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The Dartmouth
June 21, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Visitors revel in vibrant fall foliage

While every autumn brings a wave of new students to campus, Hanover also sees an influx of visitors seeking to admire the vibrant fall foliage. Known as "leaf peepers," these tourists armed with cameras and a love of natural scenery provide a temporary boost to local businesses and hotels during September and October.

Nearly 8 million people from around the world travel to New Hampshire throughout the fall months, according to a New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism Development press release. State officials estimate that fall visitors will generate over $1 billion in revenue for local businesses, a 3-percent increase from last year.

Many leaf peepers participate in several-day sightseeing trips of the New England region, and a number of companies, such as Chicago-based Caravan and Connecticut-based Tauck, offer week-long escorted tours through the area for prices between $1,000 and $3,000.

Some local hotels in the region cannot accommodate large tour groups, preventing them from making arrangements with tours, Lyme Inn innkeeper Taryn Foster said.

"Country inns typically don't have what a tour group needs, both in terms of bedding and the number of rooms," Foster said.

Commercial hotel chains, however, are better equipped to host large tour groups, according to Mount Sunapee Best Western Front Desk Agent Gunnar Cook. Best Western hotels in the region see an influx of tourists around Columbus Day weekend and are typically booked to full capacity on October weekends, Cook said.

The beginning of October is also the busiest season for the Lyme Inn, Foster said. The majority of patrons are "leisurely" tourist traffic, and Lyme Inn patrons visit for a variety of different reasons, including Dartmouth campus tours, appointments at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and exploration of the region's natural sights.

"They're from all over the place," Foster said. "There are people from different countries and throughout the United States."

The influx of seasonal visitors also provides increased business for Hanover restaurants, some of which modify their hours to accommodate tour groups who often operate on limited schedules, according to Murphy's on the Green hostess Nikki Bates.

"We open in October for lunch because of tour buses," Bates said. "This is our third year changing our hours to accommodate visitors."

However, the leaf peepers have not provided a tremendous spike in business, she said.

"There hasn't been a real boost," Bates said. "Leaf peepers tend to be elderly light eaters."

Those who participate in a tour program may have limited time to peruse Hanover's offerings and sit down for a meal, she said.

Leaf peepers often come from abroad and have never seen colorful foliage, Amber Sharon, a server at Lou's Restaurant and Bakery, said.

"Leaf peeping is definitely a thing," Sharon said. "We get customers from Europe and Canada, and they usually start coming during the very last week of September."

Leaf peepers said they visited campus to admire the fall foliage and to explore the College's buildings and libraries.

"I take thousands of pictures of leaves every year during each fall," Hanover resident Liese Shewmaker said. "I understand the appeal of leaf peeping."

Since there has yet to be a seasonal frost, the leaves' colors are not as robust as usual, Shewmaker said.

It can be difficult to distinguish visitors attracted by the fall foliage and those looking to tour the College, given that many prospective students and families explore Dartmouth during the fall, she said.

"It's beautiful the whole geography, not just the leaves," Virginia Palmer, a resident of Woodstock, Vt., said.

The Upper Valley region is among the finest places for nature photography, according to Polly Jones, a Massachusetts resident and photographer.

"For someone who has never seen foliage, it must be quite an experience," Jones said. "I just saw three buses full of Asian tourists with cameras poised."

In 2010, Yankee Magazine listed Hanover among the "Top 25 Foliage Towns." The foliage will reach its peak color this week, according to the New Hampshire state Fall Foliage Tracker.