When to travel for peak fall foliage

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Autumn in Maine (Photo: C. McIntyre/PhotoLink)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on September 22, 2005. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: Connecticut, fall, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Midwest, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Northeast, Ohio, Pennsylvania, seasonality, vacation package, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Zak Patten.

The change in seasons turns our thoughts toward classic autumn activities in much of the country. From apple-picking to hayrides, we're called to experience the great outdoors before winter descends upon us. Fall foliage is another major draw for travelers, if not the biggest one of all. With leaves peaking for just a short period of time, the most pressing question is when to go for the best colors.

We've chosen a dozen states American leaf peepers commonly visit, from Maine in the East to Minnesota in the Midwest. Of course, there are many other great areas for foliage, and we've included links to sites that will help you find fall's finest, whether you're in California, Texas, or elsewhere.

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You'll find the most likely periods for fall foliage below. However, it's important to remember that gauging when a particular area's leaves are going to turn is an inexact science. Gale Ross of the Maine Department of Conservation advises us to "keep in mind that Mother Nature is the deciding factor on peak conditions."

So use our information as a general guideline, and make sure to follow up with the links or phone numbers provided before you explore the woods.

If your desired destination isn't listed in the chart below, check the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service website for information about that area. Or, visit STORMFAX.com for links to other states, along with phone numbers for fall-foliage hotlines. For insight from locals, the Foliage Network has volunteer leaf-peepers who post twice-weekly color reports from their areas.

State Phone number Peak predictions
Connecticut 800-CT-BOUND (800-282-6863) The best viewing is expected between October 5 and 12.
Maine 888-MAINE-45 (888-624-6345) Leaves peak during the last week of September in the north, and between Columbus Day weekend (October 8 through 10) and the third week of October in the rest of the state.
Massachusetts 800-227-MASS (800-227-6277) Peak season spans the month of October, with the first two weeks of the month peaking in the Berkshires, the middle two weeks in Central Massachusetts, and the final two weeks in Boston and the east.
Michigan 800-644-3255 The Upper Peninsula should peak starting at the end of September. More southerly areas will be at their best later.
Minnesota 800-657-3700 Predictions are not yet available, but current reports indicate fall color may be appearing more rapidly than expected, as a result of dry conditions. Check the Minnesota link to the left for the latest details.
New Hampshire 800-258-3608 Leaves should be at their most spectacular from the end of September through the first week of October in the far north of the state, and from the first week through mid-October in the south.
New York 800-CALL-NYS (800-225-5697) Expect the boldest colors during the last two weeks of September in the Adirondack and Catskill mountains, while a large part of the state will hit peak during the first two weeks of October. In the New York City area and on Long Island, the best foliage won't show up until the end of October through the first week of November.
Ohio N/A Ohio's fall foliage is projected to follow a logical pattern: The north should peak in early October, the central part of the state in mid-October, and southern Ohio in late October.
Pennsylvania 800-VISIT-PA (800-847-4872) The Keystone State's fallinpa.com predicts specific days for best leaf peeping. In the North, that date is October 8, in the central region, October 21. Interestingly, because of dry conditions, southern Pennsylvania is expected to reach peak earlier, on October 15. Obviously, anytime around these dates should provide great leaf-viewing opportunities as well.
Vermont 800-VERMONT (800-837-6668) You can spend a month checking out Vermont's peak foliage, as prime colors sweep down the state, beginning in mid-September in the north and winding up in mid-October in the south.
West Virginia 800-CALL WVA (800-225-5982) Parts of eastern West Virginia peak in late September, while the southwestern part of the state reaches top form in late October.
Wisconsin 800-432-TRIP (800-432-8747) TravelWisconsin.com has specific predictions for areas across the state, ranging from as early as late September in parts of the north to late October in more southerly regions such as Madison. Click on the Wisconsin link at the left for details.
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