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New England, Fall Foliage

The Leaf Whisperer’s Guide To Finding Fall Foliage At Its Peak

The leaf whisperer's guide to finding fall foliage at its peak

9/26/2021 5:12:00 AM

The leaf whisperer's guide to finding fall foliage at its peak

Looking for the biggest bursts of color this autumn? New England 's top leaf-peeping expert shares his secrets.

. After a drought for much of the year, he says, it rained all July across most of New England.“But even so, this year is looking really good,” Salge says. “An average year is beautiful in New England, and we're expecting factors to come together for a really nice average year.”

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Time it rightSalge’s job is to make predictions about where to find the best fall foliage and to offer guidance on when to go. The latter is the tricky part, since peak color is always a moving target and dependent upon so many changeable factors.New England's fall foliage season generally lasts about six weeks across the region, says Salge, “but usually only a week or two in any particular spot.”

An extended run of color would be an improvement on 2020. “Last year the color was here and gone in a matter of days. But this year that real vibrant peak on the bell curve is going to flatten out a little for us.”Stowe, Vermont will hit peak fall foliage in a week or so.

gettyFor the biggest wow factor this year, Salge suggests a trip at the end of September or early October into the northern reaches of New England, to places like Stowe in Vermont and Lincoln and Pittsburg in New Hampshire. “Northern New England didn’t get excessive water this summer, and that can lead to a really, really bright punch of color,” says Salge. “Right along the Canadian border, we could have a brief but spectacular show. Those towns are all in the area that stayed drier and I think that their foliage peak will shift a little early this year.”

For most of the rest of New England, Salge expects a longer but slightly less vibrant season due to too much rain in the summer and warmer-than-usual fall temperatures. “We might lack the really, really bright red this year, but a long season of orange glow is definitely something that we can see.”

“When it comes to timing, microclimate is a really big factor,” says Salge. “Obviously, the mountains will see cooler nights sooner. And some of the earliest places that turn are actually the cool valleys that bank up against the White and the Green Mountains.”

On the other hand, if you can’t get away until a bit later in the season, set your sights on a large body of water. “Some of our biggest lakes, like Lake Champlain and Lake Winnipesaukee, hold so much heat at night that those valleys actually turn later than surrounding regions,” says Salge.

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Pick the perfect spotAutumn leaves change color a bit later along the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire.gettyWhile you’ll find color all over the Northeast this season, not every place will pack the same punch. To find that quintessential mix of fall colors spanning golden ocher to vivid oranges and bright reds, Salge recommends charting a course for Vermont, New Hampshire’s White Mountains or Northern Maine.

“Those areas are less oak dominated,” Salge explains. “The reason why Vermont is like a kaleidoscope is that it has the biggest tree diversity opposed to oaks. When you start to go toward the coast — Massachusetts, coastal Southern Maine, central Massachusetts, Rhode Island — you get more oak-dominated forests. “The oaks turn later and tend to turn to crimson, rusty colors, whereas the maples and beeches and birches deliver much brighter colors. Because there are fewer oaks in the mix. that's what makes Vermont so spectacular.”

Plan nowDon’t wait too long into October or you risk missing the foliage season altogether. “Deciduous trees are always looking at a cost benefit analysis,” explains Salge. “Is holding on to the leaves going to cost more energy than the leaves bring in? When we reach a time of the season where there’s less daylight or there are colder temperatures, the trees are basically making a gamble that holding on to their leaves will bring in more energy than then the tree invests in keeping them.”

At some point, the leaves are draining more energy than they’re producing. “That’s when trees start to shut down their systems and the pinch points to the leaf from the branch starts to dry out and desiccate,” says Salge. “And then comes the first big windstorm or rainstorm, and down they go.”

Salge’s last piece of advice is perhaps the most surprising. “Don’t make your getaway all about the pretty leaves,” he says. “So much about what separates New England from other areas of the country is that you can get a complete celebration of fall. The perfect weekend is going to include apple or pumpkin picking or finding a cider mill or going to a fall festival. It shouldn’t be about just aimlessly driving around.”

Read more: Forbes »

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