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How early will you find peak fall foliage in New England?

Beaver Pond near Woodstock New Hampshire

Early color at the Beaver Pond near Woodstock New Hampshire

This is one of the hardest questions to answer.  I saw a Google search result from a Vermont vacation website saying “Visit Vermont during peak fall foliage in early to mid Sept! If you are an experienced leaf peeper then you will know that leaf peeping doesn’t really begin until after the 20th of Sept.

You should be aware that this is just marketing and they want visitors to come up outside the best times. Before the 20th Of Sept most hard core leaf peepers will most likely be disappointed.  I also want you to know that I don’t answer to any state tourism department so I will always give you the best info I can. 

Is there early peak fall foliage color?

Good foliage view of Sugar Hill New hampshire

Decent color in Sugar Hill New Hampshire

Last year on Sept 25th I did find small patches of peak fall foliage in New England’s northern Vermont region known as the North East Kingdom (NEK) and New Hampshire’s, Sugar Hill area but it’s very unusual to find huge sections of peak fall foliage by the 25th. (but a good reason to stay tuned here! 🙂

Good foliage view of Sugar Hill New Hampshire

Polly’s Pancake house view

This list of places and the images were all taken on 25 Sept (on one single day!)  we drove up into northern New Hampshire to check out some favorite spots near Sugar Hill. Along route 112, west out of Woodstock NH and around routes 116 and 117 that surround sugar Hill.

In several areas we found really good fall color (but not peak).  Lisa and I stopped at Polly’s Pancake Parlor and across the street we could see a white horse in the field surrounded by various shades of red, orange and gold.

This isn’t to say that all the trees had fully changed (or peak fall color)  but the kaleidoscope of colors while very nice, still wasn’t peak. There were many trees that we just beginning to change to their fall foliage colors.

 Bath New Hampshire and the Bath Covered Bridge.

Bath New Hampshire covered bridge

Bath New Hampshire covered bridge

We drove From Sugar Hill, down Routes 302 and 10 to visit bath New Hampshire and the bath covered bridge. The colors in that area were just beginning to turn with hints of orange up and down the river (but still at least a week away). (Note) this was the day after a big rain/windstorm had come through taking all the peak leaves off the trees.

This weather pattern would affect us for the next two weeks with the peak leaves being taken off the trees and having to wait for all the green leaves to put out their fall colors. We found our way from New Hampshire into Vermont and most of the hillsides were sparsely dotted with color.  (Nice but nowhere near peak)

The two biggest problems we were facing was a Nor’easter weather pattern and the temperatures had also not really dropped yet.  The daytime temperatures hovered in the 70s and in the evenings they weren’t nearly cold enough to kick-start the fall foliage color change. We found very little peak fall foliage until we were near Groton state Park. Here every turn teased us with a view of near peak autumn color but disappeared as soon as we rounded the next bend.

Seyon park Vermont

tractor amid Vermont foliage

Groton State park Vermont & Seyon State Park.

Seyon-park-fall-foliage in Groton State Park Vermont


Lisa and I stayed on 302 skipping the direct route into Groton State Forest, which I’m sure would be a very good drive any time of year and we instead took Seyon pond road which takes you into Seyon Lodge state Park and to Noyes pond.

It was late in the afternoon and the sky was pretty cloudy but the sun was peeking through and I was hoping that I could wait and the sun would illuminate the hillsides above the pond.  After waiting for almost an hour with the sun and clouds playing leapfrog in the sky  the sun finally lit up a nearby hillside right above the pond. (a bit dramatic due to post processing)

Of course by looking at my pictures that I’ve posted here you may say, I found wonderful color So peak was found on  25 Sept.  But what you have to remember is that I took over a hundred pictures that day and I only came away with a few that I found satisfactory.

Another thing that you have to keep in mind is that the New England fall foliage started  a bit early this year.  I had been receiving foliage reports from photographer friends in Vermont and New Hampshire who were finding color as early as mid-September in Vermont.  I also need to point out that they weren’t finding saturated peak color that early but they were finding random trees that were turning earlier than the past five years.

