Last revised: December 31, 2023
By: Adam Burns
New England autumns are second to none and draw hundreds of thousands of tourists annually. Whether you are visiting Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, or Maine the brilliant colors are spectacular.
There are currently two locations in Connecticut hosting fall foliage train rides, the popular Essex Steam Train in Essex and the Naugatuck Railroad in Thomaston, operated by the Railroad Museum of New England. Both maintain sections of the old New York, New Haven & Hartford, a railroad which historically served most of Connecticut.
Today, many segments of the New Haven are but a memory. However, its New York - Boston main line still hums with Amtrak and commuter trains daily, hustling thousands between the two cities.
The fall colors in Connecticut peak depending on the location; in the northern areas of the state this tends to be around Columbus Day (early October) while the warmer southern and coastal locations remain mostly green until late October/early November. It all varies from year to year, however, so be sure and check out the latest fall foliage guides to stay up to date.
Interestingly, the New Haven used to host fall foliage train rides during a time when the big railroads openly accommodated such trips. They were typically sponsored by train enthusiasts groups in the 1950s and 1960s and also hosted by other railroads in New England, such as the Boston & Maine and Maine Central.
Unfortunately, rising insurance premiums has caused most railroads to discontinue such "fan trips." While all of Connecticut is a stunning display of vibrant fall colors with sugar maples, redbuds, sweet gums, and oaks turning brilliant shades of reds, vermillions, browns, and yellows, the trips offered by the Essex Steam Train and Naugatuck Railroad travel past rural farms and local waterways offering guests the very best views of the state's autumn splendor.
The Essex Steam Train also offers boat rides along the Connecticut River, which run through the fall season, providing a different perspective of the fall colors! Few other heritage railroads offer such trips while the Essex Steam Train even provides packages that includes both a train and boat ride.
(Essex): Yearning for autumn splendor at its absolute finest? Then take a drive or train tour through New England; no other place in the country offers such vibrant colors of brilliant yellow, blaze orange, amber, burgundy, and red.
The Essex Steam Train is one of the best locations to experience this; based in Essex and popular for its use of steam locomotives and spectacular views of the Connecticut River, they host the 2 1/2-hour Fall Foliage trip each years.
The railroad runs some 20 miles over an old New York, New Haven & Hartford branch, most of which is draped in forest canopy.
You will also see open farmland and, of course, splendid views of the Connecticut River. Their trains are a treat to ride throughout the season but draws especially large crowds after summer has ended.
(Thomaston): This railroad hosts excursions through the Naugatuck River Valley, which are both steam (led by "New Haven 2-8-2 #3025" which is actually a Chinese-built engine, manufactured by the Tangshan Locomotive Works in 1989) and diesel powered.
During September and October they host their Fall Foliage train ride. They also offer Pumpkin Patch Trains where the kids can ride out and select a pumpkin of their choosing to carve.
The Naugatuck Railroad is a division of the Railroad Museum of New England; it maintains a 10-mile section (20 mile round trip) of the old New York, New Haven & Hartford which was originally built as the Naugatuck Railroad (whose corporate name disappeared into the New Haven).
Heading south, trains are never far from the Naugatuck River (briefly crossed about halfway to Waterville). During the trip you can see distance mountains and at one point pass through the Mattatuck State Forest. Just prior to arriving in Waterville the train passes over the river again.