We are now officially in the throes of fall, which means that 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.
Last autumn was an especially good season to see vibrant, colorful New England leaves, whereas this year’s foliage forecast looks a bit more like a return to normalcy. But even an average year for leaf-peeping in New England results in some beautiful scenery, 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.
What makes for a great fall foliage season?
Typically, the weather during the prior winter and spring play a big role in how brilliant the foliage will be that fall. Salge said that the conditions for foliage in 2017 were the best the region had seen in about five years, mainly due to the weather that preceded it.
“We had a good winter with a nice snow pack, which obliterated the drought from ,” Salge said. “The forests stayed healthy, with moderate rain and temperatures.”
Salge did caution that even with good conditions leading up to the season, 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.
Where are some of 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
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. Known by locals as simply “the Kanc,” the route is now designated as an American Scenic Byway, due in large part to its reputation as one of the country’s top leaf-peeping spots.
The Mohawk Trail, Massachusetts
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, Salge suggests Columbus Day weekend.
Acadia Park, Maine
With its location on the Maine coastline, Acadia gives visitors the added bonus of seeing both incredible leaves and breathtaking shorelines. Acadia’s trees traditionally turn a bit later than the northwest parts of the state, but they’ll likely be on full display by early-to-mid October.