Should I go to Nantucket? Or to Acadia National Park? No car!
May 15, 2016 9:21 PM   Subscribe

I'll be in New England in October and would like to get out in the natural world. Help me decide where to go and how to get there!

I'm planning a trip to New England this October and while I'm there, I would like to experience: fall foliage, woods, quaint little historical towns, riding a bike (preferably on a rail trail, not on the road) and/or going for a long walk. If this involves going up a mountain (or hill) and seeing a lovely view, all the better. Coastal scenery is also good.

I am not interested in shopping (except for books), seafood, swimming or nightlife.

I had set my heart on Nantucket, but after seeing some views expressed here in a previous question, I worry that it will be overpriced, snobby, and touristy. Acadia National Park seems good, but the difficulty is how to get there and around without a car. (Trust me that I am not going to hire a car: I'm Australian and don't want to drive on the right by myself).

On the other hand, the idea of an island is very appealing for some reason.

Also: will Acadia be freezing in October? For Australian values of "freezing".
I've done a lot of research but now I'm starting to feel paralysed by options. I have this way of ruining my own holiday planning fun by overthinking everything.

I will be based in New York City and have about 4-5 days to spare. Where should I go and how should I get there?
posted by Sarah Lund's Jumper to Travel & Transportation (29 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I can't imagine going to Acadia without a car.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:42 PM on May 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

If you want to go to arcadia national park, suggest you fly to Bangor airport and get the shuttle bus to bar harbour which is also on Mt desert island. From bar harbour it's 10 min to the park. Oct could be iffy so not sure I would camp if I were you, but it will be unbelievably beautiful
posted by zia at 9:46 PM on May 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Island Explorer offers free bus service around the island and to hiking trails:

General info on the island and getting around:
posted by zia at 9:50 PM on May 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I lived in NZ, am from NYC, vacationed heavily on The Cape and Nantucket back in the day before moving to LA... And I come from a sailing family, so New England destinations like Block Island are on my radar... PLUS... I have hiked most of the Appalachian Trail between New Jersey and Vermont....

MOUNT GREYLOCK in Massachusetts if you want woods. MeMail, because I won't bother with the 32 paragraphs on why that is the best place to camp of BB or AirBNB in New England. It is pure Awesome Sauce.

Fuck yeah you should ferry your ass to Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard or just stay on the Cape. Again, MeMail for specific restaurants and accommodation rec's.

In short...Arcadia is another lifetime away from what I just listed - there is lots in between. These are not close together.

New England Ferries are amazing. I love ALL the islands on the East Coast in October and I love them because I know them during high season. The mountains are great in every season.

This question is too broad. If it's early October, get your ass to Nantucket or similar if you want an authentic NE experience.

It's off season for the islands. Cold, delicious, perfect.

Mount GREYLOCK is your jam, tho. And it will be fall. All the beautiful colors.

I can't comment on Maine because I have never been there. Sorry.
posted by jbenben at 9:54 PM on May 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

I also want to mention - no island in Maine or Massachusetts will be "snobby" in October - NO ONE IS THERE.

Let's talk about weather, shall we?

All of the Islands and coasts are cold but NZ Winter equivalent in October, depending. The best weather and water temp in New England is September, IMHE. By mid-October, you are pushing it. This is when we take our boats out of the water for the winter. The islands are terribly romantic in late September through November - isolated, empty, beautiful - it's "Chowder Weather."

In the mountains it's cold and crisp - but foliage is A+ - I've def camped in October. The ground is cold. You want proper gear. It's not like NZ where you can rock up to a DOC hut and have decent shelter for the night.

The problem is you have identified two vastly different, but equally alluring, Fall New England Experiencies... And you've couched them in "high season" terms. These places are not as busy in October as they are in August. The weather is such that some are only semi-habitable, depending on the weather. A hurricane on Nantucket will really fuck up your holiday plans! But it's also exciting! I'm torn!!

I think you need to be more specific. That's my point.
posted by jbenben at 10:22 PM on May 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the answers so far! To clarify a couple of things: I will definitely not be camping. I love "off-season" travel: no one around; empty, gloomy beaches, etc. I can tolerate daily temperatures down to 50 degrees fahrenheit but no lower. I would probably choose foliage over coastline if I had to pick. Hope this helps. Mount Greylock does not look accessible by PT?
posted by Sarah Lund's Jumper at 10:32 PM on May 15, 2016

Nantucket will be empty - which it sounds like you would like. There will be oodles of gloomy beaches and empty town centers. There are no mountains and there will be *some* fall foliage, but the woods there are different than what you would see in Maine. The island is incredibly bike-able - so as long as it doesn't rain every day, I think it would be a preferable option for you. You can take a greyhound bus from Boston to the ferry to the island. I don't know what you consider cold, but bring a sweater and a rain coat.
posted by Toddles at 10:44 PM on May 15, 2016

Mt Greylock isn't going to be a practical suggestion without a car, I think.

