and autumn scenery.
In the suburbs of Belmont and Waltham lies the Western Greenway, a trail that connects several of the area’s best nature reservations. In the east, see turtles and explore the region’s ecosystem amid the changing seasons at Mass Audubon's Habitat Wildlife Sanctuary. Then, walk over to Lone Tree Hill or Beaver Brook, both just across the road, for some trail running. Finally, stop by Stonehurst to explore the former estate that now serves as a public park full of drumlins, small hills formed by glaciers in the last ice age.
deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum
Culture and fall-time views combine.
Mix your leaf peeping with some culture at this unique museum, just west of Boston in the town of Lincoln. This 30 acre (12 hectare) park is home to an exhibition of large outdoor works from some of the most prominent sculptors in the world. Take your time to explore every inch of this place—the fallen leaves could very well have covered some of the sculptures, though, so take your time—and enjoy the one-of-a-kind atmosphere. After, venture through the next door town of Concord with a ghost tour that explores the area’s Revolutionary history.
Get up early to beat the autumnal crowds.
Under two hours from Boston, this mountain in southern New Hampshire is one of the easiest ways to get into the deep forests of New England without traveling too far from the city. It’s a moderate hike to the peak, which provides 360 degree views—on a clear day, you may be able to see Boston itself. However, try to get an early start, because the beauty here is an open secret: Monadnock is known as the second-most-climbed mountain in the world, after Mt. Fuji in Japan. While you’re in New Hampshire, consider tasting tea in Portsmouth or learning about colonial flintlock muskets in Charlestown.
Well worth the ferry ride.
Nantucket is farther from Boston, but provides an opportunity to witness fall foliage in a different way, as the trees change later here—between late October and early November. Plus, the season offers a great chance to see this famous small island without the summer crowds, watch the leaves fall on cobblestone streets, and imagine that you’re in your very own version of Moby Dick. It will likely be chilly, but it's worth it for the mix of great food, sightseeing, and incredible nature. And while you’re there, be sure to catch your own dinner on a private fishing tour.