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Far Northern New England Racing Towards Peak

Posted Tuesday, September 20th, 2011
Far Northern New England Racing Towards Peak
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The calendar officially changes from summer this week, and for the past week or so, it’s finally felt like autumn. In one clearing sweep from a sharp cold front last Thursday, true New England fall-like weather has settled in. Out of the closets have come the fleece and flannel, as the morning air has a distinct biting chill. Afternoons have marked by light breezes under deep blue skies and bright, warm sunshine.  My dogs dislodged the first mature milkweed seeds of the season, which took flight over a field of deep purple asters while they played. My home is filled with the sweet smell of the concord grapes rapidly ripening on the vines out back, and nearby apple trees are also at the ready. And in the highest elevations of New England, snow fell for the first time this season.

Another sure sign of the transition to fall is the morning mist rising off the still warm lakes and wetlands at sunrise. To me, standing on a lake shore on a misty morning, listening to the call of the loons, and watching a canoe emerge from the depths of the obscuration is as much a part autumn as the rich colors lining the lake. Not every morning is conducive for such conditions though, and I’ve found that two factors must be in place for the air to reach the dew point before dawn…clear skies and light winds. Under clear skies, the heat of the day is allowed to radiate out into space, whereas clouds act like a blanket trapping heat. Light winds limit the stirring of the air with warmer air just aloft, and therefore allowing the layer just above the lake to cool.

Tall Pines in the Mist
Tall Pines in the Mist in Kingston, NH

If a clear, cool, calm night is predicted, morning mist is likely.  These conditions occur frequently in autumn, and incorporating morning mist into your fall photographs is a great way to add depth, isolate portions of a scene, and add mood. To catch this compositional component, you might have to get up early, but the trade off is the peace and solitude you find in simple, tranquil scenes.

Little White Church The Little White Church in Eaton, NH in the Morning Mist – October 2008

This cool snap has also accelerated the color changes in our northern forests. Already now, areas above three thousand feet, and traditionally cool northern valleys are showing hints of the show to come. A few hillside maples now match their siblings in the swamps, and the golds of birches are starting to show on granite outcropping. This past weekend, I took my own advice in the previous blog and hiked high in the New England alpine zone, from which I could see the landscape for miles in every direction. Areas north of the notches are definitely far more advanced in color than those to the south, but that is quite typical in September.  Below is a example of the early color from photographer Luke Barton, from south of Pinkham Notch in New Hampshire on September 18th.

Washington From Jackson Farm Peaks of Color in the Southern Notches – Luke Barton Photo

The weekend ahead will be a benchmark for gauging the season’s color, as a few areas in the far northern reaches of New England will be rapidly racing towards peak next week. Unfortunately, weather pattern won’t continue to provide such ideal support,as a fairly stagnant boundary sets up. This will bring a bit of moisture, seasonably warm temperatures and a few scattered showers into the weekend, and the impact may be a slowing of the advancing colors.

The best color this weekend will be largely reserved for some of the higher elevations of the Northeast Kingdom, Dixville Notch, the Zealand Valley and Baxter State Park, which should all have at least moderate color by the weekend. Great drives this weekend might be Rt 5 and 5A around Lake Willoughby in Vermont, Rt. 26 through Dixville Notch in New Hampshire, and The Golden Road from Millinocket, Maine. I wouldn’t expect peak conditions, but color will be moderate with mixed greens and reds. It might actually be even nicer in these areas the following weekend, but you’ll also have far wider options to see color by then.

Zealand Valley Zealand Valley in New Hampshire at Peak in Late September 2009

Overall, things are still shaping up very well for the season ahead. The maples look healthy, and are starting to show signs of strong reds. The color is a showing a bit late, but not far from the statistical norm.  There are a few more unhealthy birches than in a typical season, but it’s more common to see the birch’s bark featured in photographs than their foliage, so I wouldn’t be worried. Road access through areas hit hard by Irene continue to improve with temporary and/or permanent fixes…so hopefully you find yourself on the road this weekend! And while you are on the go, enjoying this beautiful season, be sure to report back to us at Yankee Foliage with our foliage mobile app, or on our facebook page! Everyone is excited to see what you find!

Jim Salge


Jim Salge


As a former meteorologist at the Mount Washington Observatory, foliage reporter Jim Salge is a keen observer of the progression of the seasons in New England. He uses his knowledge of weather, geography and climate to pinpoint the best time to visit various New England locations to find the best light, atmosphere, and most importantly, color.
Updated Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

19 Responses to Far Northern New England Racing Towards Peak

  1. Mike DiGiovanna September 21, 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    Hi Jim … I grew up in CT, we have a cottage in Newfane, VT and now live in Calif. My wife and I are planning a trip to Boston and VT for October and have the option of arriving in southern VT on Oct. 10 for 3-4 days or Oct. 17 for 4-5 days. Any prediction on what week might be best for foliage? My past experience tells me the earlier in October, the better, but I don’t know if that’s change in light of the hurricane.


    • Jim Salge September 21, 2011 at 7:53 pm #

      I think that your instincts are right…I would vote on October 10th between the two for southern VT! Enjoy!

  2. Allen Karsh September 21, 2011 at 3:36 pm #

    Nice photo of Zealand Valley. Where was it taken from?

    • Jim Salge September 21, 2011 at 7:54 pm #

      The Zealand Valley is a nice nearly level hike from the end of Zealand Road near Twin Mountain, NH. The hike brings you to Zealand AMC hut, which has a nice view of the valley. From there, it’s a steep hike to Zeacliff, from where this was taken!

