Year after year, New England has consistently been voted the best place in the country to watch the leaves change. With fall being right around the corner and many people already having busted out the autumn decorations, it's not surprising that leaf-peeping trips are already in the works. While planning a fall foliage trip sounds simple, there are actually many factors involved in planning it right, including when to time it.

Each year, the foliage report is slightly different, which means that one might plan a trip for the third week in September only to realize that the leaves won't start changing until the following week due to unusually warm weather. Alternatively, one might plan to visit only one place expecting incredible foliage, only to find that another town 30 minutes away is already in full-color array. In order to avoid these mistakes, here are some things to know about before chasing those autumn leaves.

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Timing Is Tricky

No matter how hard anyone attempts to predict the fall foliage season, there are a number of factors that can always intervene. For starters, an late summer - meaning warm temps into September and early October - can throw things off and prevent the leaves from changing as quickly as they normally would. On the other hand, an early frost or sudden drop in temps from a cold front can cause the leaves to change rapidly, meaning there might not be much left when leaf peepers arrive. When planning a trip in late October or early November, another New England factor to consider is the wind; too much and storms will knock those pretty leaves right off each branch, leaving them barren for late leaf peepers.

The best rule of thumb is this: north changes first. What this means is that the leaves usually start changing the furthest north first, beginning with Maine, northern Vermont, and northern New Hampshire. These are the states that usually see color changes around the middle of September or just after, while the southern half of New England doesn't see a change until the last week of September or early October. Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut are usually at their peak during the middle of October.

In Short

  • Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine: Mid-September to Early October peak
  • Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut: Mid-October peak

Consider Altitude Changes

One thing that many people forget is that New England is home to the 4,000-footers. These mountain ranges span from Vermont to New Hampshire and the further up one goes, the more drastic the color change. Altitude has everything to do with fall foliage in this region because the temperatures are colder at higher elevations.

Therefore, if hiking is on the itinerary, visitors may want to consider scheduling their trip a few days earlier. If the elevation isn't an issue, leaf peepers can probably afford to go a few days later and observe foliage at sea level.

Know Where To Go

Knowing where to go in New England for fall foliage is half the battle of actually finding it. The best way to cover the most amount of ground is to take a road trip and simply just drive. One of the best roads to take is Kancamagus Highway, which is famous for its foliage sights throughout New Hampshire. For those hiking to see the foliage, these hikes are great during the fall. Specifically, any hikes through the Green Mountains of Vermont or the White Mountains of New Hampshire are sure to give way to spectacular views below. The best part is that there are plenty of trails rated 'easy' from which to observe the scenery - no need to summit a mountain (unless that's the goal) in order to see it all! For those heading up to major cities, such as Boston, there are plenty of parks to visit within the city limits.

Leaf-Peeping Tips

  • No matter where you go, be sure to get out of the car and walk around. If there happens to be a nice overlook or a scenic park, the views are always so much better when they're not from behind a windshield.
  • Opt for restaurants during the trip that are outdoors - especially in mountainous regions. This is a great way to enjoy some great food while also getting a vantage point from which to see foliage you may not have had before.
  • Always respect the fact that even though a region is known for its autumn scenery, there are people who live there year-round. They expect the crowds, but also appreciate being respected by visitors who visit their towns and cities just to snap photos of the landscape.

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