Travel

What experts are saying about the 2021 fall foliage season in New England

"There's always good color every single year. Don't have FOMO for leaf peeping."

Beartown State Forest in Monterey. DCR

The region’s warm weather means foliage season will begin later this year, according to meteorologist David Epstein.

“It’s been a really warm September,” he said. “So that’s going to slow things down this year.”

The region generally sees color from late September in northern New England through early November in southern New England. Look for sugar and red maples to turn first, with oaks turning later in the season, according to Epstein.

Record wet weather means the region’s leaves, for the most part, are thick and healthy, Epstein said, though some have fungal issues. The warm weather will push peak foliage deeper into the season, Epstein wrote in his foliage forecast.

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However, leaf peepers shouldn’t get hung up on the idea of peak foliage, Epstein said.

“There’s always good color every single year,” he said. “Don’t have FOMO for leaf peeping.”

For those planning fall foliage trips, late October will be ideal, he said.

“I think the weekend after Columbus Day is probably going to be a good weekend for color all around,” he said. “Between Columbus Day and the week after.”

Ahead, experts from each New England state share their foliage expectations for 2021 and the best leaf peeping destinations.

Massachusetts

Fall foliage in Boston. – Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau

“This year we are, unfortunately, expecting another year where our colors will be a little more muted and subdued,” said Nicole Keleher, forest health director for the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

Last year’s drought resulted in less vibrant leaves and this year’s wet weather is having the same impact, she said.

“They’re very picky,” she said about the trees. “To have those beautiful, vibrant, long-lasting colors, you need to have really healthy leaves.”

Wet conditions have left the leaves more vulnerable to fungal pathogens, and insects have also done damage to some trees, particularly in the Berkshires, she said.

Look for maples to turn soon in the western part of the state, which is dominated by them, Keleher said. Those will peak in early October. In the central and eastern parts of Massachusetts, where it’s a bit warmer and there are more oak trees, peak will take place later in October, she said.

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No matter the conditions, you can’t beat foliage season in Massachusetts, Keleher said.

“We have so many different species that are all a little bit unique in that color palette,” she said. “So when you are looking out across the landscape, you just see so many different colors all coming together to create this beautiful scene.”

The state’s rail trails, such as the Norwottuck Rail Trail in Northampton and Ashuwillitook Rail Trail in Cheshire, are excellent places for fall foliage experiences, Keiko Matsudo Orrall, executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism.

“The rail trails are great because they are flat and easy and accessible,” Orrall said. “I’m looking forward to not just the driving tours but the experiential tours where you’re actually in nature exploring, hiking and biking.”

Other great places to see foliage: the Mohawk Trail, Mount Greylock State Reservation, the Emerald Necklace, and any of the state’s “amazing” state parks, she said.

For a unique fall experience, Orrall recommended a cranberry bog tour.

“That contrast with the red berries against the foliage of the changing leaves, it’s a beautiful sight to see,” Orrall said.

You can track the foliage and find fall activities at visitma.com.

New Hampshire

Fall foliage along the Kancamagus Highway in the White Mountains on Thursday, Oct. 10. – Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe

“We have a pretty good canopy out there, so I don’t see any reason why we’d have a muted year or disappointing year,” said Steven Roberge, extension forestry specialist with UNH cooperative extension.

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The season will begin in the north and head south, he said. In Errol, located in Coos County by the Maine border, the red maples are already “absolutely brilliant,” he said.

“New Hampshire is kind of interesting because you can come from mid- September to late October and see brilliant fall foliage,” he said.

“We have over 1,000 miles of designated scenic and cultural byways that crisscross throughout the state,” said Lori Harnois, New Hampshire’s director of travel and tourism. “I typically encourage people to take that road less traveled, especially during the fall time.”

The White Mountains, recently named the best destination in America to see fall foliage by USA Today readers, never disappoint during foliage season, she said.

“The Kancamagus Highway is a popular place to see the foliage,” Harnois said, noting visitors will find it less crowded this time of year mid week.

New Hampshire offers many ways to view foliage, Harnois said, with options ranging from kayaking to zip-lining to mountain biking. Other great ways to see the color is through a cruise on Lake Winnipesaukee, or by visiting some of the state’s many “charming” towns.

“The trees just explode with color and it really presents a beautiful backdrop as you travel through and experience all the different attractions you can do in New Hampshire,” she said.

You can follow the foliage reports and plan your fall adventures at visitnh.gov.

Maine

The State House surrounded by fall foliage in Augusta, Maine in 2017. – Robert F. Bukaty / AP, File

“I really believe we are setting ourselves up for a fantastic, spectacular season,” said Gale Ross, fall foliage spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry in Maine.

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Last year, Maine saw a shortened four-week foliage season rather than the typical six-week season, Ross said.

