Labor Day marks the time to think about fall travel. Although that means Thanksgiving for most of you, many will want to check out spectacular fall foliage. And despite what you might have thought, spectacular fall foliage isn’t confined to New England; you can spot some great leaves across much of the country. With any natural phenomenon, weather is critical, and it is especially so for fall foliage. Quite a few folks try to keep track of weather conditions to forecast the best viewing times in different locations.
• New England, Eastern United States and Eastern Canada: Jaunted is out of the gate with its first report, predicting that the best viewing in Maine will be the last week in September. Peaks in other areas include the first two weeks of October for Vermont/New Hampshire/upstate New York; mid-October for Boston and Cape Cod; mid- to late-October for the Jersey Shore and New York City; late October for Washington and Virginia, late October for the Carolinas and early November for Georgia.
Other sources for New England: Yankeefoliage.com, visitnh.gov and foliage-vermont.com provide interactive foliage maps; other sources include jeff-foliage.com and maine.gov/doc/foliage/. Although New England is the traditional favorite, the most spectacular fall foliage I ever saw was from an airport bus along the Washington-Baltimore parkway.
• Southeast: Probably your best bet is in the mountains of western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee, especially around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. According to About.com, gosoutheast.about.com/od/wintereventsfestivals/ss/fall_foliage_3.htm, the peak will come in late September and early October. I’ve seen it, and it’s spectacular: Just try to avoid weekends and especially football weekends in Knoxville, Tenn.
• Midwest: According to midwestliving.com, good fall foliage spots in the Midwest include Brown County, Ind., (south of Indianapolis, a personal favorite of my mother’s family), Cuyahoga Valley National Park outside Cleveland, Ohio, the Mackinac region of Michigan, the Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway, Door County, Wisconsin, the Ozarks in Arkansas and Minnesota’s Lake Superior shore.
• Rocky Mountains: Here, the unique attraction is the turning of leaves on the aspens. Although Colorado is the epicenter (see colorado.com/articles/aspen-viewing-colorado-fall-foliage-drives), a few years ago I chanced on an outstanding display just outside Santa Fe, N.M. According to several sources, Northern Colorado aspens should be at their best in late September, with late September to early October for the central area and early to mid-October for southern Colorado and New Mexico.
• West Coast: Top spots include the Sierra in California around Yosemite (but wildfires may pose a problem here), California’s Sonoma Valley, the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon/Washington and several areas of central Washington. And for a great side trip, try the Butchart Gardens outside Victoria, B.C.
Overall, you can find fall foliage displays in most of the United States and Canada. And several websites keep detailed track of the best times to visit, although most won’t have dates posted for a few more days. Among them:
• The Foliage Network (foliagenetwork.com) covers the Northeast, Southeast and Midwest in detail.
• The Weather Channel (weather.com) shows an overall map and dozens of detailed maps for regions all around the country. Weather Channel, incidentally, says that leaves are already at the peak level in most of the West.
• Chiff (www.chiff.com/a/fall-foliage.htm) provides links to detailed fall foliage data in 33 states.
• Most states post fall foliage information on their official visitor/tourist websites.
• User-generated travel data sites such as Traveladvisor.com also post lots of foliage reports.
All in all, you can find decent fall foliage in far more places than you might have thought, and you can also generally track the predicted best viewing times. When you plan your fall trip, just remember to avoid weekends, if you possibly can and stay away from any cities that might be hosting a big football game or some other major event.
You can find decent fall foliage in far more places than you might have thought