New England is a quintessential fall getaway destination and a great place to take kids. The fall colors are brilliant and set against quaint towns. Even though fall color can be pretty spectacular in Ohio, we made New England trips in October 2008 and October 2016 to enjoy New England fall. My husband experienced fall for the first time when he lived in Connecticut for five years before we met and has so many fond memories of fall in New England that he wanted to share with our kids. Our favorite New England destinations are Amherst, Massachusetts, where my aunt and uncle live, and New Haven, Connecticut, where my husband attended Yale’s School of Management.
The inherent planning problem with a fall foliage trip is that the timing and vibrance of fall colors varies from year to year and cannot be predicted in advance even if you consult a fall foliage map. Our 2008 trip coincided with my husband’s business school reunion at the height of an especially vibrant fall color that year. Our 2016 trip overlapped a school holiday and was a bit early for that season, which was never as vibrant as 2008.
The trek to New England by car for us is at least eight hours and the longest car journey we have attempted as a family. However, logistically, it is much easier to drive than fly, especially when we decided to add on stops in Princeton, New York City and Chautauqua in 2016. To make it easier on everyone, we try to leave in the late afternoon so that the kids are sleeping for the last few hours. That has worked for us with varying degrees of success.
I have made a number of trips to the Amherst area over the years visiting my aunt and uncle who live nearby in Leverett. Because our oldest was only eight months old during our 2008 trip to New England, we were excited to have the chance to take our two, six and eight year old kids to explore the their farm and the nearby area. There are not a plethora of hotel options in the area, so we booked a room at the Howard Johnson’s, which was conveniently located as the closest hotel to their home. We booked through Priceline for $90. Although our stay was brief, we were pleasantly surprised by the hotel, which included a hot buffet breakfast that we were not aware of at the time we made the booking. There are a number of fun activities for families in the Amherst-area to enjoy at any time of the year.
I always enjoy going to the highest point in a city or region and getting a birds-eye view of the area. Mount Sugarloaf in nearby South Deerfield is the perfect location for viewing the Connecticut River and fall foliage. Because it is possible to drive to the summit, it is easily accessible for families even with young children. Our trip there in 2008 had added excitement as we were there just a few days after the Mel Gibson movie Edge of Darkness had completed filming on site. The observation tower had been temporarily renovated and had not yet been returned to its pre-filming state.
Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory
The Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens is a great place to take kids. Magic Wings includes a glass conservatory filled with absolutely beautiful butterflies. If you keep still, one may even land on your hand. In addition to the conservatory, there are a number of educational exhibits and an outdoor butterfly garden.
There are also many opportunities for hiking. My aunt and uncle suggested a family hike at Rattlesnake Gutter, which was a perfect location for us to hike with the kids. It was mostly flat with a clear path and beautiful wooded scenery. We found some of the best colors there and collected a few leaves to iron flat to preserve. My daughter enjoyed the hike from the comfort of her carrier and even took a nap.
Because we live in the suburbs, our kids loved the opportunity to spend a day outside hiking and exploring my aunt and uncle’s farm. The pond had dried up after a dry summer, but we toured the barn and saw the cows that are kept on the property and just ran around and had fun.
The Amherst area is a great place for families to visit. Next time I go back, I want to check out the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. I think that my younger son, who is a big fan of Eric Carle and art in general, would particularly enjoy.
Because my husband graduated from the Yale School of Management, a stop in New Haven is always on our agenda when we are in New England. New Haven is conveniently located between Amherst and New York City, so we booked a night at the Omni New Haven Hotel through Priceline at a nightly rate of $164. Although we arrived late and left early, we really enjoyed the Omni and the amazing view out of our window. It was centrally-located and well-appointed. The lobby is like a grand living room, and my boys played chess while waiting for us to check in.
My husband really wanted to enjoy a white clam pizza at Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana. Unfortunately, they were out of clams when we called. We also wanted to go back to his favorite Thai restaurant where we ate lunch twice in 2008, but we were both bummed to find it closed. So, we were 0/2 on food nostalgia in New Haven. Luckily, the highlight of New Haven is really the Yale campus. I absolutely love the Collegiate Gothic architectural style. We were able to tour the gym, which has many aspects common in Gothic Revival architecture includes all the conveniences needed for a modern gym.
The Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library was another fun stop on our campus visit. The stunning building has outer walls made of translucent marble that prevents the collection from being exposed to direct sunlight. This is one of the world’s largest libraries dedicated to rare books, and a complete copy of the Gutenberg Bible is on permanent display.
We also peeked inside the Sterling Memorial Library, which was also built in a Gothic Revival style and is reminiscent of a Gothic cathedral. It was so beautiful, I wanted to study inside.
No trip to Yale University is complete without a trip to the Yale University Official Bookstore for some Yale swag. Our boys have been wearing Yale baseball caps since their toddler days, and my husband hoped they would fall in love with the campus as he had. Of course, the campus is so breathtaking that it’s hard for anyone to not want to return to Yale, and we have two boys who both plan to attend college there.
Our fall journey to New England in 2016 was an amazing adventure, even if the colors were not as brilliant as we had hoped. You may not be able to predict when and if peak color will occur, but it’s a great trip to take regardless.