New England has no monopoly on seasonal shifts and splendors. Yet the region dons new outerwear every 3 months or so with unparalleled style and finesse. The ever-changing seasons here are precisely what make New England so distinctive, and there are reasons to embrace all four. Even the unofficial “sprinter,” that muddy, sloppy season that marks winter’s end and spring’s arrival, has fans among the outdoorsy and budget-conscious.

SUMMER -- The peak summer season in New England runs from the 4th of July through Labor Day weekend. That’s a pretty slim sandwich, only about 8 1/2 weeks. But, wow, does the population of each of these states ever swell between the starting line and summer’s checkered flag. Vast crowds surge into New England, particularly on weekends and when temperatures soar.

It’s no wonder. Summers here are exquisite, particularly because the daylight lasts so long—until 9 or 9:30pm in late June and early July. In the mountains, cooler temperatures prevail, and this natural air conditioning reinvigorates urbanites. Along the seashore, reliable breezes keep temperatures down even when it’s triple-digit steaming in the big cities. In general, expect moderation: In Portland, Maine, the thermometer tops 90°F (32°C) for only 4 or 5 days each year, typically.

Weather in this region is largely determined by winds. Summer’s southwesterly winds bring haze, heat, and humidity (to everywhere except the seashore); northwesterly winds bring cool, bright weather and knife-sharp views. These systems tend to alternate during the summer, the heat and humidity building slowly and stealthily for days—then swiftly getting kicked out on their ears by stiff, cool winds pressing down from Canada. Rain is unpredictable in summer—afternoon thunderstorms pop up out of nowhere and roll through at a mighty pace. On average, about 1 day in 3 here will bring some rain.

For most of this region, midsummer is prime time. Expect to pay premium prices at hotels and restaurants. (The exception is around the ski resorts, where you can often find bargains.) Also be aware that early summer brings out scads of biting black flies and mosquitoes as you move inland from the coast in the northern states, a state of affairs that has spoiled many north-country camping trips. Come prepared for these guys.

What to do? Play some golf. Go hiking or kayaking. Body surf in the ocean. Catch a minor-league baseball game. Or indulge in one of our favorite activities: rocking in a chair on a screened porch, reading a book, playing guitar, or just listening intently to the sounds of loons or crickets and watching the night sky for stars you never knew existed.

AUTUMN -- Don’t be surprised to smell the tang of fall approaching as early as mid-August, when you’ll begin to notice a few leaves turning blaze-orange on maples at the edges of wetlands or highways. Fall comes early to New England, puts its feet up, and stays for some time. The foliage season begins in earnest in the northern part of the region by September’s third week; in the southern portions, it peaks around mid-October.

Fall in New England is one of the great natural spectacles in the world. When the region’s rolling hills light up in brilliant reds and stunning oranges, awed motorists pull to the sides of roads to snap photos. The best part? This spectacle is nearly as regular as clockwork, with only a few years truly “bad” for foliage (due to odd storms or invasive, leaf-eating pests).

Keep in mind, however, that autumn is the most popular time of year to travel to the New England states—bus tours flock here like migrating geese in early October. As a result, hotels in renowned leaf towns are invariably booked solid at that time. Reservations are essential. Don’t be surprised if rates are $50 or more per night higher than they were just weeks ago at your inn or hotel. Deal with it; you can’t buy scenery like this.


Some states maintain seasonal foliage hotlines and/or websites to let you know when the leaves are at their peak: Vermont (tel. 800/VERMONT [837-6668]), Maine (tel. 888/624-6345), and New Hampshire.

WINTER -- New England winters are like wine—some years are exceptional, some are lousy. During a good season, mounds of light, fluffy snow fill the deep woods and blanket ski slopes and snowmobile trails. A “classic” New England winter offers profound peace and tranquility, as the fresh snow muffles all noise and brings such a thunderous silence to the entire region that the hiss and pop of a wood fire at a country inn can seem startlingly loud. During these sorts of winters, exploring the forest on snowshoes or cross-country skis is an experience bordering on the magical.

During the other winters, the weather fairies instead bring a nasty mélange of rain, freezing rain, and sleet. The woods become filled with crusty snow, the cold is damp and bone-numbing, and it’s bleak, as gunpowder-gray clouds lower and linger for weeks. There are ways to beat this, however: The higher in elevation you go into the mountains of northern New England, or the farther north you head (to such places as Jay, VT), the better your odds of finding snow.

The coast in winter is a crapshoot at best, more likely to yield rain (or sticky, heavy “snowball” snow) than powdery snow. Yes, winter vacations on the ocean can be spectacular—think Winslow Homerian waves crashing savagely onto an empty beach—but after a day or two of trying to navigate your car around big, gray, slushy snow banks, you too will soon be heading for Stowe unless hunkering down by a fire is all your soul craves.

Ski areas get crowded. Some very crowded. Expect maximum pricing, so-so food, and a herd mentality; this is the price you must pay for enjoying great skiing. The resorts get especially packed during school vacations, which is just when many resorts choose to hike up rates at hotels and on the slopes.

By the way, if you visit a small town in this region during winter, there is another pleasure to enjoy during the deepest freeze: public ice skating and ice hockey. You’ll find locals skating on town green and public park rinks, lakes, and ponds. How do you find these spots? Look for a clump of cars beside an iconic little warming hut with a wood-burning stove inside, sending up smoke puffs like a signal to the masses. Cities like Boston, Newport, Providence, Portsmouth, and Hartford are also destinations for romantics who want to lace up skates.

SPRING -- After the long winter, spring in New England is a tease. She promises a lot and comes dressed in impressive finery (see: delicate purple lilacs, which blossom for just two weeks). There are years when spring lasts only a few weeks, “occurring” around mid-May but up north as late as June. New Englanders often call this time of year “mud season.” Warming earth’s a gooey mess; rushing waterfalls are worth mucking up your boots.

One morning the ground is muddy, the trees are barren, and gritty snow is still collected in shady hollows and mall parking lots. The next day, it’s in the 80s and sunny, maple trees are erupting with little red cloverlike buds; kids are swimming in the lakes where the docks have just been put in; and somewhere in New Hampshire, a blue cover is being ripped off an aboveground pool.

Travelers need to be awfully crafty to experience spring in New England—and, once they get here, they often have trouble finding a room. That’s because a good number of innkeepers and restaurateurs close up for a few weeks for repairs or to venture someplace warm. The upside? Rates are never cheaper than in early spring . . . right up until college graduation season. It’s jaw-dropping how little you can pay in March for the same room that would cost 3 to 10 times more in mid-summer or October.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.