Fall is officially late. Here’s how that affects your fall-foliage trip

Sep 25, 2019

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The calendar says that Tuesday is the first full day of fall, but in most places around the country, the leaves say otherwise.

Y’all, fall is officially late.

I just took a quick trip with my family to Colorado to see some gorgeous Aspens in all their golden fall glory, which should have been an easy task in late September. But planning trips tied to anything remotely weather-related is a gamble at best — and whether you’re seeking fall foliage, cherry blossom blooms or a perfect beach day, you need be ready for anything when Mother Nature is dealing the cards.

Maroon Bells in a previous year (Buddy Smith / The Points Guy)

This year, Mother Nature is savoring more than a few bonus days of summer, and has yet to unleash the cool temperatures or kaleidoscopic hues of fall. We’re in the process of updating our guide to the best fall foliage trips to reflect this year’s weather patterns, but while late September should have been ideal for leaf peeping in parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Vermont and Maine, this is what it really looks like right now near Aspen as of September 23:

Maroon Bells near Aspen in late September (Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

Sure, the transformation from green to yellow has started, but peak fall foliage viewing for that area around Aspen and Maroon Bells is still probably about 10 days out, in early October.

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While the changing of the leaves is tied to the halt of production of chlorophyll related to diminished hours of sunlight this time of year, the more vibrant colors are also linked to rainfall and lower temperatures. Those brisk autumn days and cooler nights speed up the breakdown of vibrant green chlorophyll, allowing the leaves to display stunning orange, yellow, red and purple pigments. If it gets too cold too fast, however, an early frost can be the end of a brilliant fall display.

All of that fifth grade science means, more or less, that the leaves are starting to turn because of the reduced amount of light they receive this time of year — but the temperatures haven’t been getting cool enough in many parts of the country for the colors to really start popping.

The upside is that, assuming a frost doesn’t derail things prematurely, the colors should soon be brilliant in many parts of the country — especially the Midwest. In addition to the changing of the Aspens in Colorado running a touch late, here are a few fall foliage notes from around the country courtesy of AccuWeather:

  • New England colors should peak around mid-October, but the vibrant period will likely be shorter than normal.
  • The Northwest may have great colors, but it will happen later than normal thanks to a warmer fall.
  • The Midwest is still running roughly on schedule and should offer a long-lasting fall display.
(DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images)
(DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images)

Here’s an updated fall foliage map:

The good news? You definitely haven’t missed any peak fall foliage, so there’s still time to plan a trip. And if you are already committed to dates that won’t align with prime tree-spotting, that’s OK: early fall is still beautiful.

Of course, if autumnal activities like pumpkin carving and leaf-peeping make you cringe, there are plenty of trips you can take this fall that have nothing whatsoever to do with decorative gourds or dead leaves.

How’s fall coming along in your neck of the woods?

Featured image by Summer Hull/TPG

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