New England Fall Foliage » Foliage Articles » When is peak fall foliage color in October?

During the coming months, the most asked question will be, “When (or where) will I find peak fall foliage in October“? Nobody, not even I can tell you with certainty, when it will be. Mel Allen the editor at Yankee Magazine, said it best, when he said, “Peak fall color isn’t just one day, it’s a continuum”.

What does this continuum mean?

What this means, is that the process or development of the fall colors is ongoing AND DOESN’T start everywhere all at the same time.

In most years it starts up north in places like Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine and day by day, flows from north to south like a wave hitting the beach.

As the wave comes in, I consider it to be developing color. Then when it reaches as far as it can reach, it peaks,  and then it slowly falls back into the ocean fading away. This is the process that autumn’s fall colors take when October arrives. It starts slow in a few areas, and day by day it grows in intensity until it reaches what we call peak fall foliage color.

(Baring heavy rains, strong winds or hard freezes which can end the season prematurely)

The process of developing “peak fall color”

fall foliage lines the road,traveling south on route 16 below Pinkham notch in New Hampshire

Peak fall color along Route 16 below Pinkham notch

Color development is selective and while a single valley at a lower elevation is 25% towards being on its way to peak, the hills above the valley maybe at 75%, of the way to peak.

Then if you look a few hills over you will find glorious peak is already there at the higher elevation.

If you follow the road that winds its way past the feet of this peak foliage covered hill, you may find a pond or swamp.

In this wet area the “swamp maples” are now past peak, having hit their peak fall color about a week or two earlier. Their once bright reds are fading with their leaves dropping into the water.

There they sink down to the bottom and become food for the trees in the following year. (The circle of life continues)

How to increase your chances in finding peak fall foliage

So I guess you are now wondering, how do you game the system? or can you? (I’ve been trying for years and there is a way). {This is not a guarantee, though}

  1. Do your best to put yourself in the way of the fall foliage colors before they turn. (be a little south of where you think they will be)
  2. You just need to pick your dates and based on this will tell you where you should look. (easy right?) 🙂
  3. The earlier you come in the further north you need to go, later in Oct means to look further south.

Is this fool proof? NO! nothing is, so I will always advise to make other plans so that if it rains, you have something for the family to do.

Here are some links from my website ( because over the years, I’ve written out dates and places that you can use as guidelines to pick your October  locations.

Finding peak fall foliage in New England
Taking the mystery out of finding peak fall foliage
The art of getting lost

These may not answer all your questions but they should get you started in the right direction. I’m sorry there is no single right answer for this but it is a start…

Formula for choosing your fall foliage location

My fall foliage formula for calculating your fall foliage trip. I + D = L which is defined below

  • Interests
  • Vacation Dates
  • Vacation Location

a red full moon rises over salem harborThis is very simple. Your Interest is (ships, churches, lobster, foliage (not in this particular order) Then you see what your dates are that are normally set by work or life, then this will pick your location.

So if shipbuilding and seaside towns are your thing. Then you will be looking to the sea coast and this is the last location to get good fall color. This then means you need to take a late October trip.

Basically, the thing that determines most foliage vacations is the available dates based on work or your family schedule. Now you look at the arrival date and see if your interests show up in this area. If not get new interests. 🙂

But with just the dates, you will be able to choose locations based on those dates. Once you have a general idea of the location you can start to research the lodging you want and see what is going on nearby… What happens if there is rain? Maybe you can pop over to North Conway and take the train up into Crawford Notch. It has great scenic views, plus its fun and you stay dry! Just be sure to plan for both sun and rain and you can’t miss.

Read this article where I go into it more (Three simple rules for planning your fall foliage vacation).

Jeff “Foliage” Folger
To purchase an image from this article just visit my sites below or contact me.

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Question from Gordon

I visited New England from the UK a couple of years ago and was so impressed I want to return to the fall. Last time we came mid October and did not see any maples as they were passed.Can anyone tell me best time and place to view maples changing colour. I appreciate it varies each year but approximation would be good. I am shortly going to book flights for 2013 and was thinking of 23rd Sept for 14 days. Where should I go? Thanks for any info.

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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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When is peak fall foliage color in October? — 5 Comments

  1. Pingback: Good dates for fall foliage in Vermont - Exploring New England's fall foliage

  2. Pingback: 2013 fall foliage forecast update - Exploring New England's fall foliage

  3. Before I moved to New Hampshire, I used to love to vacation on MDI/Bar Harbor area around the second weekend of October. That way if color was not peak yet or past, there was still pretty things to see and lots to do. Of course, I lucked out most of the time with some great foliage. Wish I could say the same for my visits since living here. But I can’t complain, I can find foliage by taking a drive. And these blogs always help. 🙂

    • Well Michelle, you were doing perfect trip planning procedures. You picked you time period but because fall color is never a guarantee you also picked a location with lots of activities and nearby along the coast you have so much to see and do. I know so many folks focus in on having to find color that they lose sight of what a vacation is all about… Having fun, relaxing and enjoying oneself. How many times do you talk to someone who just came back from a vacation and they say “I need a vacation from my vacation”?
      This to me means they went and treated the vacation like a job or a mission and wrapped so much into it that all the activities wore them out… But that is another article… 🙂

    • And you are right in the heart of it… There are many days when I have to get up at 3AM in order to get on the road and push to get up where the color is early in the season… I’m envious..

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