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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.
It’s official: Fall is here, and if you want to see the leaves change color, you need to plan your leaf-peeping trip now.
Recent reports suggest that drought conditions across more than two-thirds of the country will severely affect fall foliage this year, meaning you may need to travel farther to see the most vivid seasonal hues.
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According to Blue Ridge Mountain Life, a tourism site for the region, the two key variables to bear in mind when planning a leaf-peeping adventure are timing and altitude: “Leaves begin changing color at higher elevations, and the color change works its way down in elevation.”
Each fall season, a number of forecast tools aim to predict the arrival of autumn foliage using data points such as historical precipitation and temperature data, forecasts, leaf peak trends, observations and model outputs from previous years.
Of course, foretelling fall foliage is always tricky alchemy, and we know the tool can’t guarantee exactly where and when foliage will peak — especially when unusual weather patterns occur.
Still, travelers can use it as a guide to plan their trips. Just keep in mind that the foliage may be a few weeks out of sync with any prediction map.
Related: 8 reasons to look forward to travel this fall
In late September, leaves can begin to change their color in northwest Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, with the cottonwood and aspen trees in Grand Teton National Park turning to gold.
In Colorado, the forecast for 2022 aligns with the patterns of a typical fall season, with leaves changing first in the northern mountains beginning around Sept. 20 and progressing to the southern ranges by mid-October.
Late September is prime time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park, when the mountains are filled with the bugles of the annual elk rut (predicted to peak this year around Sept. 23).
Utah’s national parks — including Arches, Zion and Bryce Canyon — may be best known for their sandstone cliffs and gravity-defying arches, but they’re also great places to enjoy the fall foliage from late September through October. Plus, the autumnal light illuminates the red rocks spectacularly.
For travelers on the East Coast, the leaves in many of the most popular leaf-peeping states of New England begin to turn in mid to late September. They are forecast to reach their peak splendor in 2022 by the second week of October.
In Maine, fall foliage begins in the north at the end of September and slowly moves south through late October. Acadia National Park is a great place to visit during this time of year — in addition to stunning foliage, you could also see the sunrise as it first hits the U.S. from the 1,530-foot summit of Cadillac Mountain.
Vermont and New Hampshire are also great destinations for hiking and leaf-peeping, followed by apple picking and snacking on cider donuts.
Generally speaking, October is an excellent time to view fall foliage in the Berkshires, a mountainous region in western Massachusetts easily reachable from New York City and Boston. However, the eastern Berkshires experienced a severe drought this summer, which foliage experts believe will have a muting effect on 2022’s autumnal show.
On the West Coast, the area surrounding Portland, Oregon, is renowned for its incredible scenery, and much of Oregon’s wild landscapes explode with bursts of color at every turn throughout the month of October and into November. Take a steamboat ride and admire the changing leaves from the river, or get in your car and drive the Columbia River Highway — a stretch of interstate designed specifically for its incredible vistas.
Related: 9 of the best national parks to visit in the fall
October is also one of the best times of year to see the fall foliage while hiking in the Adirondack Mountains of New York state, and visitors can benefit from one of the longest and more predictable leaf-peeping seasons.
Virginia’s plentiful deciduous trees and varied landscape provide a long fall foliage season. Fall foliage begins in mid-to late-September, with peak colors generally occurring from Oct.10-31. The Virginia Department of Forestry’s fall foliage report provides insight on when and where to visit for optimum autumn leaf viewing.
By late October, travelers will want to turn their sights toward the Mid-Atlantic states and the Southeast. The area where the Smoky Mountains are located is one of the most beautiful regions of the country, and the eponymous national park is where you want to be this time of year.
For the best views, head to the observation deck at the peak of Clingman’s Dome, or consider one of the iconic scenic drives in the area instead, such as Cade’s Cove Loop Road, the Blue Ridge Parkway or the Foothills Parkway.
If you’re headed to Western North Carolina, check out the fall color map created by Appalachian State University’s Department of Biology staff. The map provides a timing estimation of fall color peaks for various regions of the state including, Waynesville, Asheville, Grandfather Mountain and Boone.
By the time November arrives, much of the country is usually past its peak, according to the prediction map. However, there are still pockets of the U.S. showcasing beautiful foliage throughout the month, and travelers can look forward to seeing splashes of color much later in the season in some destinations than is typical.
Consider Kansas and parts of Missouri for example, such as a trip to the Lake of the Ozarks. The maple, oak, hickory and ash trees along the 1,150 miles of shoreline will be reimagined in painterly hues in November — though the American smoke tree, which can become an almost electric shade of pink, tends to peak much earlier.
Related: The 20 national parks every traveler needs to see at least once
Alternatively, take a scenic drive through the country roads that wind through the rugged forests of the Ozark Mountains for even more imposing views.
Travelers can also head to the southern edges of Arizona and New Mexico for late-season fall foliage, which should peak again this year in November. And it is possible to see fall foliage in the American South, too, from Texas to Florida.
In the southwestern corner of Texas, Big Bend National Park is home to the nation’s largest protected area of the Chihuahuan Desert. November is a great month to camp, hike and backpack. Check out the Chimneys Trail, which winds through a rock formation in the desert, and the Santa Elena Canyon Trail, which snakes along the Rio Grande River.
Another great place to see fall foliage in Texas in November is the Guadalupe Mountains, where bigtooth maple trees erupt in a riot of color across the McKittrick and Pine Canyons.
Or if you want to go a little farther south, consider a trip to the Kisatchie National Forest in Louisiana. The area has more than 600,000 acres of woodland, and most of the state could be at its peak in November (along with central Florida).
Though fall foliage maps and tools can’t make any guarantees, they offer a useful guide to determine where and when you should plan your fall foliage trips this year. With drought conditions affecting many states this summer, it’s wise to be flexible with your plans and anticipate a much shorter window in which to view fall foliage at its most dramatic.
Additional reporting by Caroline Lascom, Clint Henderson and Melanie Lieberman.
Featured photo by DenisTangneyJr/Getty Images.
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