  3. Eitan September 22, 2011 at 11:06 am #

    Hi Jim,
    I came across your blog post and loved it. We’re going to land at NYC at 30-Oct. We have 10 days of vacation and planning to rent a car and drive along beautiful roads upstate NY. What are the prospects of catching any peaks?

    • Jim Salge September 22, 2011 at 1:31 pm #

      Hi Eitan,

      I don’t know New York as well as New England, but the closer you stay to New York City that time of year, the better luck you’ll have with colors. I know that around New York City has a fairly late peak, but much of the ‘daks and Catskills will be past peak by then. There will still be some color left, but a lot of bare trees. I’d stay in the southern Hudson Valley, or perhaps consider Pennsylvania as an option too…

      Perhaps others know more information around that area?!

  4. Jerry September 22, 2011 at 9:10 pm #

    HI Jim,
    This year, I am taking my wife on a trip up through the Thousand Islands, northern Maine then into Vermont, NH, and, time permitting, Mass.
    We live in Tacoma, WA. and will start our journey from my cousins home in western N.Y. October 2nd and will return to my cousins on Oct. 9th. I have a new GPS and lots of maps from AAA. We are hoping to stay mainly on local county roads and avoid major freeways and highways.
    What is your best guess for fall colors on our route?
    Many thanks in advance for your help……

    • Jim Salge September 23, 2011 at 9:05 am #

      I think that the of western mass and vermont, and the northern two thirds of NH will be showing high color by that time. I think you’ll be a bit early for eastern and coastal areas, but you’ll see fine color throughout your drive! Enjoy!

  5. Prospect & Ed September 22, 2011 at 9:19 pm #

    Hey Jim,

    Very informative and well written post. Our goal this year has been to make New England for a dog road trip this fall; my dynamic schedule has me flip-flopping but think we might make a jaunt after all. From what I read arriving in VT / NH the 12-14 would not be too late to enjoy some colorful vistas.

    Prospect the Dog and I enjoy nice long hikes (6-8 miles total). Sounds like you are a dog lover too. Any suggestions on good places to pitch a tent for 2-3 nights as base to explore?

    Ed “The Chauffeur” and Prospect

    • Jim Salge September 23, 2011 at 9:03 am #

      Hi Ed, and Prospect!

      The minor issue with that weekend, is that many of the National Forest Campgrounds close after Columbus Day. This will leave you with private campgrounds. I’m not too familiar with camping in VT, but I might suggest that it’s a great time in and around the Conway area, and there are a few private campgrounds near the saco river there. From that area, you can hit the eastern Kank, the Green Hills Preserve, and dip into the lakes region and the beautiful Ossipee Mountains, which should all be at peak!

      Good luck!

      • Prospect & Ed September 23, 2011 at 7:41 pm #

        Thanks for the info Jim!! You mind if we add some links to your posts?

        We’re going to be doing more ‘research’ this weekend. Possibly the National Forests will allow ‘disbursement’ camping after Columbus Day. We’ve had lots of fun going up in the mountains and finding a secluded campsite base in the Colorado Rockies and the South Dakota Black Hills.

        As with all our trips, there’s going to be so much to see and do, we just have to ‘draw the line’ and make sure we give quality to time to what we do put on the agenda.

  6. Karen Ogburn September 25, 2011 at 9:31 pm #

    Hello Jim,
    I live in Florida and haven’t seen true foliage in its splendor for many years. I have an opportunity to fly into Providence on either the 13th or 14th of October for 3 to 4 days. My son is living in Chicopee, MA temporarily, and is not too familiar with the area. Do you have any suggestions for “must-sees” in that area? We’re not opposed to a little driving either.
    Karen O

    • Jim Salge September 27, 2011 at 7:44 pm #

      A bit north of the area, Deerfield has some classic farm and hill views. But really you won’t go wrong on any country road out there!

  7. Beth September 26, 2011 at 1:58 am #

    We are arriving in Boston on October 13 and have 3 nights in Grafton,VT beginning on the 14. Where are our best options to see foliage this late. We can drive into NH or stay in MA, but it is our first trip so we want to go where we can see the best color. We are leaving Boston on the 18. Thanks.
    Very much enjoyed your info. and incuded photos

    • Jim Salge September 27, 2011 at 7:47 pm #

      I think you’ll see great color all along on your trip. I would drive through the Monadnock Region of NH, and take in views of the mountain from Dublin Lake before heading to Vermont. A quick drive up to Woodstock will also provide nice views on country roads! Enjoy!

  8. Laura September 26, 2011 at 11:47 pm #

    Hi Jim,
    I am arriving in Hartford, CT on Sept 30 and will be staying through Oct 4. Last year we stayed our entire time in VT. Was thinking about focusing on NH this year around the Conway area. What are your suggestions on best area for really good foliage this weekend. More interested in best color than going somewhere different if that is the case.
    Really appreciate your blogs!!! And cant wait to come to your neck of the woods!!!!
    Laura……in Texas

    • Jim Salge September 27, 2011 at 7:48 pm #

      Conway proper tends to turn a bit later than your dates, but a trip through Crawford Notch, Pinkham Notch or the Kank from Conway, all within a half hour to an hour, will offer great color! If you’ve not been through the Whites, they are not to be missed!

  9. Lauryn Farris September 27, 2011 at 12:06 am #

    I will be in or around Burlington October 19-24, from South Texas, where might I find the best foliage? I have over a day free where would the best place be at that time?

    • Jim Salge September 27, 2011 at 7:50 pm #

      The main peak will be over by then, but the secondary peak or rust colors in the beeches and oaks will be widespread. Brighter colors might linger along the lake shore, otherwise you’d have to travel further south. But I quite like the rusty secondary peak!

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