Leaf Peeker's Guide To America's Fall Foliage

Author: Family Travel Forum Staff

Tags : Cheap Vacation, Fall Getaway, Kids, Multigen, North America, Road Trip, Teens, USA

Fall foliage tours and affordable leaf peeking road trips can be easily planned, and you'll probably find a fall festival to make it a fun day's outing or weekend getaway for the family. Here is a How-To, Where-To guide to see leaf color changing en route. Most of the US is open for viewing but some of the states really know how to highlight Mother Nature's show.

The following states and regions are so proud of their fall foliage and leaf "peeping" or leaf "peeking" (or even leaf "peaking") season, that they have established several resources to help you determine when the leaves change. Take advantage of telephone Hot Lines, up-to-the-minute websites, or contact their tourism offices. These folks are ready to advise travelers on current local conditions of foliage and estimated Peak Leaf Peeking in their area.

Fall Leaf Peaking Tips for Kid Travel

Most families don't have to travel far or plan a complex New England leaf-peeping road trip to see the leaves changing near their home.  But you do have to plan ahead.  You may have to book a room several weeks in advance of the leaves turning, but over the years, these fall leaves forecasts have been pretty accurate, so you can do it.

Once you hit the road, keep in mind that this is a very popular activity, and you may well be stuck behind a huge tour bus on a narrow mountain road for longer than your back seat crew can tolerate.

Be sure to pack snacks and beverages for the car, and cameras, batteries and zip-loc baggies for leaf collection.

What Leaf Colors will you see and where?

Some thoughts on trees: Expect Walnut, Butternut, Catalpa, Elm, Hickory, Linden, Sycamore, Grey Birch, and Oak Trees to turn brilliant shades of rust, green and yellow. The oak leaf and elm leaf are especially easy to recognize.

Expect Poplar, Honey Locust, Gingko, Beech, Maple, Most Birches and Chestnut Trees to have their leaves turn varied shades of yellow before dropping to the ground. 

The beautiful maple leaf will then turn a striking shade of red. The common Maple, Sassafras and Sumac trees display a beautiful array of red, orange and purple leaves at their peak of leaf-changing.

Directory of Leaf Peeker Hotlines by US State

Here's FTF's guide to the key leaf peeking states (some phone numbers may operate only seasonally); plan ahead and work with the local tourism office to find reasonably priced hotels for your family.


    Why do leaves change color?

    Leaves turn color because cooler temperatures and shorter days cause trees to stop producing chlorophyll, the natural chemical that makes leaves green. With the green pigment gone, the colorful pigments of other plant substances called carotenoids (yellows and oranges) and anthocyanins (red) become visible.

    Generally speaking, the prime season for observing fall foliage is from mid-September to late October, and it generally works its way from north to south and from higher elevations to lower elevations.

    Eastern US Parks & Regional Leaf Peeking Areas

    Some of the most renowned seasonal colors can be found in the state parks of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and northern New England. Here the brilliant red of the mighty maple rules the forest..

    Wherever you go, the roads will be significantly less crowded during midweek visits, but leaf watchers should book hotel accommodations well in advance during the peak season. Again, we stress:  Once you decide on your destination, check the tourism office sites to find accommodations in your budget range.

    Outside the Box Leaf Peaking: Colorado & California

    Remember to think outside the box when it comes to fall foliage travel.  For example, there's gorgeous sightseeing of a different kind in Grand County, Colorado (970/887-2311) within an hour's drive of the Denver Airport. In Colorado, towering mountains -- some already snow-capped -- frame the golden aspen, orange cottonwood and glittery willows. The occasional moose sighting makes a leaf peeper's road trip a whole other adventure.

    Even the sunny state of California is tooting its foliage horn, with a great blog -- California Fall Color manned by dozens of local leaf spotters, who post their observations and photographs daily so that road trippers can find the best view of changing aspen and cottonwood in the state's diverse terrain.

    And don't forget that climate change may be responsible for unexpected sights in many areas.