The leaves are past their peak where I live in western New Hampshire, and fall festivals have mostly come and gone, but that doesn’t mean the autumn road-tripping season is over. That’s especially true if your goal is finding ingredients—and inspiration—for your Thanksgiving and holiday feasts.
Plenty of New England farms, vineyards, and dairies are still going strong. And heading out on an adventurous pre-holiday sojourn comes with big outdoor benefits: uncrowded trails and beaches, swell perfect for surfing, and scenic roadways waiting to be explored after you score your bounty. Here’s a state-by-state breakdown of the best places to visit on such a quest.
Where to Find Cheese in Vermont
The tiny town of Salisbury (population 1,200) straddles a sweet spot between the Green Mountains to the east and the agricultural Champlain Valley to the west. It’s a picturesque setting for Blue Ledge Farm, a cheese-making operation run by Hannah Sessions and Greg Bernhardt, who were just 23 years old when they began transforming an old dairy-cow operation near where Sessions grew up into one suitable for goats. Some 150 goats later, the place is known for its terrific fresh chèvres (my go-to is the herb-crusted variety) as well as bloomy rind and hard cheeses, some made with milk from the cows next door. Call ahead to book a tour ($20), and plan to load up on the goods at their self-serve farmstand.
Ten minutes south, Moosalamoo National Recreation Area beckons with 70 miles of spectacular multi-use backcountry trails. For a fun, flowy ten-mile mountain-bike ride, park at the Minnie Baker Trailhead and follow the singletrack up to Chandler Ridge before looping back on the ferny flats of Leicester Hollow.
Unwind later over a hard cider at Woodchuck Cidery, a production facility and taproom in Middlebury, 15 miles north. Then head east into Ripton to overnight in one of seven two-bedroom Robert Frost Mountain Cabins (from $237)—request one with a fire pit—off a forested dirt road about five miles from the poet’s summer home.
Craft Spirits and Farmed Mushrooms in New Hampshire
To me (and I suspect a lot of other travelers), Tamworth was always that little town you zipped through while driving north to hike in the Mount Washington Valley. Maybe you slowed for the famous vista of bald-topped Mount Chocorua, but you didn’t linger: the Presidential Range awaited.
It turns out Tamworth is well worth a stop, thanks in part to Steve Grasse, the creative mind behind Hendrick’s Gin, who’s made it his mission to help revitalize the historic village where he owns a home. Grasse’s Tamworth Distilling, set in a barnlike building on the Swift River, crafts wildly innovative spirits with New Hampshire ingredients such as beets and balsam buds, as well as more palate-jolting elements including invasive green crabs and beaver-gland extract. Tastings and cocktail workshops are held in the Grasse-owned Lyceum, a restored 19th-century store on Main Street. The gatherings are good prep for making what could be your new signature Thanksgiving or holiday drink.
Continue the happy mad-scientist vibe up the road at the New Hampshire Mushroom Company, where mycologist Eric Milligan cultivates gorgeous blemish-free fungi—meaty black pearls, luminescent blue oysters, shaggy lion’s manes, and more—in high-tech grow rooms. You can buy both fresh and dried mushrooms there, and for the fungi-curious, free tours are offered on Sundays or by appointment.
Bring your hiking shoes along and get your steps in at the nearby Big Pines Natural Area. The 2.4-mile Betty Steele and Peg King Spur Trails loop through massive old-growth eastern pines and hemlocks up to the 1,270-foot summit of Great Hill; there you can climb the 35-foot-tall fire tower, a 1934 Civilian Conservations Corps project, with magnificent views for miles.
Unpack your bags that night at The Farmstand (from $205), a traditional bed-and-breakfast in a restored 1851 blacksmith shop, with a working cider press.
The Best Oysters in Maine
Midcoast Maine is oyster country; most of the state’s production comes from its cool bays, estuaries, and inlets, where big shell-tumbling tides foster deeply cupped bivalves. Though most farm tours end by mid-October, John Herrigel of the Maine Oyster Company, located in West Point, a fishing village near the tip of the rugged Phippsburg peninsula, is game to run boat trips as long as the weather cooperates. The two-hour experience includes visiting his small offshore farm to learn about the growing process (and slurp a few oysters right out of the water), then motoring back to the dockside Base Camp for private shucking lessons. The outing (from $250) includes a dozen oysters. Alternatively, you can order deliveries from Herrigel and the other Midcoast growers who are part of the co-op he runs; the goods will arrive when you’re ready to stuff your bird.
Don’t miss Popham Beach, a beautiful three-mile-long sweep of broad, firm sand at the island-studded mouth of the Kennebec River. Horses are allowed on the beach in the fall; book a two-hour guided ride with Sable Oak Equestrian Center (from $175).
Another coastal option is a visit to Bath and the Maine Maritime Museum, 15 miles north, to admire its working boat-building exhibit and collection of 140 historic small crafts. If you haven’t had your fill of oysters yet, hit the waterfront Oysthers Raw Bar and Bubbly, run by sisters, one of whom also operates an oyster farm. Bluet, a dry wild-blueberry sparkler crafted in Maine by a Napa-trained winemaker is a worthy accompaniment to your dinner, not to mention a good gift for a Thanksgiving-day host.
