New England

2021 New England Fall Foliage Update | Northern New England Readies for Early Color

How is the 2021 foliage forecast shaping up? We caught up with Yankee foliage expert Jim Salge for the updated scoop.

By Aimee Tucker

Sep 16 2021

Peak Colors – Jericho State Park

Year after year, New England has some of the brightest fall foliage in the world!

Photo Credit : Jim Salge
It’s been another epic year, and we’re once again reminded how lucky we are to get a front-seat view of New England’s gorgeous annual fall foliage show. In this update to our first Q&A with Yankee foliage expert Jim Salge (see How’s the Fall Foliage 2021 Forecast Looking?), we find out how the season is progressing — and what we can really expect for this year’s color.
New England Fall Foliage | 2021 Forecast
Year after year, New England has some of the brightest fall foliage in the world!
Photo Credit : Jim Salge

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

Jim Salge
Photo Credit : Mark Fleming
With the color kickoff almost upon us, what words do you find yourself using most often to describe this year’s New England fall foliage forecast? In conversations that I’m having about fall, the words that come up the most are “hints” and “signs,” in regards to what’s already happening. It seems that with the increased interest in the outdoors these past two years, since Covid, people are really paying attention to the early changes that they are seeing. Most of these changes are fairly normal, but specifically the red maple wetlands are really bright and early this year, and lots of people are noticing them! Your initial forecast predicted two “shows” this year: an early, bright, and brief display in the far northern part of New England, and a mostly on-time wave of color for the rest of us that’s perhaps less bright but longer-lasting. Is that still true?  Yes, and perhaps even more so now than when we published the original update. There was so much rain in southern New England in July and August, and with the recent tropical storms and strong fronts, those southern areas have gotten double and even triple the normal rainfall since then. With the forecast for continued wet and warm weather, the foliage wave should be arriving late and lasting long through much of southern New England. By comparison, and most amazingly, the rainfall this past month has also missed the same areas as this summer. Along the Canadian border, in places that turn the earliest, drought conditions remain, cool weather is setting in, and the leaves are dry. Trees there are already starting to turn, and they should peak in many northern locations before the calendar flips to October. And when it does, the foliage should be brief and bright. The storms Fred, Henri, and Ida were big weather news stories this season. How are the tropics looking now, and how much of an impact will this year’s storms have on the 2021 foliage? We’ve had so many tropical systems and storms this year that it’s hard to keep them all straight. For the most part, these storms brought heavy rainfall on top of heavy rainfall. Trees were soaked before these storms, and they remain soaked. As it happens, this was a part of our original forecast. Henri had the most direct impact on foliage, as it was the only tropical storm that made landfall in New England. It came with significant winds, though they were fairly localized to southern Connecticut and Rhode Island. Some tree and canopy damage did occur, and likely we will see the impact of salt spray from the landfall in the coming weeks as well. Hopefully, it remains as localized as it seems right now.
Jim Salge hard at work tracking fall foliage for Yankee.
Photo Credit : Mark Fleming
Peak color in New England typically moves in a north-south wave from late September through mid-October. Will that timeline hold true this year? Yes, the earliest color will occur in the most northern areas, as well as in the highest elevations. The color will then slide southward, downhill, and toward the coast. The interesting thing about this year, though, is that the far north should turn early and the south should turn late, compared to historical averages. So what does that mean for the middle? Where’s the transition point? What will there be a gap in time as the wave of peak slides south? Will leaf fungus develop further and impact some of the show’s intensity? These are still open questions. But overall, we anticipate plenty of opportunities to see beautiful leaves at any point during the season this year. As always, it’s just a challenge to pinpoint where. Will we see a dominant foliage color this year? With the split in conditions, we expect a split in colors as well. In the far north, vibrant red and yellow will stand out from a sea of orange in a brief and bright display. Farther south, we expect a longer foliage duration. This will be a largely orange tapestry with fewer reds and more rusts. The exception everywhere is the early, vibrant swamp maples, which are overwhelmingly red this year. Where in New England will the color really wow? Early-foliage fans will have many options for bright pops of color. We think places like Carrabassett Valley, Maine, and Errol, New Hampshire, could be great places to see early. In fact, all of the northern spine of the Green Mountains, including the always-exceptional Smuggler’s Notch, is an outstanding option. Further south, the foliage could last longer than normal, due to warm temperatures and wet conditions. For road-trippers, where are some of the best routes to take this fall? Road-tripping is such an important part of the fall foliage experience, and the beautiful colors are only one part of that. New England is hosting many more of its traditional autumn events this year than it did last year, and many of these take place outside, in our region’s typically exceptional fall weather. So people may want to plan road trips around events, festivals, and a return to such family traditions as apple picking and pumpkin patches. And for hikers? Hikers this year need to take special note of stream crossings, far more than they normally might at this time of year. Water levels are high, and crossing water can be especially dangerous when conditions are outside normal ranges. For specific recommendations, the September/October issue of Yankee offers a fantastic list of hikes in every state — I see so many that I now want to do! On my personal list, I hope to time my hiking with the arrival of peak conditions in the Moat Mountain Range near Conway, New Hampshire, in early to mid-October! Finally, where will you be going this fall to enjoy the color show? There are so many places where I haven’t yet experienced the beauty of fall in New England, and there are so many places that I love to see again and again. I can’t wait to see the fall colors in Pinkham Notch, New Hampshire, as I do every year. But I’m also looking forward to seeing the amazing colors along the Charles River in Boston for the first time this year, in late October. I went too early a few years back, but this year, I’m crossing that one off the list! Stay tuned for our next 2021 New England fall foliage update with Jim Salge — coming up in three weeks!

More New England Foliage:

New England Peak Fall Foliage Map

New England State Fall Foliage Guides | Best Towns, Drives, Activities & More

Leaf Peeping for Newbies | A Beginner’s Guide to Experiencing Fall in New England

Best New England Hikes for Kids at Every Age