For foliage and rail-trail, you want to be in Vermont or New Hampshire, or western Mass, which are more difficult to access without a car. There are fall foliage bus tours that might be worth a look. Or there are long-distance buses (Greyhound or Peter Pan are the big-name carriers, or there are discount carriers) -- so this depends on how long you're willing to sit on a bus!

A medium option would be to take a bus from NYC to the Pioneer Valley (Northampton and Amherst, and surrounding towns) in Massachusetts. It wouldn't be too expensive, it's not as long a ride as getting to the more northerly reaches, and the valley has some public transit buses, unlike most areas of New England... so you could get a room in one of the towns and explore a bit. It's a more "thickly settled" area, so it'll be bustling with university students at that time, it's not a quiet offseason tourist town. There are hikeable mountains with some foliage nearby, and there's a rail trail.

A longer-haul option would be to take a bus from NYC up to Vermont, just staying on 91 past the Pioneer Valley. (New Hampshire is just a bit trickier to get to from NYC, so I'm omitting it for simplicity.) Longer ride and more expensive, but probably better foliage. Most of the main towns are explorable on foot, though there's no guarantee you'll be able to explore outside the town easily. One possibility is if there are buses that run to ski areas, in the offseason ski areas often have mountain biking trails so they might run a shuttle from town to the ski area (might be worth looking into, I don't know how workable this is).

(There are package tours of New England Fall Foliage, might be worth looking to see if there's one that fits your desired vibe - I suspect they will tend to be tour-guided and crowded with cheerful friendly older folks, which may be not what you're looking for.)

Coast is going to be beautiful and chilly, sweater and raincoat for sure but also there will be sunny days. The suggestion to fly to Bangor if you want to do Acadia is good. You'd get lots of coast and some foliage.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:04 PM on May 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

NYC to Northampton MA looks to be 4-5 hrs on Peter Pan bus line, and you can play around on their site to see how long the ride would be to Cape Cod or cities in Vermont etc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:14 PM on May 15, 2016

Just for some weather perspective, there is a non-zero chance of snow in New England in October. October nights are often in the 30s.

I agree that Nantucket isn't what you're looking for. Allow me to suggest spending time in the small, historic towns of Cape Ann in northeastern Massachusetts--places like Gloucester and Rockport. They're easily accessible by train from Boston/the airport, are surrounded by woods and fall foliage, are very bike-able, and are quaint personified.
posted by jesourie at 11:26 PM on May 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

The Pioneer Valley (Northampton, Amherst and beyond) is easily accessible by public transport and once you're there the PVTA goes everywhere and it's mostly free.
posted by stinker at 12:53 AM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you are up for flying to Bangor - highly recommend it. On the Bar Harbour site there are accommodations that are only 2 miles from the park - cute little new england cottages, great b&b's. Frankly, makes me what to go myself!!!
posted by zia at 3:17 AM on May 16, 2016

Acadia is closing down in October, I went a few years ago in late October and things were closing for the season every day I was there. I'm not sure the bus runs that late in the season. The park itself is car oriented, there's a main loop to drive round and sights to see at every stop off.
posted by TheAdamist at 3:44 AM on May 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

Your question is challenging to this lifelong New Englander - as noted, Nantucket won't have your foliage, but Acadia is difficult without a car, and is probably going to be colder than 50F many nights in October.

I would recommend you take a 1 day trip to Block Island to get an experience that is quite similar to Nantucket but far cheaper with very low snob factor (although Nantucket much less snobby in off season, Block Island even less so). A great place to go without a car and ride bikes around the island. I just wouldn't expect all commercial establishments to be open.

After your day trip to Block Is you can go north and do whichever of the above described options appeal to you. The drive north at that time of year will be gorgeous so you can't go wrong. I think either Vermont or Maine though if you can get over your 50F temp requirement...
posted by treehorn+bunny at 4:38 AM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Mid-October may actually be past the peak foliage season in most of Vermont; it usually peaks up there in late September or early October, though of course it's variable enough from year to year that you might luck out. If you're visiting in mid-October, you probably want Massachusetts for peak foliage; late October would be Connecticut.