“It’s always about the weather going forward,” she said. “Mother Nature needs all of the elements in place to help put her trees to bed.”

Color will progress north to south, with northern Maine reaching peak conditions in the last week of September or first week of October, the central part of the state around Columbus Day, and the southern and coastal areas in mid-to-late October, she said.

The western mountains of Maine are “breathtaking” during fall foliage season, Ross said. Also, the blueberry barrons in Down East Maine are “spectacular,” she said. Bradbury Mountain State Park in Pownal is a popular fall hiking spot, Ross said.

“Once you reach the top, you have a 360 panoramic view of the fall colors,” she said.

You can track the foliage and find fall activities at mainefoliage.com.

Vermont

Fall foliage in Richmond, Vermont, in 1998. – Toby Talbot / AP, File

There’s always “mystery and magic” to the fall foliage season, said Michael Snyder, Vermont state forester and commissioner of the Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation.

“We expect it to be great again,” Snyder said. “It’s always good. Some years, it’s sort of off the charts, right? And that’s what I’m curious about this year.”

The vibrance of the foliage season depends on the conditions of the forest coming into fall, as well as the weather, he said.

A mix of cold nights, sunny days, and a little bit of rain could help make this season shine, he said. But there have also been a higher than usual amount of tree pests and pathogens this year, which could factor in.

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“I think, as ever, no matter what, Vermont’s hillsides and valleys, the landscape will look beautiful as ever,” he said.

In September, visitors will find the best color in the northern counties, he said, and then as the season progresses, they’ll find it in the southern counties.

“If you want to do a full on tour of Vermont, you’re going to come here the last week of September, the first two weeks of October, [and] you’ll have your best chance to see the greatest variety of peak,” he said.

Those who want to tour Vermont by car have plenty of choices, Snyder said.

“The Route 2 corridor across the north, the Route 7 corridor north/south on the west side of the state that travels through farmlands and hillsides, and then Route 100 down the spine of the Green Mountains really are your best bets,” he said.

Snyder recommends taking side trips off those routes and even touring by water.

“When you get out in a canoe or kayak or other vessel, it’s delightful,” he said. “You add the magic of the water and the open sky with the colors.”

For “fantastic early color” in the north, head to Brighton State Park in Island Pond and Maidstone State Park in Guildhall, Snyder said. Molly Stark State Park in Wilmington and Green River Reservoir State Park in Hyde Park, which he called “epic” and “one of our crown-jewel state parks,” are also worth a trip this season, Snyder said.

Follow the foliage and discover things to do at vermontvacation.com.

Connecticut

This undated photo provided by the Connecticut Office of Tourism shows fall foliage surrounding Heublein Tower on Talcott Mountain in Bloomfield, Conn. – Kindra Clineff / Connecticut Office of Tourism via AP

“I think this year is really going to be special,” said Chris Martin, forestry director at the Connecticut Bureau of Natural Resources. “I dare say: better than last year.”

While leaves turned color earlier last year due to a drought, Martin expects the opposite this year because the trees are abundantly watered. Martin said he expects a later, more synchronized season.

Columbus Day weekend will be the start of peak season, he said. Peak is heavily influenced by overnight temperatures in late September and early October, he said.

Visitors can leaf peep at Mohawk Mountain in Cornwall around Columbus Day weekend, he said. Shenipsit State Forest in Stafford also offers a great viewing tower which can be accessed by car or trail, he said.

“You can see into Massachusetts, you can see Springfield, you can see the Worcester Hills and you can almost see portions of Hartford,” he said.

You can track the foliage and find fall activities at ctvisit.com.

Rhode Island

Simmons Mill Pond Management area in Little Compton, R.I.

“It’s looking like it should be a good season,” said Lou Allard, urban and community forestry program coordinator with Rhode Island’s Department of Environmental Management.

Warm days and cool evenings will bring pigment to the leaves, he said, and this year’s wet summer could help the leaves hang on longer.

Those planning foliage trips can target mid-October, Allard said.

“Probably the week of Oct. 12 will be the best viewing,” he said.

Lincoln Woods State Park in Lincoln and the Blackstone River Bikeway, which runs along the Blackstone River from Cumberland to Providence, are both great places for spotting foliage, Allard said.

“It’s always a nice scene when you have the water reflecting the foliage,” he said.

Blithewold in Bristol, with its “spectacular” arborestum, is another excellent leaf-peeping destination, he said. Roger Williams Park in Providence is another great place to leaf peep, and Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge in South Kingstown has “a nice walking path with a good open view of the trees,” he said.

Also, it’s worth hopping on the Newport & Narragansett Bay Railroad to see fall foliage in Rhode Island, he said.

You can track the fall foliage and find fall activities at visitri.com.

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