Without fail, Hanover autumns bring two things: vibrant, colorful foliage and the tourists who pay to see it. These visitors, known as “leaf peepers,” arrive with cameras and cash in hand, providing a temporary economic boost to Upper Valley establishments.
The Dartmouth-Lake Sunapee region offers the best opportunities for leaf peeping in the beginning of October, according to the New Hampshire state Fall Foliage Guide. About 60 percent of leaves in the region change color around that time, according to the website.
Early fall is the most popular time of the year for tourists, according to Alanna Mayer, director of sales and marketing at the Norwich Inn in Norwich, Vt.
“A lot of reunions are going on at the College in fall, which piggyback on everything,” Mayer said. “I also find that October weddings are popular these days with all the colors.”
Many leaf peepers participate in several-day excursions and spend thousands of dollars in the area. Tauck World Discovery, a travel company organizes both domestic and international trips, offers a stop in Hanover as part of its eight-day, $2,590 “Classic New England” tour. Tourists with Tauck explore the town for one day as part of the trip and dine at the Hanover Inn, according to the company’s website.
The influx of seasonal visitors also means an influx of customers for area shops and restaurants. Fall is the busiest time of the year for the Dartmouth Co-op, for example, salesperson Jared Roberts said.
Despite ongoing tours, it appears that Hanover is declining in popularity as a leaf peeping destination, Toby Fried, owner of Lou’s Restaurant, said.
“The buses were more popular probably around eight to 10 years ago,” Fried said. “[They] used to park around the Green, but they were always harassed by the Hanover Police. Now, instead of here, they’ll stop in White River Junction.”
In late August, Hanover was ranked 13th out of the “Top 25 Foliage Towns” by Yankee Magazine. The publication compiled the list based on towns’ foliage quality, lodging availability and variety of shopping, according to the publication’s website.
The article has not caused a noticeable increase in tourists to Hanover, according to Tate Daly, a Vermont native and employee of Hanover Outdoors.
“I would say people already know to come here,” Daly said. “The foliage season in this area is world-renowned. It should be interesting to see how this season works out. I think the colors are getting better, but the prediction was it was going to be a bad season for foliage because of lack of rain.”
Approximately 6,000 respondents to an online poll conducted by Foliage Network indicated their plans to travel over 200 miles from their homes this fall to observe the seasonal changes. Hanover is a popular destination for non-American leaf peepers, as well as visitors from nearby states and Canada, according to Mayer.
“Before, we used to have a lot of bus tours of British and Japanese tourists, but we definitely haven’t seen as many recently,” Fried said. On Tuesday, two leaf peepers Guenther and Eleonore Busseler strolled along Main Street in Hanover on one of the closing days of their 10-day tour through the Northeast. The trip was the German couple’s second visit to the United States.
“We don’t like to only see the trees, we like to visit the towns,” Eleonore Busseler said. “We come for the nature and the colors and the history.”
Another tourist, Rosita Kempt of Switzerland, said Hanover’s atmosphere is unique compared to the other Northeastern towns she visited on her tour, and reminds her of her time as a college student.
Although she acknowledged Main Street’s commercial offerings, Kempt said she was most excited about the foliage.
“I preferred to buy an oatmeal cookie and sit [on the Green] and take it in,” she said. “I’ve taken some absolutely stunning pictures poster-quality.”
Leaf peepers who find themselves in Hanover for extended visits also enjoy the town’s recreational options. Wenkai Zeng, in town for a five-day visit from Shanghai, said he appreciated the golf course, as well as dining in Hanover.
Leaf peepers who visit this year are likely to return, Mayer said.
“I think that we do get a lot of return visitors,” she said. “Once you stay here once, everyone wants to come back.”