As many people have noted above, "quaint small towns" usually go hand-in-hand with "no public transit" around here. The best balance between accessibility and small-town charm is probably the Pioneer Valley (Northampton, Amherst, Holyoke, & Springfield); there's a relatively well-developed bus system that will take you many places, and nature isn't so far away that you couldn't hire a taxi to take you to a good hiking spot. A very popular hiking spot (Mount Tom) appears to be accessible by public transit.

The above paragraph pains me to write, because I spent three years living in the Berkshires (far western Massachusetts), and it's pretty much everything you want except for being accessible by public transit. There is a bus system in the area, centered around the city of Pittsfield; but it's not as well-developed as the one in the Pioneer Valley. Mount Greylock is a wonderful place to hike in early and mid-October, but you need a car to get anywhere near it.
posted by Johnny Assay at 5:16 AM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Well, speaking from personal experience (both of being in Acadia in October and of seeing Australians faced with cold weather), I think Acadia in October is probably not going to be your jam. It regularly snows in Maine in late October/early November. (If you were going in September? Much better timing.)

For islands, have you considered Martha's Vineyard, the Massachusetts island that isn't Nantucket? I've been out there in late September/early October and there's still some stuff open, and it's very bikeable. Probably not a good foliage stop, though.

Rail trails in the Mass/RI area: While it is accessible by public transit, AVOID the Minuteman. It is full of bike commuters and people training for bike races and they will run you off the road. (I regularly drive in Boston, but I do not cycle the Minuteman.)

I would highly recommend the Shining Sea Bikeway (Cape Cod, goes to a ferry terminal in Woods Hole which serves the Vineyard, some very nice ocean and marsh views) and the East Bay Bike Path (Providence to Bristol, RI, lovely ocean views, nice stops that might still be open in October).

There's also a nice rail trail up in Ayer, MA but the services there are minimal at the best of times and I'm guessing no services will be open by October, so I'd skip that one given the timing.
posted by pie ninja at 5:31 AM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Have you thought about Portland, Maine? Pretty close to foliage stuff (although, again, you'll probably need a car or a taxi to get to hiking locations), plus it's on the coast and the harbor islands are working islands that people live on, so ferry service is available year-round. Downtown is small enough that you don't need a car to get around, but it is definitely a touristy downtown core. October will be at the end of the season and should be fairly quiet, but I don't think anything closes down over the winter.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:35 AM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

For the people who say Acadia is not bike-friendly, have you heard about the 57 miles of carriage roads that John D. Rockefeller built there? The go all over the NP, and are open to bicycles, but not buses or cars. People may not be aware of the carriage roads because there is almost no intersection with the auto roads, just bridge crossings, so car occupants never see the bikers.

That said, October is way too close to Winter for warm-place people to try and enjoy Maine.

Unless you're a competition cyclist, you'll find Mt. Greylock is pretty steep, and it's not going to be warm up there, either.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:10 AM on May 16, 2016 [4 favorites]

Instead of Nantucket look at Martha's Vineyard which is, in my opinion, more beautiful and less snobby. It's much more diverse in both demographics and types of landscapes. You can fly there directly from NYC. There's good public bus transportation around the island, as well as taxis. Stay in Oak Bluffs.
posted by mareli at 7:33 AM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I can't recommend the Pioneer Valley enough. I spent many car-less years there enjoying the foliage, rail trails, woods, quaint little towns, and going up and down hills to look at beautiful vistas. The Montague Bookmill is an incredibly lovely place that combines quaint town with nature with lots and lots of books. It's bike-able from Northampton if the weather holds and you're comfortable sharing roads with cars, otherwise you can easily get a taxi.

Finally, I wouldn't overestimate the sheer amount of time you'll save by sticking to Western Massachusetts instead of trying to go all the way up to e.g. Maine. New England is really quite large. If you only have a few days to make the whole roundtrip, I wouldn't blow so much of it on getting up to Maine (where it will be cold and uncomfortable for you).
posted by telegraph at 7:40 AM on May 16, 2016

Maybe the Greenfield area? There are a bunch of trails and vistas in the Greenfield/Deerfield/Shelbourne Falls area (Poet's Seat, Bridge of Flowers, French King Bridge) area plus they are close enough to civilization that taxis/bikes can get you there and back. I've only hiked around there though, so am unclear how available bikes are for rental that time of year.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:59 AM on May 16, 2016

Based on my experience, foliage is over in Maine by the fourth week of September. Weather in October could be anything from light jacket to snow. Mt. Washington is snow-capped from about Oct 1 on, and can be dangerous, not that anyone mentioned it. NYC to Acadia is probably 13 hours by car.

