Toby Talbot  /  AP file
A farm is framed by the colors of fall in East Montpelier, Vt.
By Travel writer
Special to msnbc.com
updated 9/20/2006 11:28:52 AM ET 2006-09-20T15:28:52

If you’re heading to New England this fall, you may want to bring your sunglasses. According to the experts, the autumn forecast is looking exceedingly bright -- bright red, bright yellow, and bright orange, that is -- as the annual foliage fireworks display is about to go off.

In fact, this year’s leaf-peeping season is shaping up to offer a dramatic departure from last year, when unseasonably warm autumn temperatures delayed the color parade in several areas. By contrast, this year’s moist spring, warm summer, and cooler fall nights have helped set the stage for a healthy forest canopy and kaleidoscopic colors.

Even so, predicting when the foliage show will kick into high gear is no easy feat. Some visitors settle on the Columbus Day weekend (October 7–9 this year), which often serves as the expedient, if not the actual, peak of the season. If you go that route, expect big crowds and reserve lodging early as accommodations do go fast.

A better bet is to monitor the season’s progress via the legions of volunteer leaf peepers who report their local conditions to state agencies across the region. Posted to state Web sites throughout the fall, their eye-witness accounts offer a reasonable roadmap of where to head when. Depending on where you want to go, here’s where to start:

Maine: As New England’s northernmost state, Maine is often the first to fire up the foliage show with colors working their way from the northern woodlands of Aroostook County to the bays and coves along the southeast coast. Peak colors typically hit in mid-late September up north; the second to third week in October down south.

Slideshow: Autumn’s awesome rainbow This year, the state’s Department of Conservation will post weekly foliage reports at www.mainefoliage.com/, starting on September 13 and continuing through mid-late October. Eyewitness reports, suggested driving routes, and live-help will be available.

Vermont: Like Maine, Vermont usually begins its annual color shift in mid-late September. Starting in the Northeast Kingdom (north of St. Johnsbury) and along the spine of the Green Mountains, colors work their way east and west to lower elevations along Lake Champlain and the Connecticut River.

Beginning September 7, you can read weekly reports from the state, county, and private foresters -- a.k.a., the leaf squad -- at www.vermontvacation.com/. The site also provides links to craft fairs, harvest festivals, and other autumn events.

New Hampshire: The Granite State will post its first foliage report at www.visitnh.gov/harvest/ on September 12, with subsequent reports covering seven regions coming out on Mondays and Thursdays through late October.

Barring weather surprises, peak colors typically hit the northern part of the state around the first week of October and southern areas around the middle of the month. After that, you may be able to catch the fireworks a little longer along the coastal strip between Seabrook and Portsmouth.

Massachusetts: From yellow-leaved hickories in the Berkshires to fire-engine-red swamp maples on Cape Cod, fall foliage typically rolls east across Massachusetts throughout October. Starting September 18, foresters across the state will begin reporting specific local conditions, which will be posted  in biweekly updates (Tuesdays and Fridays) at www.massvacation.com/foliage.

  1. Don't miss these Travel stories
    1. Lords of the gourd compete for Punkin Chunkin honors

      With teams using more than 100 unique apparatuses to launch globular projectiles a half-mile or more, the 27th annual World Championship Punkin Chunkin event is our pick as November’s Weird Festival of the Month.

    2. Airports, airlines work hard to return your lost items
    3. Expert: Tourist hordes threaten Sistine Chapel's art
    4. MGM Grand wants Las Vegas guests to Stay Well
    5. Report: Airlines collecting $36.1B in fees this year

Connecticut: Like Massachusetts, foliage season in Connecticut is mostly an October affair, with colors working their way from the rolling hills in the north, down the Connecticut River Valley, and along the shores of Long Island Sound. Weekly updates from state foresters can be found at www.ctvisit.com/, starting on or around September 15. The site also provides a list of suggested fall foliage driving loops.

Rhode Island: Unfortunately, the state’s tourism Web site (www.visitrhodeisland.com/) doesn’t provide foliage updates, but the season generally mirrors those in Connecticut and Western Massachusetts. Popular leaf-peeping options include scenic tours among the apple orchards of the Blackstone Valley and in the wildlife refuges in the South County area.

New York: OK, so it’s not part of New England, but with almost as many acres of trees as the rest of the Northeast combined, New York offers some of the season’s most kaleidoscopic scenery. And with topography that ranges from the heights of the Adirondacks to the shores of Long Island, the foliage show can go on from mid-September to early November.

As of September 13, weekly foliage updates will be available at www.iloveny.com/ every Wednesday afternoon. In addition to reports from 11 regions across the state, updates feature event listings, suggested vantage points, and a map of the season’s progress.

Wherever you head, remember that autumn is arguably New England’s most popular season. Weather-wise, it’s also the most fickle, which means conditions can change overnight. Be prepared, yet flexible, and keep in mind that there’s more to leaf-peeping than New England. The Southeast, Midwest, and Rocky Mountain states all put their own parades of color come autumn. We can check them out next column.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments