The timing of a fall leaf trip will be trickier this year — here’s where and when to go

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AAs any self-respecting bookkeeper can tell you, timing is key when planning a fall break. Go too early or too late and you’ll miss out on the most dazzling colors of the season.

For a display of truly blockbuster colors, the year has to unfold in some way. Ideally, there should be a prolonged snow cover in winter, followed by a wet spring and a Goldilocks summer that is neither too hot nor too humid. And then autumn should bring sunny days and cold, crisp nights. Unfortunately, that’s not how 2022 played out in many parts of the country, says Jim Salge, foliage expert at Yankee magazine.

In a number of regions, including much of southern New England, drought conditions will be the biggest factor in this year’s foliage display. “The wave of peak color will begin in northern New England as usual in late September. After that, southern development may slow or slow down, keeping leaf color in southern New England into November,” says Salge.

At the macro level, climate change is making weather patterns more aberrant, Salge says. The wet seasons are wetter, the dry seasons drier, the hot seasons hotter and so on. And quietly, in the background, “our fall temperatures have long been steadily rising, especially in the nighttime lows. In September and October, New England nighttime lows have steadily warmed over the past several decades. It’s quite significant, more than a degree or two,” he says.

The result is a slow change in fall colors. “Our leaf accelerates quickly after the first few cool nights. And if that doesn’t happen until later, the blade starts spinning later. And we’ve seen that consistently in the 12 years that I’ve been doing this now. Until you get that shot of cold air, the colors don’t really kick in.”

Here are Salge’s recommendations for US destinations that will deliver the most sensational pops of color this year.


Northeast

Showstoppers: Northeastern Vermont, Northern New Hampshire, Bigelow Range in Maine

When: late September to early October

“In northern New England, where the drought has had less of an impact — especially in the White Mountains, the Green Mountains, and the mountains of Western Maine — we should see typical foliage conditions, i.e. the colors should be spectacular” Salge says.

If he had to pick a favorite destination, Salge says you can’t go wrong with Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. “It’s just dotted with cute, quintessential New England towns,” he says. “You get all the beautiful foliage and people selling baked goods by the roadside and all that other great stuff.”

On the other hand, if you’re considering going to Boston or Newport or the Connecticut coast, it’s going to be a lot harder to find those bright Kodachrome colors. Overall, southern New England is harder to predict this year “and the color will likely set in late and or turn brown,” Salge says, referring to a phenomenon that occurs in places that are abnormally dry. “In years like these, where droughts reach extreme and severe levels, the trees just start to close, especially in more urban areas, areas with thin soils, rock faces, forest edges, even the edges of golf courses. Instead of getting nice, bright leaf colors, the leaves wrinkle, turn brown and fall off early.”

Salge says this is already happening in parts of southern New England. “As you get closer to the coast, and especially south towards the Boston-Providence area, it gets drier and drier. So even without that cold snap, the trees are showing signs of stress.”


Upper Midwest

Showstopper: Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

When: early October

In general the The region has seen little drought and the spring and summer arrangement has been good for the health of the forest. “We expect the foliage to be clear and on time this season, if not a little early,” says Salge.

“This is the third year in a row that we are in a La Nina pattern,” notes Salge. “The cooling of the Pacific waters could lead to a fairly active northern jet stream.” That can affect the timing. The colors may also appear a little early this year, Salge says, if the cold fronts clear out of Canada a little earlier than usual.


Mountain West

Showstopper: Colorado

When: mid-september

In most of the Mountain West region, hot and dry summer conditions should push the show up early and short, Salge predicts.

The outlier is Colorado, which has had a wetter year. “Colorado has had some good rain and some good snowfall this year. We think the trees there will be the showstoppers of the Mountain West. The aspens will be good and they will be turning early, mid-September, in the Colorado mountains.”


Pacific Northwest

Showstopper: Cascade Mountains

When: early October

After last year’s “horribly anomalous” conditions in the Pacific Northwest — 100-degree days in Seattle, massive diebacks in trees and marine life — Salge says this year is downright normal.

“We expect the forests to be healthy and resilient and do the things they normally do,” Salge says, predicting that tamaracks — also known as American larch trees — will be particularly bright this year in the Enchantments, an area within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area of ​​the Cascade Mountain Range in Washington State.

Unlike most conifers, the American larch does not retain its needles all year round. Each October, when autumn comes in the high country, the needles turn from green to glowing gold, creating a dazzling spectacle before falling from the tree.


Mid-Atlantic Ocean

Showstoppers: Adirondack Mountains, Catskill Mountains

When: early October

Salge expects a strong foliar season, especially in the Adirondacks and Catskills of New York, the Pennsylvanian highlands and in New Jersey. “It’s been relatively dry, but I think it’s pretty healthy overall.”


Southeast

Showstoppers: Blue Ridge Mountains, Great Smoky Mountains

When: mid to late October

“Expect a bright show, with peak colors perhaps a little later than the historical average due to the hot summer temperatures,” Salge says.