New England Fall Foliage » Foliage Articles » The basic rules of fall foliage

What are the basic rules of fall foliage?

Maybe instead of rules, we should say “guidelines”. Because most people will tell you who have any experience at all, rules are meant to be broken. In 2012 we were getting low temperatures in the 40s and upper 30s in Connecticut and Rhode Island during September. And this caused great color showing up in southern New England before northern New England. You want to talk about confused photographers?

As you can see in this weather channel map, in late September between the 25th and 30th, we’re seeing peak fall foliage from Maine into northern New York. In the past 10 years I don’t think I’ve seen anything even close to this. Even in the years where I and others are calling for an early autumn, the colors have been rarely peak throughout those areas.

That is why I call the rules, “guidelines”.

peak fall foliage basic rules

peak fall foliage basic rules

The basic rules of fall foliage

The basic rules or guidelines are as follows:

  • The fall colors flow from North to South
  • The fall colors also flow from higher elevation to lower
  • Marshy ponds that have swamp Maple trees will also develop very early
  • Frost is good but a hard freeze is not


If this is your first fall foliage rodeo then these are good guidelines to follow. If you’ve been doing this a few years then you know that these guidelines don’t always work out. There are many times when valleys in central Vermont or New Hampshire or Maine or wherever… will get frost overnight and the surrounding areas will not. A light frost is a “trigger”.

Fall Foliage “triggers”

There are several triggers (or basic rules) for the fall colors. Some of these “triggers” like the shortening of the days are fixed and don’t really change. Other triggers like cool temperatures depend on geography and the weather for this year. Last year we stayed warm into October and while the colors did start to change, we didn’t go “peak” until the first or second week of October in northern New England. In Stowe Vermont I found near peak (not quite peak) on Columbus Day (check this Columbus Day foliage report). But a day or two before in the Sabbathday Shaker Village in Maine, the colors were still just developing. On the same day just down the road, you’ll see a picture in that article which depicts near-peak colors.

Taking a ride through the fall foliage in Stowe Vermont

Stowe’s Gentle Giant sleigh rides. check their website at

I told someone today, to plan your vacation like there was no fall foliage happening. You can use the dates and guides from here on my site, or over on Yankees website or even any of the tourist websites. The dates that they/I give you will generally be good guides to go with. But I want you to go a step further and now look for things that you will enjoy doing whether there is any fall color or not.

I know the fall color is why you are coming, that and the picturesque little New England villages with their postcard scenic roads. But the truth is that mother nature can pull the rug out from under us, at any time. So if you plan for fun activities, harvest festivals and interesting little towns that have things that interest you, then at the end of your vacation, you’ll get home and have great memories of your New England vacation. (with or without the “peak” fall colors)

Comment to win, winner

Well the comment to win contest is back here on my blog until November. After the last one is selected I will be choosing a grand prize winner, who will get to choose a 11×14 canvas gallery wrap from my website. More details will follow in November.

The winner for April is Janet Mosher and I have sent her an email. So Janet I’m waiting to hear back from you!

As you will note at the top of all my pages I have a notice on keeping the site free to use. Starting this May through the end of October I will be working as a National Park Ranger (a job that I love) and I’ll be on the road each weekend scouting the fall colors. But I time limited as I have to work a real job. Please keep the comments on the blog coming and I will answer as I can.

Best fall foliage memories to all of you.

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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The basic rules of fall foliage — 8 Comments

  1. Great article and great advice, Jeff. Can’t wait for September!

  2. Is this where we are supposed to comment for the contest? I just love reading your articles!

    • I guess I didn’t make it clear enough… My bad… This post is announcing the winner. In my March update I announced it, two weeks back and last week I put a reminder as only 7 folks commented. and then this weekend I posted it again on the Facebook page. I will plan to make the next comment to win announce a stand alone article so its clear.

    • Hi Sandy, since someone else mentioned it, This article was the announcement of the winner for April and around the 2nd week in May I will plan to make the next comment to win article. This one will be a stand alone article so its clear that everyone needs to sign up…

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