Falling Leaves: North Central Massachusetts Fall Foliage Guide

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Fabulous Foliage Forays

It’s simply magic.

Oh, you can find lots of scientific explanations about chlorophyll, amount of daylight, and temperature changes — but when you see a hillside bathed in the bright yellows, reds and oranges of fall foliage, you know that Mother Nature has waved her magic wand across the local landscape.

A leaf-peeping drive, hike or bicycle ride through North Central Massachusetts offers an outstanding opportunity for a socially-distanced visual adventure. Who needs a wide-screen theater with


Photo by: Dorothy Miller

surround sound when this incredible — although fleeting — beauty is displayed around every bend in the road? 

When you need to slip away from the confines of your home during this COVID-19 era, the back roads and trails of New England can be just what the doctor ordered.

In fact, there are so many fantastic ways to enjoy autumn colors, you’ll have to come back again and again — and again — as this all-too-short season progresses.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Road trip time

Pack up the kids and head for the hills! There’s no shortage of easy drives that will have the whole family ooh-ing and aah-ing along the way. Route 62 from Clinton to Barre, starting at the Wachusett Reservoir Dam and passing through Princeton and Hubbardston, is a delight. Be sure to stop at the Barre Falls Dam Recreation area for some great views. Or follow Route 110 through Harvard and Bolton, with a stop at the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge to enjoy the wetlands-bolstered color palette. How about an easy ride along Route 119 from Groton to the New Hampshire border, with time to stretch your legs at Willard Brook State Forest in Ashby?

And you don’t even have to pull out a map to look for a photogenic foliage foray — pick a town, any town, and you’ll be awe-struck by the beauty of lovely town commons punctuated by picturesque gazebos and white-steepled churches against a brilliant, leafy backdrop. 

Be sure to snap some photos to enjoy when you return home!

skyride-img_0297Take a Hike

So many trails, so little time! North Central Massachusetts has an abundance of parks and forests with well-marked trails for walkers and hikers of every age and experience.

Wachusett Mountain, of course, offers the most spectacular vistas — from the summit, you can see all the way to Boston on a clear day, with the bright colors of autumn spread out beneath you. But this mountain is just the beginning. Try a hike along the Midstate Trail, starting at the Ashby-Ashburnham town line on Route 119. And Crow Hill at Leominster State Forest on Route 31 is great for some late-season leaf-peeping, so be sure to add it to your calendar for a mid- to late-November visit. 

Pedal Along

Bicycle trails can provide the ultimate in socially-distanced, fresh-air travel.  The North Central Pathway through Gardner and Winchendon is a picturesque, relatively flat paved trail that starts at the Veterans Memorial Skating Rink on the eastern shore of Crystal Lake in Gardner. Sections pass through wetland areas, where the color can be positively striking.


Photo by: Dorothy Miller

The Nashua River Rail Trail is an 11-mile bike trail through Ayer, Groton and Dunstable, with great foliage along the way. Start at Groton Center, and enjoy the ride! Don’t have a bike? The trail is also open to walking, rollerblading and horseback riding. 

Can’t decide where to start? The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation has a variety of trail maps that you can download to start you on your way. 

So shake off those stuck-at-home blahs — get some fresh air and see some spectacular sights with a fabulous fall foliage tour of North Central Massachusetts!

Story by: Pat Gale