It’s not too late: The best destinations where you can still see fall foliage this year
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.
Even though autumn officially started on Sept. 22, there’s still time to see the fall colors in some parts of the country. In fact, peak season won’t arrive until the end of November in the southernmost parts of the U.S.
Every year, SmokyMountains.com — a site that sells vacation rentals and promotes tourism in the region — publishes an interactive fall foliage prediction map. And while this tool and others like it obviously can’t say with complete certainty when and where the leaves will be their most colorful, the creators pull millions of data points to assemble the map at a county-specific level.
By processing data points including “historical precipitation, NOAA precipitation forecasts, elevation, actual temperatures, temperature forecasts and average daylight exposure … ” founder and statistical expert David Angotti says the map can help “travelers, leaf peepers and photographers … pick future dates for trips to view peak fall in each area of the United States.”
Basically, it’s a tool to predict fall.
So, if you haven’t already, there’s still time to plan a socially distanced fall getaway. In true 2020 fashion, fall foliage appears to be progressing more quickly than originally predicted: Many of the most popular destinations for fall foliage have already passed full glory.
Of course, foretelling fall foliage is always tricky alchemy.
“Since the fall foliage map is based on meteorology and predictive patterns,” Angotti explained, “the precise moment Mother Nature produces peak fall is difficult to predict.” Still, he says they’ve refined the algorithm over the past eight years and have achieved “reliable results.”
And there are some general weather patterns travelers should keep in mind this year. “Sea temperatures near the equator are slightly below average temperatures for this time of year,” Angotti told TPG in early September. “This, in turn, will likely bring cooler temperatures to the northern states and warmer temperatures to the southern states.”
Angotti predicted a peak fall period for much of the Northeast during the week of Oct. 12, while “drier and warmer than typical temperatures” in the southern U.S. could mean some states won’t see peak fall foliage “until well into November.”
When you’re ready to hit the road for an unforgettable fall foliage drive, remember to bring along a good credit card for earning points on gas purchases. With the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, for example, you’ll earn 3% cash back when you fill up at U.S. gas stations.
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By the middle of October, travelers saw some of the best views in the central belt of the United States, from central California and the eastern areas of Colorado to Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, Virginia and the Carolinas. Missed your chance in October? Sit tight: Many of the Southern states have yet to experience their peak season for fall foliage.
If you’ll be traveling around the Northeast, be sure to explore the Berkshires, a mountainous region in Western Massachusetts between New York City and Boston. After a day hiking and admiring the changing leaves, bed down at Miraval Berkshires Resort & Spa, an all-inclusive wellness retreat spread across 380 acres of land. Standard rooms start at 45,000 World of Hyatt points per night (plus 20,000 points for double occupancy). You can earn points with the World of Hyatt Credit Card.
It’s past peak now, but there’s still plenty of beautiful foliage around.
And be sure to keep an eye on local quarantine requirements: There are many quarantine and testing requirements for travelers entering from a number of high-risk states.
Utah’s national parks — Arches, Zion and Bryce Canyon among them — may be best known for their staggering sandstone cliffs, hoodoos and arches, but they’re also great places to enjoy peak foliage. Plus, if you’re hoping to photograph the scenery, the autumnal light illuminates the red rocks spectacularly. Just get there as soon as you can. By the first week of October, all the leaves in Utah were already at or near-peak, with trees in some counties already well past their prime. Fortunately, after the leaves fall, there’s still plenty to see and do in the area.
Great Smoky Mountains
The Smoky Mountains are located in one of the most beautiful regions of the country around this time of year, and the eponymous national park is where you want to be in November. You can use points to stay in historic areas such as Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg (try the Black Fox Pigeon Forge Lodge, a Tapestry Collection by Hilton) or opt for a rustic cabin rental. For the best views of the changing leaves, head to the observation deck at the peak of Clingman’s Dome, or embark on one of the many scenic drives in the area, including Cade’s Cove Loop Road, the Blue Ridge Parkway or the Foothills Parkway.
Columbia River Gorge
The area surrounding Portland, Oregon, is renowned for its incredible scenery. Autumn is particularly enchanting, and much of Oregon’s wild landscapes explode with bursts of color at every turn throughout the month of October and into November. You can 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.
Arizona and New Mexico
These southwestern states may not be the first place you think of when deciduous trees — the type with color-changing leaves — come to mind. Yet the foliage map shows that the southern regions of both states will be at or near their prime in November. If you’ve been planning to visit the Grand Canyon anyway, this would be an ideal time to visit for some bonus beauty. Not sure where to stay? We’ve got just the guide for you with tips on where to stay, play and explore.
This year’s season for fall leaves seems to be moving particularly quickly. Much of the northern and central regions were past their prime before the spookiest holiday of the year arrived.
Fall foliage is already appearing in the southernmost parts of the U.S., with the nation’s southern border mostly at or near peak fall foliage. Follow the lakes and rivers toward some of the most beautiful scenery you’ll find in the U.S. in November.
The Lake of the Ozarks, in Missouri, has long been a popular (if underrated) destination for fall foliage viewing. 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 reach peak much earlier. Or, follow country roads through the rugged forests of the Ozark Mountains for even more imposing views.
Everything’s bigger in Texas — even the state and national parks. In the southwestern corner of Texas, Big Bend is home to the nation’s largest protected area of Chihuahuan Desert. Nature lovers flock here in early November 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, snaking 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.
Louisiana may conjure mental images of Bourbon Street, live music and swampy bayous, which may not strike you as the best spot for autumnal hues. But for travelers searching for late fall foliage in November, there are few better places to be. Head to the Kisatchie National Forest, located a few miles outside the city of Alexandria, to explore more than 600,000 acres of woodland.
Additional reporting by Clint Henderson and Melanie Lieberman.
Featured photo by DenisTangneyJr/Getty Images.
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