A New England Roadtrip to Verify Foliage Forecasts

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According to the calendar, the 2012 autumn season officially arrived this past Saturday morning!

Nights are becoming increasingly cooler, as darkness outlasts daylight. A few frosts have nipped the gardens in the far north, ending the growing season with tomatoes still ripening on the vine. The summer birds have gone silent, and many have already migrated south. Northern flickers and turkeys are now the most common birds feeding on the ground, filling the niche that the robins recently filled. The chipmunks and squirrels have also been very active, likely thrilled that there are actually acorns this year!

On the foliage front, we’ve finally reached the point when we can stop making predictions about the colors, and start making actual observations. I took to the road this weekend to begin the process of verifying the forecasts and attempting to understand the complex pattern of how the foliage is coming in this year. I also wanted some make sure that the notion of the leaves changing early this year was actually beginning to play out.

My trip began at dawn near the New Hampshire seacoast, and took me to on a route across New Hampshire, through the Vermont capital, up to the Northeast Kingdom, and over to the White Mountains. Foliage conditions were extremely varied over the course of the journey, ranging from mostly green, to nearly peak.

Foliage Loop

The Route I Drove To Verify Foliage Forecasts

From southern New Hampshire to the Lakes Region, trees were largely green, with the strongest colors confined to the maples in the swamps. The first location that I saw anything more than in the wetlands was on Route 25C, west of Warren, one of my favorite foliage thoroughfares in New Hampshire. Near the high point in the road, where the Appalachian Trail crosses it, there were some fine red tones mixed in with the fading greens. The colors soon receded again though as I dropped down into the Connecticut River Valley.

Once I crossed the river, I took a dip south to the villages of Corinth and Chelsea, where the landscape is comprised of a beautiful mix of farmland and forest amidst rolling hills. It’s classic pastoral Vermont, and a popular area for touring and photography. In this area, the leaves weren’t green, but they also weren’t turning any sort of bright color, seemingly only fading. Fortunately this was the ONLY area of poor canopy conditions that I encountered on my entire 600 mile journey this weekend, as most areas looked primed for a great show. Perhaps this area missed all of the summer storms and was abnormally dry, but whatever the cause, it was very localized, but worth noting.

The health of the canopy improved when I turned back north and rejoined Route 302, and I found another great run of color on classic Route 100 west of Montpelier. Through Stowe, strong reds were pleasantly mixed with greens, which became even bolder when I turned into Smuggler’s Notch. For those who have never traveled across the notch, it’s a definite ‘Top Five Must Drive’ road in New England, with narrow hairpin turns and fantastic geological features lining the road. At elevation in the notch, the foliage was pushing near peak, with strong color up and down the mountainsides.

Foliage on Northern Hillsides

Foliage is Coming on Strongly on Northern Hillsides

From there, I ventured over to the southern extent Northeast Kingdom, where I encountered the first strong color outside of the mountains. This tucked away corner of Vermont usually reaches peak before the last of September, and this year it’s on track to outpace that by a few days. In fact, all of the foliage along the journey was definitely a little early, but perhaps not the week early that we’ve been expecting.

My last stop was the Zealand area of the White Mountains. This high valley is one of the earliest place to turn in Northern New Hampshire, and to my surprise, it was already just a few days away from peak this past weekend. It was here that I camped for the night and was treated to a spectacular morning watching the mist rise over one of the valley’s many ponds.

Foliage on Middle Sugarloaf From Wildlife Pond

Foliage on Middle Sugarloaf From Wildlife Pond

The Zealand Valley is not at all representative of the rest of the White Mountains, which are just beginning to turn south of the notches. Though we’ve been showing so many great foliage pictures on our Facebook Page, these photos are generally sent in from of only a small portion of the region. Most of New England is in the early stages of color, including popular areas like Acadia, Baxter State Park, the Southern Green Mountains and the Berkshires.

To summarize my findings and relate them to our earlier forecasts, the color is a few days ahead of normal, and a general strong show of color is expected, with some local variation. The color will soon move from the remote areas in the far north down through the mountains, and then slowly to southern New England and the coastal areas over the next four to five weeks. There’s plenty of time to see the colors across the region!

To time your visit, the historical foliage forecaster map will do a good job this year, but you’ll have to move the peak a few days up. And as the colors emerge in your area, or as you take a foliage road trip of your own, be sure to report your findings to our foliage map, or upload a report or picture through our smartphone apps.

It’s finally showtime…here’s to a great season ahead!

  • Looks and sounds like a fantastic foliage road trip! I love the shot of “Foliage on Middle Sugarloaf From Wildlife Pond.”


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