 The downside of early peak color

Good foliage view of hill side in Vermont

Good foliage view of hill side in Vermont

In 2010 we received three good rain/wind storms with during last week of September and the first week or so of October. This is the most devastating hazard that Mother Nature can send our way.  Windstorms are the last things that we want to see as leaf peepers and these were spaced such that those trees that had turned and were at peak foliage had their leaves pulled to the ground, leaving  untouched, only those trees that were just starting to change.

Lisa enjoying her leaf peeping

Lisa enjoying her leaf peeping

This article covered just the one day of 25 September and a little portion of the journey that we made.  My next article will have a portion of my journey on 29 September five days later and a little further South at the Jenne farm in Vermont.

Jeff "Foliage" Folger  You can purchase images by visiting my Fine Art Gallery websites
Subscribe to my Newsletter - If you would like to sign up for my Fine Art America Newsletter (click this link and a window will open allowing you to sign up). Why sign up for the newsletter? Contests, discount codes on my artwork, maybe an excerpt from my book "Exploring the back roads of New England with Jeff Foliage"... Yes you heard me right... (Damn now I have to start writing it!)
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Jeff Foliage

My name is Jeff Folger,
but people call me Jeff Foliage.
I have several pages that I write blogs for such as:
My most popular blog is for Leaf peepers: Jeff
I live in Salem, Massachusetts and work as a blogger and Travel Photographer. I'm also the founder of the New England Photography Guild.
Feel free to visit me on my blogs and see what life in New England is like.

I started with Yankee Magazine as their first blogger on everything fall foliage. Now I blog on my own blog on my favorite subject, telling leaf peepers where the fall foliage is showing up in New England and helping them (to some extent) plan their fall foliage vacations.
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How early will you find peak fall foliage in New England? — 13 Comments

  1. Hello…I am potentially getting married on October 7, 2012 in Greenland, NH (town over from Portsmouth – seacoast area), and am curious if you’d expect decent foliage at that time in that area of NH. I know foliage is unpredictable and differs from year to year based on weather conditions/temperatures and so forth, but I’m just trying to get a general sense of how the foliage might be. It would be an outdoor ceremony so we’d really love at least a little color. Any insight you might have would be greatly appreciate. Thanks!

    • Hi Julia and Congratulations.
      Well I don’t know what kinds of trees are in your outdoor location and for starters that is key.
      Second (and you should have checked with me during the planning phase) and I would have put you up in the White Mountains. I know up on Loon Mountain that they have an outdoor chapel with tiered seating and the view would be incredible.
      The coastline always changes last but! I suggest you find out what kinds of trees around the church… They may be slightly stressed and be turning as we speak. Ask your photographer to look for fire bushes as they turn very early (they are in Salem MA right now) and they make for a great back drop. (I know I shot a bridge against that on 23 Oct since that was all I could find with out taking the couple out of town.. 🙂
      I would suggest that if you can’t have as great color as you want, you see if your photog will make a deal for you and do a after wedding shoot up north in the White mountains… Depending on their schedule and yours it could be worked out…
      I hope this helps.
      Jeff Foliage

  2. Jeff, Thank you so much for all your information. I was able to change all reservations to start my time in the White Mountains on the 29th. Only three days later, but I feel a little better. I will follow your suggestions and thanks again for your help.

    • Well visit the Yankee site in September for the foliage ambassadors postings to see where they say they are finding color and of course check back here as I have my own cadre of spotters for foliage and they will be popping in on my foliage forum for daily or weekly updates. Plus I will be polling other people in New England for what they are seeing.

    • Well we won’t know until after you get home whether those days will make a difference but I think you have a good chance of seeing good color. I hope you’ll stop back in and let me know if you found good color and whether you had a good time or not…

  3. Jeff, I am making the long journey from Houston to New England this fall, and based my reservations on the foliage predictor on the Yankee web. I will be in White Mountains on Sept. 26 and in Stowe by Oct. 1. Will I be too early for peak color? Should I think about trying to push my reservations back a week?

