Saturday marks the first day of autumn, and before you know it, the local landscape will see an explosion of color. New England is renowned for its brilliantly hued leaves, attracting leaf peepers from all over the U.S. who seek the autumnal tapestry of New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, and sometimes even the lower half of New England.
This year is supposed to be an especially good year to see vibrant, colorful New England leaves, so if you’ve been pondering becoming a foliage fanatic, now is the time to do it.
To help you maximize your experience, we talked to Jim Salge, a former meteorologist at Mount Washington turned high school physics teacher who shares his leaf-peeping insights on New England Today and his eye-popping foliage photographs on his website.
Why is this year going to be so great for fall foliage?
Salge said that this year’s foliage should be the best the region has seen in about five years, mainly due to the weather that preceded it.
“We have a great setup,” he said. “We had a good winter with a nice snow pack, which obliterated the drought from last year. The forests have stayed healthy, with moderate rain and temperatures.”
Salge did caution that things could still change.
“We need to continue to have typical New England weather — cool weather, sunny skies throughout the fall — in order to bring out the best colors,” he said. “We definitely need to minimize hot weather, and minimize cloud cover. Those two things would be fairly detrimental to the creation of the red pigments that everybody loves. We need to keep the hurricanes away, as well, but so far so good there.”
What sort of trees should you seek out?
You can spot gorgeous fall colors in many plants, even spruces and shrubs. However, the main attraction in New England is the majestic maple, found across the region’s forests and particularly in Maine and northern New Hampshire.
“The maples are really the prime trees that create the great colors New England is known for,” Salge said. “Red maples are turning already in the swamps. Sugar maples make up a lot of the Northern Forest.”
Though the Boston area can offer excellent colors, Salge said that oak trees are more commonly found here than maples, and oaks aren’t quite the color superstars that maples are.
“Oaks tend to be a more muted, rusty color,” Salge said, “while maples tend to be really, really vibrant.”
When does fall foliage typically “peak” in the Greater Boston area?
As Boston.com’s own meteorologist/horticulture enthusiast Dave Epstein has noted in the past, the idea of “peak” foliage can vary from person to person, depending on whether you prefer the brilliant reds or the soft yellows of the leaves. Nevertheless, Salge pinpointed some opportunities for admiring the Boston area’s trees this fall.
“Blue Hills [Reservation] and the interior area of Boston usually peak sometime from Columbus Day through mid-October,” Salge said. “Boston Common is a beautiful place to see foliage, as is a trip along the Charles, but that usually isn’t [at peak foliage] until the last week in October, or even early November.”
Salge said that proximity to the coast has a big impact on when a tree’s leaves turn. Trees located a bit more inland turn closer to Columbus Day. Those in Boston or close to the coastline turn nearer to the end of the month.
When does fall foliage peak on the best leaf-peeping routes in New England?
If you don’t want to wait until late October for the leaves in Boston to hit their stride, Salge recommended these three weekend drives.
Kancamagus Highway, New Hampshire: Oct. 1-8
The Kancamagus is a 32-mile stretch of Route 112 that runs through the White Mountains from Lincoln to Conway, and is renowned for its foliage. Salge predicted that the first week in October will be the ideal time to check it out.
The Mohawk Trail, Massachusetts: Oct. 6-9
Cambridge commuters may know Route 2 as a source of endless frustration and gridlock. But out in central and western Massachusetts, the highway becomes the Mohawk Trail, a 60-mile path through the Berkshires from Orange to Williamstown. If you want to make this drive for foliage-viewing purposes this year, Salge suggested Columbus Day weekend.
Acadia Park, Maine: October 13-15
With its location on the Maine coastline, Acadia will be best viewed during the second weekend of October, according to Salge.