Fall Foliage and its Mythical "Peak"

Posted by Guest Blogger on 10/11/2012
Posted in: Tauck’s Travelogue
Tags: Nature, Fall Foliage, USA

From Guest Blogger Valerie Dulin

As a product manager charged with choreographing our New England itineraries, I can tell you with some authority that fall foliage is in Tauck’s blood.  Our founder, Arthur Tauck, Sr., was inspired to offer his very first tour (limited to six guests!) while enjoying views of fall foliage in 1924 along the Mohawk Trail in western Massachusetts.  Since then, we’ve led the best fall foliage trips throughout New England and elsewhere in the U.S. for over 87 years.  What’s more, our headquarters are here in New England, so each year we’re personally treated to what some rightly regard – with apologies to P.T. Barnum – as “the greatest show on earth.” 

Best Fall Foliage

Our first-hand knowledge of foliage and fall’s imminent arrival are prompting me to happily debunk one of the most common misperceptions about this annual spectacle of color: the idea of “peak foliage.”  Those two simple words call to mind a massive choreography among trees… some meticulously timed arboreal conspiracy.  The implication is that trees everywhere simultaneously reveal their brightest hues for a brief, brilliant moment, then flame out and drop earthward, exhausted by their efforts like spent salmon after the spawn. 

Happily that’s not entirely the case.  Here’s why:

  • Fall foliage is made up of different tree species. With some notable exceptions (such as the dominance of aspens in the Rockies), most regions serving up fall colors do so with a mix of different species.  As you’d expect, not all trees reach peak coloration at exactly the same time, so some species may be at their most brilliant when others have already started to fade.

  • Foliage peaks differently at different latitudes. Fall colors are triggered largely by cooler temperatures, so the further north you travel, the earlier foliage tends to reach its peak.

  • Foliage peaks differently at different altitudes. Even at the same latitudes, foliage will peak more quickly at higher elevations due to cooler temperatures. Thus, some mountainous areas will have lots of color on higher slopes and still show significant amounts of green in the valleys.

  • Foliage peaks differently along the coasts. Warm coastal air also delays the onset of fall foliage, so inland areas tend to reveal their brightest colors before areas nearer the shore.

Best Fall Foliage 

As a rule of thumb, fall color progresses “down slope, down coast and down south,” which neatly and accurately sums up the typical sequence of how foliage peaks across different areas.  One of the reasons why Tauck’s fall foliage tours have been so successful over the years is that we travel to a range of these different areas, sometimes several within a single itinerary.  So, guests traveling with us in mid-September can enjoy beautiful foliage (at elevations, further inland, and away from the coast) just like guests traveling with us weeks later in October, who will see vibrant foliage further south, at lower elevations, and nearer the shore. 

So don’t stress too much about seeing the best fall foliage at its elusive “peak.”  Whether you’re planning your own trip or you’re traveling with Tauck (and enjoying the ease and convenience of having us handle everything for you!), you’re likely to enjoy spectacular colors if you travel between mid-September and mid-October, and include a range of places in your itinerary.

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