'Leaf peepers' are guaranteed dazzling colours in America's north-east over the coming weeks, says Aoife O'Riordain

As the summer heat fades and the autumn chill begins to take hold, Mother Nature flaunts a dazzling show. The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is also the ideal time to visit New England.

The United States' north-eastern corner is synonymous with Fall foliage thanks to its spectacular stage set of vermilion, gold, ochre, russet, orange and yellow.

The region comprises the six states of the north-eastern seaboard: Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. For leaf peepers, the scenery is stunningly diverse.

There are quaint towns and villages, clapboard farms buried in bucolic scenery, covered bridges, the peaks of New Hampshire's White Mountains and Vermont's Green Mountains, Rhode Island's grand mansions as well as the wild, Atlantic-bashed coast of Maine.

New England was also one of the first ports of call for the English settlers who followed the Pilgrim Fathers, who set sail for the New World on the Mayflower in 1620.

All six states are dotted with historic sites, including New England's gateway city of Boston with its celebrated Freedom Trail (thefreedomtrail.org).

New England's leaf-peeping season usually starts around mid-September in the northern reaches of Maine and Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, gradually progressing south through Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut throughout October.

The Holy Grail for the committed foliage seeker is the peak, when the leaves are at their most intense and concentrated from the scarlet reds of the maples to the golden hues of the birch and elm and the vibrant oranges of the hickory.

Depending on the location and weather conditions, this generally happens around mid-October. The New England tourist board has hotlines and apps for each state for daily updates on where to see the best colour (discovernewengland.org). Another informative online source for foliage updates is yankeefoliage.com.

New for this year, Bon Voyage (0800 316 3012; bon-voyage.co.uk) has introduced a nine-night self-drive holiday "History, Hamlets and Hiking in New England", which includes three nights of escorted hiking amid the stunning scenery of New Hampshire's White Mountains and staying at the Highland Center at Crawford Notch, owned by the Appalachian Mountain Club.

Highlights of the hikes include the Crawford Path, America's oldest hiking trail, and a stay in Boston – as well as a few days relaxing in scenic Vermont. Prices start at £1,795 per person, including British Airways flights from Heathrow, car hire, accommodation and some meals.

Other UK operators offering itineraries – both self-guided and escorted – include North American Travel Service (0161 839 8844; northamericatravelservice.co.uk), America As You Like It (020-8742 8299; americaasyou likeit.com), Key to America (0113 398 3013; keytoamerica.com), North American Highways (01902 798 008; nahighways.co.uk), Inntravel (01653 617 001; inntravel.co.uk) and HF Holidays (0845 470 8558; hfholidays.co.uk).

For more details see the tourism board, Discover New England (01825 763 633; discover newengland.org) and DiscoverAmerica.com.

On the road in autumn

Twisting along highways and byways through the autumnal countryside is a great adventure, but don't be a slave to the wheel. Aim for 150 to 175 miles per day and try to drive on weekdays when roads are less busy.

Aficionados all have their favourite drives. With villages straight out of a Mark Twain novel, Vermont's Route 100 rates highly. It starts at the Canadian border and travels south as far as Massachusetts, passing along the Green Mountains.

Another is Connecticut State Route 169, a 32-mile road that cuts through towns such as Pomfret, Lisbon and Woodstock.

Western & Oriental (020-7666 1234; wandotravel.com) offers a 15-day fly-drive trip visiting five New England states from £1,775pp including Heathrow flights, car hire and room-only accommodation.

Natural highs on a tour of the treetops

If sitting in a car admiring the views is too sedate for your tastes, there are plenty of opportunities to experience the Fall-infused wilderness up close.

Treetop canopy tours, pictured, are offered by Alpine Adventures (001 603 745 9911; alpinezipline.com) in New Hampshire's White Mountains. This is an exhilarating whizz through the countryside, 80ft above the forest floor, by way of bridges and ziplines from $79 (£53) per adult. The Skyrider offers views from 200ft-high ziplines for $89 (£59).

The more gentle Mount Washington Cog Railway (001 603 278 5404; thecog.com) climbs the 6,288ft summit of New Hampshire's highest peak with gorgeous views over the New England landscape. A round trip takes about three hours and costs $64 (£43) – booking is strongly recommended.

Where to stay … on the farm or in the woods

There are hundreds of inns and B&Bs dotted all over the countryside.

Holiday In New England (01647 231 706; holidayinnewengland.com) offers a wide range of options.At the top end is Twin Farms (001 802 234 9999; twinfarms.com; near Woodstock in Vermont. The country estate offers 10 rooms in an 18th-century lodge and farmhouse and a further 10 cottages. Doubles from $1,450 (£967), full board.

A new arrival in the Berkshires is the Briarcliff Motel (001 413 528 3000; the briarcliffmotel.com) – a 1960s motel reimagined for modern tastes. Doubles from $90 (£60) room only.

If you'd rather slumber among the leaves, The Treehouse in central Vermont (001 802 244 5378; moosemeadowlodge.com) starts at $463 (£308), B&B.

Tucking in

Clam chowder, maple syrup and freshly caught lobster are a few of the gastronomic highlights that await visitors to New England.

A gourmet hotspot is the seaside town of Portland in Maine.Hugo's (001 207 774 8538; hugos.net) is one of its most-lauded restaurants. Meanwhile, Fore Street (001 207 775 2717; forestreet.biz) in the Old Port Quarter serves up oven-roasted mussels and spit-roasted chicken.

Autumn also sees a flurry of food festivals, such as the Keen Pumpkin in Keene, New Hampshire (19 October; pumpkinfestival2013.org) and Connecticut's Glastonbury Applefest (18-20 October; glastonburychamber.net).

Escape the crowds

While parts of Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts can be overrun during the peak viewing seasons, many lesser-visited areas put on just as impressive displays.

Vermont's Northeast Kingdom (travelthekingdom.com) near the Canadian border is a well-kept secret. This heavily forested wilderness is dotted with lakes, parks and nature reserves. Stay at The Inn at Mountain View Farm (001 802 626 9924; innmtnview.com). Doubles start at $175 (£117), B&B.

Maine's fall season lasts the longest (mainefoliage.com). Set deep in the Maine Highlands, Moosehead Lake (mooseheadlake.org) is one of the best places to observe the autumnal show, whether white- water rafting, biking, hiking or heading out on a scenic drive. Here, Greenville-based Northwoods Outfitters (001 207 695 3288; maineoutfitter.com) offers a half-day kayaking moose safari for $40 (£27).

Travel Essentials

Getting there

British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com), Virgin Atlantic (0844 209 7310; virgin-atlantic.com) and Delta (0871 221 1222; delta.com) fly direct from Heathrow to Boston.

New York is another option. Flights from the UK land at either JFK or Newark. BA and Virgin fly from Heathrow to JFK and Newark; Delta from Heathrow to JFK; American Airlines (0844 499 7300; aa.com) from Heathrow and Manchester to JFK and United (0845 607 6760; united.com) from Glasgow, Birmingham, Belfast, Edinburgh, Heathrow and Manchester to Newark.

To really explore, car hire is essential. For departures on 9 October, Virgin Holidays (0844 557 3859; virginholidays.co.uk) is offering a seven-night fly-drive from £639pp, including return flights from Heathrow to Boston and car hire.

Rail is another option. Amtrak's (amtrak.com) The Vermonter line or The Downeaster both offer plenty of autumn colour. A single on the former starts at $56 (£37).