How the Weather Impacts Fall Foliage + Top Leaf-Peeping Spots

Photo by Juliette Dickens on Unsplash

The month of October kicks off-peak leaf-peeping season. We know fall is on its way when the leaves start to change color, from the greens of summer to the beautiful reds, yellows, and oranges of fall. These color changes are part of a process called phenology.

What happens during phenology, and where can you see the most beautiful examples of this process? Read on to find out more. 

Color Changing and Impact of Weather

As we move into fall, there are fewer hours of sunlight. As a result, the process of photosynthesis, which depends on sunlight, begins to slow down. As a result, trees produce less chlorophyll, which is the pigment that supports photosynthesis and gives leaves their green color. 

Other pigments begin to take the place of chlorophyll. For example, carotenoid leaf pigments show yellow and orange colors in leaves, while anthocyanins pigments are responsible for red and purple leaf colors. 

The weather has an impact on the extent of color changes and when this happens. When the soil has been moist all year round, the leaves become more colorful. Droughts and lack of rain mean colors can be more muted. 

Sunshine and dry conditions (but not too dry) during the day combined with cooler evenings produce more vibrant leaf colors. Trees in low-lying areas with cooler nights often change color sooner than trees in higher regions.

Different trees also have other colored leaves during fall. For example, beeches and birches mostly have yellow and orange leaves, and trees such as sourwoods, scarlet oaks, and red maples have more red leaves. 

Best Places to See Fall Foliage and Go Leaf Peeping

If you want to visit the best spots to view and photograph fall foliage, then we recommend the below areas. While leaf-peeping is popular in New England, there are many spots in other states where you can get a similar experience. 

Here are our top picks:

  • Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
  • Aspen, Colorado
  • Bar Harbor, Maine
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina/Tennessee
  • Ozark National Forest, Arkansas
  • Taos, New Mexico
  • Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
  • Upstate New York

Peak leaf season happens at different times according to location, and the brilliance of the leaf foliage varies from year to year. So if you’re in the West or Midwest, you’ll need to wait a bit longer to go leaf-peeping if you want to experience a vast array of colors. 


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