Foliage Report | Finding New England Foliage Columbus Day Weekend
Finally, the most anticipated weekend of autumn is upon us!
Columbus Day consistently ranks among the biggest weekends annually for New England tourism, as it offers many three days away from work around the time much of the area is showing peak foliage.
To enhance the draw, many agricultural fairs, Octoberfests and autumn festivals are planned by towns, regions, and resorts, offering visitors lots of pairing choices with their requisite leaf peeping. These special events only add to the great opportunities that New England offers every autumn weekend, from apple picking to zip-lining, and countless outdoor activities in our fields, forests, lakes, and rivers.
Leaf peeping remains central to the New England autumn experience and finding the best fall color is everyone’s goal. It’s usually not hard to find, and though this weekend offers some unique challenges, there’ll be plenty of color around.
To understand where the best color will be this weekend, we need to review a brief bit of recent arboreal history.
Since early September, the weather pattern has been absolutely ideal for bringing out the best foliage colors. Clear skies, warm days and cool nights caused the color to come on strongly across a good portion of the region. In the far north, widespread color came on time, or just a bit early, and while oranges covered the hillsides, reds filled the valleys and wetlands.
Interestingly, the farther south you went, the earlier the color seemed to arrive early this year, when compared to normal. Much of the early color was provided by the red maples and birches, while oaks and most sugar maples seemed to decouple from the process. In a drive from Coastal New Hampshire through Central Connecticut this past weekend, I was very impressed by the strong early color in lowlands and wetlands, while the hillsides above remained largely green.
Unfortunately, a powerful cold front that passed through the area on Monday has completely changed the game in many areas. Winds briefly moved through at 30 to 50 mph, and some of that early color is now on the ground.
To break down the effects, and preview the upcoming weekend, we’ll have to look at a few distinct areas separately.
The far northern portions of New England, down through the northern notches, are now decisively past peak. In fact, even last weekend, the heights of Smuggler’s Notch and Crawford Notch were slightly past, while the top of the Kancamagus Highway was bare. The cold front has only pushed these areas along.
The valleys below these mountain passes were approaching peak last weekend as well, and with the loss of some color, will likely also be past this weekend too. It’s important to note that past peak here doesn’t at all mean no color, and in fact some very nice yellows and rusts emerge in beech trees after the maples have fallen. Past peak can be very pretty!
With Northern areas and highest elevations past, the best areas to view the foliage this coming weekend will be along an arc, beginning in the hills of the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts, through Southern and Central Vermont, the Monadnock Region up to the Lakes Regions of New Hampshire, into the Southern White Mountains and then over and through Central Maine. These areas had strong color coming on, and though they lost some early, bright hues with the passing storm, the widespread color has survived and will put on a great show. Oranges and yellows should now dominate, with lingering reds offering a rarer treat.
Further south, across the coastal plain of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and up through Mid-Coastal Maine, the strong early color has been lost, and we’re in a bit of a holding pattern, waiting for the second wave to arrive. The sugar maples look to be brightening up, but the oaks seem to have a ways to go. The area that seemed so bright last week has essentially reverted to green, which will ensure color through late month in these areas.
The states of Connecticut and Rhode Island are in a similar situation to the northern coastal areas. Strong early color has been knocked back, and widespread color is yet to emerge. The Litchfield Hills may be the only exception, as the color was coming on a bit stronger there before the storm, and may turn into brighter tones by the weekend.
We mentioned earlier that this year offers some challenges to leaf peeping, and we’d be remiss to not mention them. First off, there have been some areas where a leaf fungus has emerged on maple trees, causing them to brown and fall prematurely. These areas are generally isolated, but some iconic spots across the region may never brighten as much as years past.
More significant is the impact of the current government shutdown on our national parks and forests. Acadia National Park is closed, with no access at all until the situation is resolved. The town of Bar Harbor is most certainly open for business, as are some beautiful areas just outside the park.
The White and Green mountains have access via roads and trails, but campgrounds, information centers and bathrooms run by the National Forest Service are shuttered. There are many privately run campgrounds outside of the forests that will remain open however, so plan your route accordingly!
With such a big weekend of leaf peeping on hand, we at Yankee Magazine have some great tools to connect people with the latest conditions.
Our Web site features a live, interactive map that shows county by county color condition, and allows you to make your reports from the road. This feature is also available via smartphone app. And if you need suggestions for routes to take while out leaf peeping, our site has popular loops in every state.
Yankee Magazine also hosts a community of foliage fans on our Foliage Facebook Page, where you can share your pictures as you travel, and see photos and post by others from around the region.
We hope that you get the chance to get out and enjoy the colors, and all that New England has to offer this weekend!