Traditions and outdoor activities are the hallmark of this three day weekend.
Photo Credit : Jim Salge
Friday, after work, I will join the stream of cars and campers heading north on Route 93 up to the White Mountains for the final big tourism weekend of the year. The three-day Columbus Day weekend usually coincides with bright fall foliage conditions in much of northern New England, and the towns and villages there will be rolling out the red carpet one last time before ski season gears up to drive the economy.
For so many of these visitors, the holiday weekend is about traditions. The season is so fleeting that there’s a certain urgent intensity to the sights and even smells of fall in New England. There’s a real necessity felt to visit a favorite cider mill, a local festival, or a beloved café; to go on a hike with the family, visit a waterfall, bike along a rail trail, or take a gondola to the mountaintop. And at the center of all of this: to go leaf-peeping.
Although deciding where to go is rarely an issue, this year it’s looking as though it’ll take more exploring than usual to find great color. Driving around the North Country last weekend, after the record heat wave, it was challenging to locate consistent foliage displays. Sure, there was some terrific color to be seen, but much of the landscape was either a palette of muted colors, faded by the heat, or still very green, ready to turn but needing some cool weather to coax it along.
So, after a great setup this year, what happened? And will we see some of the fall foliage recover in time for the weekend?
A cool start to September had some bright reds in the foliage starting early, but the latter half of September turned hot and dry, which stalled the progression of colors. The leaves that turned early then browned and fell, and the hot weather prevented the next wave from coming in.
Fortunately, some ideally cool conditions last weekend began to push the show along again in the areas that turn first. Heavy frost covered the ground in parts of northern New England on Sunday and Monday mornings, and more reasonably cool nights are in the forecast. And finally, more and more color up north has been emerging by the day.
With this, we’ve noticed an interesting pattern emerging on some hillsides. The green down low is just starting to turn, and up high there are muted browns on trees that fell victim to the heat, but at elevations in between, some new bright reds are showing on hillside maples. This may bode well for this weekend in the north, if the colors come in rapidly in this week’s improved conditions — but this also gives us hope for the sea of green farther south in the coming weeks.
So, given these delayed conditions, what do you do this coming weekend?
2017 FOLIAGE UPDATE: WHERE TO FIND COLUMBUS DAY COLOR
First, it’s a great time to explore a new area. While so much of autumn in New England is about tradition, the familiar routes simply may not be holding color yet. This week North Conway, New Hampshire, was green. Moosehead Lake, Maine, was just turning. Stowe, Vermont, had remarkably low color. But moving up in elevation or into adjacent valleys, there will be some fine color. Keep your same familiar base camp, certainly, but be willing to go up north, or uphill.
We continue to recommend Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, New Hampshire’s Great North Woods, and the mountains of western Maine as the areas with the highest color. The northern Whites and northern Greens are rapidly emerging now, too, especially the beautiful Zealand Valley.
Secondly, focus on the beauty of smaller scenes. Even if the whole landscape isn’t being completely cooperative right now, there are so many hints of color that can catch the eye: the lone red tree on the lakeshore, or the bright red leaf fallen on the trail. Wetlands continue to hold bold colors throughout the region, and the blueberry scrub between the rocks on hilltops is blazing brightly as well.
And most important, have hope! The fall colors are emerging quickly now, and a few more cool mornings can completely change things by Monday morning. Having the chance to see surprising changes day by day this weekend could add some excitement to the season.
We certainly feel for those who are visiting this year on once-in-a-lifetime trips that may have mistimed the peak conditions. But autumn in New England is about so much more than just the colors, and we hope that everyone enjoys the culture and traditions of our fall season.
As always, be sure to visit NewEnglandFoliage.com for our weekly 2017 foliage forecasts and reports, as well as our live peak foliage map and everything else you need to plan your foliage trip in the region. And when you do find some color, please do share it with us. Tag your Instagram photos with #MyNewEngland for a chance to be featured on our feed.
Good luck exploring, and keep hoping for brighter colors!