The problem with planning a leaf-peeping trip is that the timing is so challenging: Pick the wrong week, and you either arrive before the leaves have reached peak color or you arrive too late and miss the peak colors.
Now there’s good news for anybody planning a trip to see fall landscapes. SmokyMountains.com, the tourism site for the Smoky Mountain region, has released its annual Fall Foliage Prediction Map. The interactive tool gives users a county-by-county and week-by-week prediction of when autumn colors will peak across the U.S.
“Similar to any meteorological forecast, leaf predictions will never be 100 percent accurate,” David Angotti, SmokyMountains.com co-founder, and map creator told TravelAwaits. “However, after publishing our predictive fall foliage map for nearly a decade, we are quite confident in our data sources, process, and algorithm.”
How The Map Works
When days start getting shorter, tree leaves stop producing chlorophyll — which appears green — from photosynthesis. As leaves in turn lose that green pigment, it allows colors of the other compounds present to be seen. Fall leaves get their orange color from beta-carotene, red color from anthocyanins (which actually increase in fall), and yellow color from flavonols.
“The interactive map uses millions of data inputs, which are processed by our advanced weather algorithm,” Angotti told TravelAwaits. “This algorithm outputs 40,000+ data points and graphically displays the precise time leaves will peak anywhere in the continental U.S.”
Here’s how to use the interactive map, which can be found here.
When you visit the map, you’ll see a slider at the bottom of the page. That slider is set to a particular week. As you move the slider from week to week, the map shows the predicted progression of fall colors.
As you would expect, green indicates trees have not begun to change colors and brown indicates the leaves are past their peak. The colors in between show the progression of leaves changing color.
SmokyMountains.com also plans to publish a mid-season update for regions that tend to experience peak fall colors later. This updated map is expected to go live later this month.
“Our experience combined with a scheduled mid-season update has us especially confident about this year’s predictions,” Angotti said. “Our goal is that this data-based, interactive tool will make it easier for more people to enjoy peak fall colors in 2021.”
Here’s a week-by-week estimate of when areas of the U.S. should see peak fall colors.
Week Of September 13
Week Of September 20
Peak colors will have overtaken more of the western Colorado area, including near Ft. Collins and possibly Denver.
Week Of September 27
Peak colors are expected in western Montana, including Helena, Butte, and Missoula.
Week Of October 4
Much of New England, including most of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, should see peak colors this week.
Peak colors will also be in the Minneapolis, Minnesota area and stretch across central Wisconsin, including Green Bay.
Week Of October 11
Peak colors will stretch across southern Minnesota and Wisconsin this week. They will also stretch across northern Pennsylvania and much of New York.
Week Of October 18
This will be the best week to see peak colors in the Pacific Northwest.
Peak colors are also expected to stretch across northern Illinois, northern Indiana, and southern Michigan, which is good news for people in Chicago, South Bend (Indiana), and Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Week Of October 25
Peak colors are expected to continue shifting south this week, including across St. Louis, Missouri, and central and southern Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and into Pennsylvania — including Philadelphia. Key places to see the colors in Ohio will be Columbus and Cincinnati.
Week Of November 1
This should be the best week to see peak colors in the southern U.S.
Know Before You Go
Many people will use the Fall Foliage Map to plan local trips near their home. On the other hand, if you want to travel to another state, or simply find the best places to see fall colors close to home, SmokyMountains.com can help with that, too.
SmokyMountains.com has also compiled a list of the best places to watch leaves change color in each state. The aptly titled “Top Places to See Fall Foliage in All 50 States” can be found here.