6 Leaf-Peeping Tips From New England's Top Foliage Watcher

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Heading to New England during fall foliage season? Predicting exactly when leaves will achieve their peak is famously tricky, but there are steps you can take to maximize your chances of an eye-popping and colorful getaway.

Few folks spend more time analyzing New England's fall foliage than Jim Salge, the foliage reporter at the venerable Yankee magazine, which celebrated 80 years of publication in 2015. Here's his inside advice:

Time it right. "While the exact day or moment of when the foliage will peak in an exact location is not possible to predict, the general pattern that foliage development follows every year is more predictable. So we know that by late September, northern Vermont, northern New Hampshire, and northern Maine will be at peak," said Salge. "If people give themselves a nice window in early October in the northern part of New England and mid- to late October in the southern part of New England, and then have the ability to travel around within that area, they’ll be perfectly fine—this year or any year."

Come by car. "If you look at New England, it’s only a half a day’s drive from the earliest peak to the latest peak, say from northern Vermont to Boston Common," said Salge. "So if you have the ability to get in a car, and some flexibility in your plans, you can find the peak. That’s why we enjoy leaf peeping. It’s an active activity of going out and finding it."

Pick a base, but be flexible. Did we mention that predicting exactly when leaves will peak is really difficult? "If you want to stay put in a specific location like, say, Stowe, Vermont, and you’re planning your trip for a four-day window in October, you’re leaving yourself up for possible disappointment," said Salge. "But if you have a car and you can explore a little—heading up to Smugglers’ Notch, into the Northeast Kingdom, or down Route 100—if you’re willing to drive an hour or so, you’ll probably see all conditions including peak foliage."

Make it about more than the leaves. "One of the things New England does really well is celebrate foliage," said Salge. "So in addition to being focused on finding color, I would take a look at some of the major events we have in the fall to see if any of them appeal to you." 

Listen to the crowd. An essential download for foliage watchers, Yankee's Leaf Peepr app uses crowdsourcing to show you where leaves are currently peaking or just about to peak.

Choose a well-known drive. Classic New England foliage routes include Maine's Golden Road, New Hampshire's Kancamagus Highway, Vermont's Route 7, and Massachusetts' Route 2 along the Mohawk Trail.

"All of these are famed routes but there’s great foliage everywhere, fine country stores, and great New England farms," said Salge. "That’s why people come here; there’s something for everybody and it’s really easy to do."