Now a week removed from our first New England fall foliage forecast of the year, every early turning tree has been catching my eye. There’s a maple in a parking lot along my commute that is nearly completely orange. A birch tree in my neighborhood is now speckled yellow. An old oak is turning brown […]
The White Mountains of New Hampshire Widely Vary in Their Peak Foliage Times Due to Their Terrain
Photo Credit : Jim Salge
Now a week removed from our first New England fall foliage forecast of the year, every early turning tree has been catching my eye. There’s a maple in a parking lot along my commute that is nearly completely orange. A birch tree in my neighborhood is now speckled yellow. An old oak is turning brown down by the town hall. In my head, I run through a series of semi-panicked questions. Did it turn early last year? Are these individual trees in trouble? Is everything going to turn early this year?
So far, these trees seem to be the anomaly, as well over 99% of New England’s billions of trees are still green and healthy. But, despite the warm weather this week, there are plenty of other signs of the changing seasons as well. Last evening, I was fortunate to observe a steady stream of nighthawks soaring overhead, already beginning their southward migration. Notable for their white underwings, these are among the first birds to start their journey over New England every year, and is just one of the many markers of fall that I key into when observing the progression of the autumn season.
And of course, there are the swamp maples. These are a subgroup of red maples that inhabit wetlands, and can begin to turn red as early as mid August. This year, they are emerging on the early end of their normal range, standing out most brightly among the morning mists of recent.
Though unrelated to why the swamp maples have already begun to turn, our New England fall foliage forecast highlights the potential for fall color to arrive a bit early this year. Immediately upon publication, we began receiving correspondence from folk fearing that their vacation plans would end up missing peak New England foliage.
It’s important to keep perspective, and the short answer is no.
At any given location, the progression towards peak is slow, as is the gradual fading from. There is generally a three week window, or longer, where you will see reasonably good color at your point on the map. At some time during that window, there will be a maximum amount of color draped on the forest canopy which will be declared as ‘PEAK’, but rarely would two people agree on exactly when it is. In actuality, the notion of peak color is a continuum that may last a few days to a week.
Additionally, though the exact timing may be different from year to year, the foliage always emerges in a predictable pattern, tending to turn first in the higher elevations of Northern New England, and then slipping southward, downslope and towards the coast over the course of about a month. And because New England is a relatively small region with a great deal of variability in terrain and climate, it’s fairly easy to find good autumn color within a short drive even if your location doesn’t feature the color you came for.
A perfect example of this is the popular White Mountains region of New Hampshire. Though the region is relatively compact, the northern and western portions reach peak in late September, while the southern and eastern zones may not until nearly mid October. Within an hours drive you might go from predominantly green to past peak, and see every canopy condition in between.
It’s because of this variability in landscape, terrain and climate that the leaf peeping drive is so popular during autumn in New England. Though we at YankeeFoliage.com will do our best to take as much of the guess work out it the process for you, there’s the thrill of exploration, and the uncertainty of what kind of color lies over the next hill. Don’t worry about missing peak New England foliage, just be willing to explore beyond the home base that you select!
We’ll see you soon!