New England

2021 New England Fall Foliage Update | Lingering Warm Temps Mean a Longer Season for Most of New England

Learn how the 2021 season has already surprised our foliage expert, and where to find peak and emerging peak color this long weekend. We’ve got all the latest New England foliage updates!

By Aimee Tucker

Oct 06 2021

Late Fall Color

Fall color like on this sugar maple, will come late to Southern New England this year.

Photo Credit : Jim Salge

Amid all the uncertainty of recent months, it’s been a relief to know there’s one thing we can still count on: the beauty of New England’s fall foliage show. In our latest Q&A with Yankee foliage expert Jim Salge, we find out how the 2021 season is progressing (hint: you’ve still got plenty of time to see peak color!), what’s in store for the upcoming long weekend, and predictions for the rest of October.

2021 New England Fall Foliage Update | Q&A with Expert Jim Salge

First things first: Are we experiencing the two foliage setups (one for northern New England and another for the rest of New England) that you initially predicted for this year? 

The short answer is yes! A split outlook was needed this year because of the substantial difference in late-summer rainfall between the two areas. Southern New England experienced an incredible amount of rain, while the far north remained in drought.

Drought Monitor
Abnormally dry and drought conditions persist in the far north.
Photo Credit :

Also, a lot of the initial foliage forecast was based on the likelihood of warmer-than-average temperatures in the long-range summer forecast. This, too, has come to pass, and it has had a dramatic impact on the timing in both regions. Overall, the fall colors have been very slow to emerge, but there is a definite division setting up almost exactly along the rainfall/drought line.

In our previous update, you said that “the far north should turn early and the south should turn late, compared to historical averages.” So how are things playing out? And where does northern New England stand as we head into the long weekend?

Last September (2020), there was a stretch in the middle of the month where temperatures in most of northern New England fell into the 20s, which kick-started the foliage display. This year, temperatures have struggled to fall below the 40s most nights — even all the way up by the Canadian border. So even though the setup was good, the temperatures have not been supportive of early foliage anywhere.

September Warmth
September temperatures remained significantly above average for the whole region.
Photo Credit : NRCC

Peak color does seem to be on time in the far north, however. Remote, rural, and beautiful locations such as Rangeley, Maine, and Pittsburg, New Hampshire, have been seeing bright foliage and are peaking now. With luck, the colors will stick around through the long weekend.

In the rain-soaked areas farther south, colors started to change only this past weekend, so they will not be at peak for the holiday weekend. This includes many areas people typically flock to during the long weekend, including the Berkshires of Massachusetts; Woodstock, Vermont; Conway, New Hampshire, and the eastern Kancamagus Highway; and the lakes and coast of Maine.

Kanc Green
The eastern portion of the Kancamagus Highway was still green last weekend. Colors will come in slowly until a cold snap.
Photo Credit : Jim Salge

Therefore, there will be only a narrow range of additional peak color this coming weekend. It will likely include much of the mountains of western Maine, the Great North Woods and the northern White Mountains of New Hampshire, and the Northeast Kingdom and higher elevations of the northern Green Mountains of Vermont.

That said, even without peak conditions in much of New England, there will still be great color to admire while leaf peeping this weekend.

Northern White Mountains
The northern White Mountains have great autumn color, while the rest are moving towards peak.
Photo Credit : Jim Salge

There’s always a concern that tropical storms will thwart the color or bring down the leaves. How’s it looking on that front?

Fred, Henri, and Ida all gave us more than our annual share of tropical impact, but fortunately they had a minimal direct effect on the fall foliage. In southern Connecticut and Rhode Island, near Henri’s landfall, there are some areas of leaf and tree damage and some salt spray, but overall we really dodged a bullet.

There are currently no named storms in the Atlantic Ocean, and none are expected to form in the next few days. While the tropical storm season does run through November, its peak is in mid-September, and the threat declines significantly from there on out. We should be good here.

What are the latest foliage predictions for southern New England?

For Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, we originally predicted a season that was later and longer, while perhaps lacking a bold intensity. We are still on track with this forecast, so nobody should worry about missing peak color this year.

Late Fall Color
Fall color, like this sugar maple, will come late to southern New England this year.
Photo Credit : Jim Salge

The conditions definitely are developing later than normal, and that pattern should hold, given the long-range temperature outlook. There just isn’t any consistent cold coming down to kick-start the colors. The leaves can’t hold out forever, though, so they should continue to develop slowly.

In late years like this, more of New England tends to go at the same time when and if the cold weather shows up. This may soon lead to some frantic foliage-seeking — but not yet.

Have there been any surprises so far this year?

There are so many factors in how the pageant of autumn color plays out every year that there are always surprises. I was in Pittsburg right at the beginning of autumn and colors were already changing. They are just reaching their peak now and should hold on. With the drought they’re experiencing up there, I’m surprised that they are holding on as long as they have.

Beaver Brook Falls
Beaver Brook Falls in the Great North Woods of New Hampshire on September 24th. Color is still holding strong nearly two weeks later.
Photo Credit : Jim Salge

Conversely, I’m struck by how long the green has lingered in the southern White Mountains and western Maine — even as recently as a couple of days ago. We anticipated significant variation north to south this year, but the starkness of the contrasts over just a few miles in Pinkham Notch or Crawford Notch, or across the Kancamagus Highway, has been very surprising.

Where will you be for this upcoming long weekend?

All throughout the foliage season, we write a weekly post highlighting one town where leaf peepers can find a great home base, and this week it’s Bridgton, Maine. Other towns highlighted are Stowe, Vermont, and Franconia, New Hampshire, for peak color, and North Adams, Massachusetts, for emerging color.

Personally, though, I’m looking to slow down a bit this weekend and do some hiking and kayaking in the area of Newfound Lake and Rumney, New Hampshire. I don’t think the colors will be quite at peak, but there certainly will be enough for a nice background to some autumn adventures.

And I’m happy that we will have a few more weekends to get out and explore after this, too!

Let us know where you’ll be exploring this weekend!

For the remainder of the season, keep following our “Where to See Fall Foliage This Weekend” post (updated every Thursday!) for the latest from Jim Salge, plus one great travel pick for the weekend.