A Leaf-Peepers Guide to Merrimack Valley

Share this post:

Leaf peeping, chasing foliage, or momijigari — no matter what you call it, enjoying the changing seasons and the stunning fall foliage is a pastime for New Englanders and travelers alike. 

The Dwindling Summer 

Is there anything better than fall in New England? 

No, don’t answer that because we both know there isn’t. While we love to crawl out from the dreariness and frigid chill of the winter, we soon take issue with the hot and humid days of summer. Not every day can be a beach day unfortunately, so the overbearing heat soaks our suit jackets and best work dresses. It’s understandable by the end of August to be simply over it and looking forward to the cool and crisp of a beautiful fall morning. 

Of course with a gorgeous fall day comes the changing leaves. A swirl of golds and crimson. There is nothing like it. 

The History of Leaf-Peeping

Do you call yourself a leaf-peeper? Is your Instagram posts filled with #leafpeeping and at the minute you see a red leaf, you’re ready to hop in the car and chase the foliage? Absolutely, no judgment because we feel the same way. 

While others aren’t fans of the term leaf-peeping and may have originated with a layer of negative connotations, it’s overall embraced as a cute phrase by many. The State Library of Massachusetts has a lovely blog and in their post about leaf-peeping they said: “The specific phrase “leaf-peeper” appears to have evolved from “leaf-peeker,” originating in Vermont around the 1900’s. In 1966, “leaf peeper” appeared in print for the first time in a column of Vermont newspaper The Bennington Banner entitled “Thoughts of a Leaf Peeper,” which described the beauty of Vermont’s foliage.”        

In New England especially, many people from locals to far flung travelers will make their way here to view the stunning change of the trees. But this tradition of enjoying the foliage can be traced back to even 11th century Japan

Don’t let the Instagram photos fool you, chasing the foliage and reveling in the love of autumn’s gold and red changing leaves has a very long history and spans across cultures. So there’s no surprise that the Merrimack Valley is also a wonderful place to enjoy the foliage. 

Fall and the Merrimack Valley

Some of the U.S.’s most famous authors and poets had made a home in the Merrimack Valley. For a number of reasons, they set down roots here and left their mark. But one of the reasons was because of the fall. In an essay published in 1862, Thoreau said, “Europeans coming to America are surprised by the brilliancy of our autumnal foliage. There is no account of such a phenomenon in English poetry, because the trees acquire but few bright colors there.”

Another famous author, Louisa May Alcott lived in the Merrimack Valley and was inspired by her time at the Orchard House. While writing these lines in Little Women, you can’t help but wonder if she was looking out over the orchard one morning before heading in to write at the desk her father built her. “The sun was low, and the heavens glowed with the splendor of an autumn sunset. Gold and purple clouds lay on the hilltops, and rising high into the ruddy light were silvery white peaks that shone like the airy spires of some Celestial City”

By taking a leaf out of their books and visiting places where they stood, you might just know exactly why they were inspired by the changing nature around them. 

The beauty of fall in New England can’t be overstated. Connecting to nature as the seasons and the overall beauty of fall in New England transforming the world will imbue anyone with creativity. 

Places to Visit

deCordova pond
deCordova pond

deCordova Sculpture Park & Museum

51 Sandy Pond Road, Lincoln, MA 01773

Considered the largest park of its kind in New England, this 30-acre museum is a wonderful place to explore. Enjoy the outdoor art and activities while taking in the breathtaking foliage. The deCordova Sculpture Park & Museum is open everyday from 10am to 5pm. 


Fruitlands Museum

Fruitlands Museum

Prospect Hill Road, Harvard, MA, USA

The 210-acre landscape encompasses five collections first established by Clara Endicott Sears: 

  • Original Fruitlands Farmhouse
  • Shaker Museum – the first such museum in the country
  • Native American Museum – celebrating the history of indigenous peoples
  • Art Museum with a variety of rotating exhibits, contemporary art, and showcasing a combined collection of more than 300 Hudson River School landscape paintings and 19th-century vernacular portraits
  • Wayside Visitor Center, a classroom, education, and exhibition space.


The Nashua River Rail Trail

Nashua River Rail Trail

Rt. 2A, Ayer, MA 01432

This 11 mile stretch through Ayer, Groton, Pepperell, and Dunstable can equate to a pleasant afternoon. You can reach the trail access from a number of places along the trail and can plan your trip accordingly. Biking, rollerblading, hiking, and even horseback riding are all ways to spend your time on this trail, but maybe even a slow stroll will help you enjoy every moment walking along the falling leaves. 


The Orchard House 

399 Lexington Road, Concord, MA 01742 

As mentioned above, the Orchard House is famously known for being the home where Louisa May Alcott lived along with her family as she began to write “Little Women.” Built in 1690, this historic house has guided tours, educational programs, living history events, teacher workshops, and changing exhibitions available. The Orchard House is open weekdays and Saturdays from 10 am to 5 pm. They are also open on Sundays from 11 am to 5 pm. 


Exterior of Thoreau Farm
Photo Credit: Thoreau Farm

The Thoreau Farm 

341 Virginia Road Concord, MA 01742

Open Saturdays and Sundays until October with tours scheduled throughout the day, this is a wonderful day trip. With free admission (though a suggested donation of five dollars) you can stroll the grounds, see the fall colors, and even receive a tour of the inside of this restored 1730s home.  

bridge at willard brook state park

Willard Brook State Park

599 Main St, West Townsend, MA 01474

These 2,597 acres near Townsend, MA are waiting for you to explore. Taking a leisurely stroll or a vigorous hike. You can even camp there and wake up a part of nature and be surrounded by a beautiful fall morning. Wouldn’t that be lovely?


Walking around Walden Pond

Walden Pond State Reservation – Concord, MA

915 Walden St., Concord, MA 01742

We would be remiss if we didn’t recommend this! Walden Pond, the famous place where Thoreau wrote his work of the same name, is a wonderful choice for a foliage day trip. 

Walden Pond State Reservation is located on Massachusetts Route 126 (Walden St. and Concord Rd.) in Concord and Lincoln, MA. The Visitors Center is located at 915 Walden St. in Concord, MA. Walden Pond has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Visitors can swim, picnic, hike, canoe, rowboat, cross-country ski, or snowshoe at Walden Pond State Reservation. It is open from 5:00am to a half-hour after sunset year-round.

You can also make a stop at the Thoreau Society Shop at Walden Pond where knowledgeable staff members are happy to help you find the perfect souvenir to remember the trip. 

A Final Thought

Whether you call yourself a leaf peeper or simply an enjoyer of the changing seasons, we hope you’ll visit the Merrimack Valley this fall and explore Walden Pond or head to deCordova Sculpture Park & Museum and see nature along with the art spread out over 30-acres. Or even surprise yourself by taking the scenic route and along the way finding new places in the Merrimack Valley

Recent Posts

More Posts in

Skip to content