From Bath, turn south on Highway 127 onto Georgetown Island. Book a night at the woodsy Little River Retreat ($125), a two-bedroom log cabin not far from Reid State Park, where you can surf, birdwatch, and explore the tide pools and sand dunes.
Where to Find Cranberries in Massachusetts
When you find your way down the narrow drive to Annie’s Crannies in the Mid-Cape village of Dennis, you’re in the cradle of cranberry cultivation. Here in the early 1800s, close to Cape Cod Bay, a retired sea captain named Henry Hall discovered that the wild cranberries on his land produced more fruit after they’d been covered by storm-blown sand. The practice of covering bogs caught on, and the berry went on to become the state’s most important crop.
In 1911, a Hall descendant sold one of his bogs to Annie Walker’s grandfather, and today, on certain fall weekends, Walker gives historical tours of the restored bog she works with antique equipment. You can buy fresh, dry-harvested berries out of her museum-like shop.
Cape Cod’s sandy, well-drained soil is also prime terroir for turnips. Eastham, on the Outer Cape, celebrates its namesake heirloom variety, the Eastham turnip, with an annual festival before Thanksgiving (this year scheduled for Saturday, November 18). If you can’t make it, you’ll find the unusually large, sweet root veggies for sale at the Orleans Farmers’ Market, just three and a half miles away, on Saturday mornings.
A popular area for fishing, biking, and exploration is Brewster’s 1,900-acre Nickerson State Park. Walk through scrub pine and oak to Cliff Pond; the large, glacially formed kettle pond and seven others in the park are stocked with trout. Or pedal an eight-mile paved path that connects to the 26-mile-long Cape Cod Rail Trail. Call it a day at the nearby Candleberry Inn (from $329) an antique Georgian-style mansion within walking distance of the broad tidal flats of Breakwater Beach.
The Best Apples for Pies in Connecticut
You know those carnival-like farms that feature a corn maze, zombie laser tag, a petting zoo, and you-pick orchards of apples? Hidden Gem Orchard isn’t one of those. Six years ago, owner James Wargo planted 4,000 trees on the side of a drumlin in rural Southbury with the intention of creating a simple, no-frills country orchard. His 31 varieties of apples include hard-to-find antiques like Esopus Spitzenburg (Thomas Jefferson’s favorite) and the 16th-century Calville Blanc d’Hiver, favored by bakers for classic tarte Tatin and pies. The pick-your-own season runs through the first weekend of November, or buy apples in the open-air farm stand through the end of the month.
You’re farm-bound for your next stop, too, but not for produce. Drive 18 miles north to Kent Falls Brewery on the grounds of a working farm high in the state’s northwestern Litchfield Hills. Wander among the planted hops and farm animals, tour the brewing operation on Saturday afternoons, then hit the tasting room to sample two-ounce flights of signature brews like Sweatpants pale ale and Awkward Hug IPA, made with locally sourced ingredients.
Some of the Appalachian Trail’s least daunting terrain is nearby along the Housatonic River (park just north of where River Road intersects with North Kent Number 1 Road). You’ll likely have company from birders on your walk or run, because the area serves as an important migration corridor.
If you’re looking to stay somewhere local, the downtown Kent Collection Garden Cottages (from $475) are a good choice within walking distance of shops, restaurants and galleries. Ask to be put up in the restored 1800s boxcar.
Wine and Vineyards to Explore in Rhode Island
Down a long dirt road five miles from the mansions and marinas of Newport, you’ll find the peaceful Greenvale Vineyards, a producer of estate-grown wines. Set on land that slopes to the Sakonnet River, the winery was once a 19th-century gentleman’s farm. Its stick-style stable—now the tasting room—and Gothic main house are on the National Register of Historic Places. Sip samples by the fire pits, listen to live jazz on Saturday afternoons, and take home some bottles, like the 2022 Greenvale Select Chardonnay and 2021 Meritage, both of which will pair nicely with your turkey.
Pick up pumpkins and decorative gourds at the post-and-beam Sweet Berry Farm market just two and a half miles south, then continue on to Newport and saddle up for an equally sweet ride in a town where cycling has been popular since the Victorian era. Rent a cruiser from Island Adventures and head out on the classic 13-mile Ocean Loop that passes the palatial Gilded Age homes of Bellevue Avenue as well as the Atlantic shoreline, or cycle east to Sachuest Point Wildlife Refuge. Viewing platforms there let you spy on the big flocks of harlequin ducks that arrive in November. Overnight at the Attwater (from $200) a colorful hotel three blocks from Newport’s harbor.
Journalist and lifelong New Englander Meg Lukens Noonan grew up in suburban Boston, went to college in Vermont, and now lives—and hosts Thanksgiving—in Hanover, New Hampshire.
For more Thanksgiving food and fun inspiration, check out Steven Rinella’s story on how to cook a turkey over a campfire.