On the Mt. Greylock suggestion, you can definitely get to Williamstown by bus. North Adams, being bigger, is probably easier but I have no experience. In general, you can get just abut anywhere in New England by public transportation though it may take a long time and you may need a taxi for the last few miles. FWIW, that area has the best collection of art museums of any non-urban place I know, so there would be something to do on a rainy date.

Nantucket is small, flat and great for bicycles. I would suggest you consider Martha's Vineyard because its reputation is as bit less exclusive.

Having said that, I would consider something farther south, maybe Shelter Island, someplace (I can't suggest one) on Long Island. Lots of people love Cape Cod in the fall, especially the people who live there and can't wait to see the summer folk go.
posted by SemiSalt at 8:21 AM on May 16, 2016

Come visit the Vineyard in the fall! It is simply breathtaking, places to stay get more affordable, we have a pretty good bike path system, good public little buses, and I'm in the restaurant mafia here. Hit me up on mefimail for more info- I love showing people this island for the first time.
posted by vrakatar at 8:40 AM on May 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

Acadia is probably too far north to be within your temperature guidelines and it may be closing up. It's also a haul to get there from where you are, even if you fly. No big deal but maybe more effort for what you'll get. Nantucket is likely going to be more "snobby" than Martha's Vineyard and I would take vrakatar up on his offer to show you around. It's nice there, public transpo-able and you'll get some real New England Coastal stuff that, to me (lifelong New Englander) is a bit more interesting/unique than foliage. Pioneer Valley though would get you a space with a lot of history, still decent weather and a LOT of public transportation so if you just wanted to be "In New England and see the leaves" it's a good place to do it.
posted by jessamyn at 9:16 AM on May 16, 2016

Looking at the map, Acadia isn't that much farther north than Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard, but its climate is much cooler, especially in the fall. The ocean off Nantucket is warmed by the Gulf Stream, a current that originates near Florida, but this warm water never gets near Acadia, because Cape Cod is in the way. The result is that the ocean can be 15F - 20F colder off Acadia, and this difference is at its greatest in the fall. (Even in the dead of summer, you wouldn't want to go in the Gulf of Maine without a wetsuit). I've been to Martha's Vineyard in October, and it's been lovely - you can get rain in New England any time of year, but October is one of the drier months, and daytime temperatures in the 70F range are pretty typical. BTW, the "season" ends on Columbus Day weekend, which this year is October 8 through 10, so businesses will pretty much all be open that weekend but many will close shortly thereafter.

I do consider the Massachusetts islands more bike-friendly than Acadia, for a couple of reasons:
- they're flatter - the southern New England coastline is a glacial moraine, mostly sand & gravel, and so is relatively flat. Acadia is a lot hillier.
- Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard are only accessible by ferry, and most tourists do not bring their cars. Mt. Dessert Island (Acadia) is connected to the mainland by a bridge, so pretty much everybody has a car. In my experience, this translates to a lot more accommodation to the carless tourist on Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard.
posted by mr vino at 11:31 AM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's not New England exactly, but I'll throw out Ithaca NY as a possibility. It has a very walkable and cute downtown, is lovely in October, and has a good bus system. There are some waterfalls and wooded paths leading right out of downtown and a few nearby state parks that are bus-accessible. And you can get there easily from NYC on the Shortline bus. You can also rent an electric bike for around $150/week, which is a neat option, though you'd definitely have to be comfortable sharing the road with cars.

Generally, I think you want to look at college towns, as they typically have good subsidized transit.
posted by veery at 1:20 PM on May 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Pioneer Valley ticks most of your choices, but a. it's not beaches and b. October is a busy-ish season around here - because it's gorgeous. (For our value of busy, which is not terribly so.) And highly likely to be below 50F, that's more likely to be a high in midday. You may get lucky and hit peak foliage, I think it's usually early-mid October. Although, with climate change, you really never know. But history, walkable, quaint small towns, reasonably transit-friendly, completely gorgeous! Acadia is amazing but will be hard without a car, and cold. Nantucket, no foliage, but could be good otherwise. I like the idea of a day on Block Island and then 2-3 days in the Valley.
posted by john_snow at 1:44 PM on May 16, 2016

Thanks everyone. You all rock. I have a confession to make: I thought New York state was part of New England.
posted by Sarah Lund's Jumper at 2:45 AM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's not, but in my experience, the foliage can be just as good, and Upstate NY has some very scenic areas.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:24 AM on May 17, 2016

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