Though fall doesn’t technically begin until Sept. 23, you need to plan your leaf peeping trip now to see the leaves changing colors across the U.S.
When planning a leaf peeping adventure, remember your destination’s altitude, advises an article in Blue Ridge Mountain Life, an online publication that promotes the region. “Fall colors begin at the highest elevations in early October, and work their way down to the lower elevations in early November.”
Each fall, various forecast tools aim to predict the arrival of autumn foliage using data points such as historical precipitation and temperature data, leaf peak trends, observations and model outputs from previous years.
Even so, foretelling fall foliage is tricky as no one can guarantee exactly where and when foliage will peak — especially with unusual weather patterns.
Still, travelers can use these forecasts as a guide to plan their trips. Just keep in mind that the foliage may be a few weeks out of sync with any prediction map.
Where to see fall foliage this year
This year, Colorado’s forecast aligns with the patterns of a typical fall season, with leaves changing first in the northern mountains (Rocky Mountain National Park, Steamboat Springs, Flat Tops) beginning around Sept. 15 and progressing to the southern ranges (Vail, Aspen and others) by Sept. 17 and then to Denver in October.
Utah’s national parks — including Arches, Zion and Bryce Canyon — may be best known for their sandstone cliffs and gravity-defying arches, but they’re also great places to enjoy the fall foliage around this same time, from late September through October. Plus, the autumnal light illuminates the red rocks spectacularly.
On the West Coast, the area surrounding Portland, Oregon, is renowned for its incredible scenery, and Oregon’s wild landscapes explode with bursts of color at every turn. This year, Portland could start seeing the leaves change by the end of September, peaking at the middle to end of October.
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Take a steamboat ride and admire the changing leaves from the river, or get in your car and drive the Columbia River Highway — a stretch of interstate designed specifically for its incredible vistas.
For travelers on the East Coast, the leaves in many of New England’s most popular leaf peeping states are predicted to begin to turn this year in the first two weeks of October, including in Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island and New Hampshire.
For 2023, New England will be near or have its best fall foliage on Oct. 11, per The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
In Maine’s Acadia National Park, peak foliage is expected to start around Oct. 2, with ultimate peak hitting between Oct. 9 and 13. In addition to stunning foliage, you could also see the sunrise as it first hits the U.S. from the 1,530-foot summit of Cadillac Mountain.
Vermont and New Hampshire are also great destinations for hiking and leaf peeping, followed by apple picking and snacking on cider doughnuts. Don’t forget about the fall foliage in the Berkshires, a mountainous region in western Massachusetts easily reachable from New York City and Boston. October is also one of the best times of year to see the fall foliage while hiking in the Adirondack Mountains of New York state, and visitors can benefit from one of the longest and more predictable leaf peeping seasons.
By late October, travelers will want to turn their sights toward the Mid-Atlantic states and the Southeast. The area where the Smoky Mountains are located is one of the country’s most beautiful regions, and the eponymous national park is where you want to be this time of year.
Virginia’s plentiful deciduous trees and varied landscape provide a long fall foliage season. Fall foliage begins mid-to-late September, with peak colors generally occurring from Oct.10-31. The Virginia Department of Forestry’s fall foliage report provides insight on when and where to visit for optimum autumn leaf viewing.
For the best views, head to the observation deck at the peak of Clingmans Dome, or consider one of the iconic scenic drives in the area instead, such as Cades Cove Loop Road, the Blue Ridge Parkway or the Foothills Parkway.
If you’re headed to western North Carolina, check out the fall color map created by Appalachian State University’s Department of Biology staff for a timing estimation of fall color peaks for various regions of the state, including Waynesville, Asheville, Grandfather Mountain and Boone.
Consider Kansas and parts of Missouri, such as a trip to the Lake of the Ozarks. The maple, oak, hickory and ash trees along the 1,150 miles of shoreline will be reimagined in painterly hues in November — though the American smoke tree, which can become an almost electric shade of pink, tends to peak much earlier.
Alternatively, take a scenic drive through the country roads that wind through the rugged forests of the Ozark Mountains for even more imposing views.
Travelers can also head to the southern edges of Arizona and New Mexico for late-season fall foliage, which should peak again this year in November. It is also possible to see fall foliage farther south, from Texas to Florida.
In the southwestern corner of Texas, Big Bend National Park is home to the nation’s largest protected area of the Chihuahuan Desert. November is a great month to camp, hike and backpack. Check out the Chimneys Trail, which winds through a rock formation in the desert, and the Santa Elena Canyon Trail, which snakes along the Rio Grande River.
Another great place to see fall foliage in Texas in November is the Guadalupe Mountains, where bigtooth maple trees erupt in a riot of color across the McKittrick and Pine canyons.
Or, if you want to go a little farther south, consider a trip to the Kisatchie National Forest in Louisiana. The area has more than 600,000 acres of woodland, and most of the state could be at its peak in November (along with central Florida).
Though fall foliage maps and tools can’t make any guarantees, they offer a useful guide to determine where and when you should plan your fall foliage trips this year.
By November, much of the country is usually past its peak. However, there are still pockets of the U.S. showcasing beautiful foliage throughout the month, and travelers can look forward to seeing splashes of color much later in the season in some destinations than is typical. For predicted peak dates across the country this year, see the Farmers’ Almanac.
Remember, any change in weather over the next few weeks could adjust the predicted peak timing for any of these places, so be sure to be flexible as possible with your plans.