It's a big week for fall fanatics: Starbucks unleashed its Pumpkin Spice Latte and the 2021 fall foliage prediction map made its debut. The map is likely to be more pertinent for autumnal-travel planning.
If you're not already a fan of the map, here's why we're excited for its annual release. The interactive tool from SmokyMountains.com, the tourism site for the Smoky Mountain region, helps us predict when peak fall will happen, county by county, for the entire United States.
Obviously, it's a forecast and not a crystal ball; there's no guarantee the prediction will be perfect. But it can give you a gist of where to travel to see the best of fall.
According to Jim Salge, a former meteorologist at the Mount Washington Observatory and Yankee Magazine's resident fall foliage expert, says leaves are primed for a beautiful season and already beginning to change in some regions, despite heavy summer storms and unusual weather across the country.
"The Pacific Northwest has had such an unbelievably abnormal year in terms of their climate . . . I just don't know what that's going to do to [their fall colors]," Salge says. "But places near normal climate conditions produce great foliage in many areas . . . Colorado, Wisconsin, Michigan all look great this year, and New England is always beautiful."
Here's what we've gleaned from current predictions so far, and what it could mean for your fall trips.
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Late September and early October look like the most promising time for a fall foliage visit to the East Coast, according to the 2021 map. Salge says that because of drier weather this summer, the colors farther north closer to the Canadian border should break earlier than normal. Don't wait too long for your visit. By the second week of October, most of the Northeast region could be well past its peak colors.
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An early fall trip looks best for a trip to the Mountain West if you're going for the foliage. By the second week of September, parts of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana are expected to approach their peak. In the later weeks of September, the forecast shows peak colors taking over more of the region. By October, you're pushing into post-peak territory.
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Salge predicts an exceptional year for fall foliage in the Midwest. Plan to see it for yourself closer to late September through early October if you're headed to the Upper Midwest, or mid- to late October if you're further south.
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The West Coast may be more known for its beaches than its fall colors, until you hit the Pacific Northwest. This year, the remarkable foliage may unfold in unpredictable ways thanks to outlier weather.
"We saw 100 degrees in Seattle for how many days in a row," Salge says. However, the 2021 prediction map at this time suggests early to mid-October to be the most colorful time to visit.