    • Well Sarah, As I wrote in my last article find peak fall foliage before 1 Oct is always a hit or miss proposition. I won’t say you won’t find color and sometimes it will be good color. But finding whole hillsides with eye popping color is a hit or miss.
      In the article I found some decent color near Sugar hill area of NH and this was on the 25th BUT it wasn’t eye popping color. You also need to start early in the morning and later in the afternoon to get the best light… This isn’t just for photographing the colors. For just viewing the colors between 11-2PM you will find they aren’t always the prettiest if the sun is out and harsh… But this is another article… 🙂
      If you could start you vacation a week later then I “think” you would be happier..
      But lets say you can’t… Let’s ask this.. Will there be any color in the White Mountains on 25 Sept?
      The answer is a qualified “Yes” You see the color will have started weeks before this but it will be a tree here and a tree there… No, I can’t predict where these trees are or will be… But you you will need to look to higher elevations because the temps higher up will be lower and this will bring the colors on earlier. So you can think about the Mount Washington auto road (drive to the top of Mount Washington… No there are no trees on top but driving up from where it will be mostly green through colorful trees to the alpine zone and no trees can be awesome… Plus on a sunny day the view into other states is great…
      Next you can take the Kancamagus highway which has varying elevations between 600′ to 2200′. All of these drives will be pretty and fairly colorful during that week. but for most of these areas it will be hit or miss.. Much of your luck will depend on the weather we receive during September. IF the temps drop into the 40s at night and the 50s-60s during the day then there is a real good chance for great color by the last week in Sept.. If we get upper 80s during Sept and lows in the 50s then this will delay much of the eye popping color until October.

      I wish I could give you a 100% guarantee on what the color will be at a given time but over the years of searching for peak myself I find the later I look the better…
      What you can do to help yourself is come up with alternate plans for things to see. Many of the ski resorts in both NH and VT offer Gondola rides to get birds eye views of the foliage and peaks in the distance. Also bewteen 25 Sept and 1 Oct is the NEK fall festivals where each day its in a different VT town…
      Stowe has auto-toll road up mount Mansfield with alpine slide, down spruce peak and bungee trampolines to name just a few things to do.

      I hope this gives you some helpful ideas…

  4. I knew I should have caveated my statement with “But when are weathermen ever correct?”

    Let’s hope for those cool nights and calm days….

    • Amen to that!!! cool nights and warm days are the ticket… Are you in the area here or are you going to be traveling in from out of state? If so what are your fall foliage plans for 2011?

      • I am sort of in the area, upstate NY. I will be traveling to the area this fall. Not sure of the plans quite yet. Probably the Waterbury, VT area. I will also be up in the Adirondack area (since it is really close) checking out all the trees have to offer.

        • Nothing wrong with the upstate NY area for fall foliage.. I even have a shot from route 2 on the NY side just west of North Adams that is very nice and a few years ago we came down the NY side from Fort Ticonderoga and as we got to the bottom of Lake Champlain I came to a pull out and the whole hillside was a flame with the afternoon sun and there was a farm all surrounded with these beautiful colors… I may have been stranding the line between NY and VT, I don’t know but that is one of my fav shots of that trip.
          Here is a shot of it

    • Hi Sam, well that could put a crimp in our fall foliage… Hmmm Um Sam, How often are the weathermen where you are from 100% on in their forecasts? 🙂 I will keep a positive outlook but I will keep the Weather Channel’s forecast in the back of my mind… The effect of this will slow down the progression of colors and they won’t pop as much as other years unless the temps drop into the 40s at night.. (even the upper 30s are needed but no frost)…. One thing they noted is that all the really warm temps will be in the mid section of the country and it really depends on what the jet stream does and if it pushes south a little then we should be good.
      I really appreciate the point out and I hope to hear from you again…

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