The Reluctant Leaf-Peepers Guide to Fall Foliage

Written by Jonathan Gang

By Jonathan Gang
BU News Service

The practice of leaf-peeping, or traveling to view and photograph the changing colors of the fall foliage, can be a bit of a punchline among native New Englanders. Growing up around the embarrassment of riches that is Autumn in the northeast, it’s easy to become desensitized the beauty of the region’s fall foliage. It’s a phenomenon that has led to a general feeling of derision for the the annual influx of tourists who flood quaint B&Bs from Stockbridge to Bangor to see the multi-colored, leafy splendor.

However, a single trip to the right place at the right time to appreciate the colors of the fall can turn anyone, be you a jaded local or nature-hating city slicker, into an awe-struck foliage fancier.

New England is home to one of the world’s largest and most diverse populations of broadleaf deciduous trees, whose leaves change colors in autumn before falling to the ground as winter approaches. During the period of “peak” foliage, generally sometime in early to mid October, the hillsides from Connecticut to Maine become covered with spectacular displays of of bright yellows and deep reds, contrasting with the lingering green of the evergreen trees that keep their leaves year round.

Right now across New England most trees are in what is known as the “turning” stage. Many trees still retain their summer greens, while others have just begun to show small amounts color. However, as the temperature continues to drop, more and more trees will begin revealing their fall colors. Points further south tend to reach their peak later in the month than locations to the north.

Looking northwest from Bondcliff, Pemigawasset Wilderness, New Hampshire, Fall 2014

Looking northwest from Bondcliff, Pemigawasset Wilderness, New Hampshire, Fall 2014

Many websites exist to track the progress of the foliage. One of one the best and most popular is Yankee Magazine’s live fall foliage map, which draws from forecasts and user-generated reports to show the current conditions, county-by-county, for the entire region. Massvacation.com provides a tracker for the state of Massachusetts, including regional webcams for checking on the leaves in real time.

While the options are practically limitless, here are a few destinations get you started on your leaf-peeping adventure this fall:

Middlesex Fells Reservation: Only a few miles up I-93 from Boston, this forested, 2,575 acre reservation offers over 100 miles of trails. The Skyline trail, a 6.9 mile rolling loop through the heart of the park, offers numerous views of the surrounding foliage, as well the Boston skyline in the distance.

Mount Greylock: Massachusetts’ highest point at 3,491 feet, a trip up Mount Greylock provides the most panoramic views in the state. From the summit you can clearly see New York’s Adirondack and Catskill Mountains to the west, New Hampshire’s Green Mountains to the North, and the Holyoke Range paralleling I-91 to the east. In autumn this can make for a sea of color stretching across hundreds of miles. The peak is accessible by car or via several trails, including the Thunderbolt Trail, which follows the original route of one of North America’s first downhill skiing trails.

The Kancamagus Highway: For those looking to travel farther afield, the Kancamagus Highway is one of the most popular destinations for leaf-peepers in the entire region. The route traverses 34.5 scenic miles through the White Mountain National Forest.  Expect large crowds and heavy traffic on weekends during peak season. For those looking for a more rugged experience there are numerous options for hiking along the highway. This includes the Pemigawasset Loop, an epic, 31.5 mile system of trails that traverses eight of New Hampshire’s 48 4,000 foot peaks.

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