As the temperature drops and autumn sets in, Mother Nature is painting the treetops in vibrant hues of red, orange and gold, and many people are planning their leaf-viewing vacations.
SmokyMountains.com created a prediction map for the year's fall colors using millions of historical data points from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 2017's foliage may be spectacular, but it also may peak sooner than it usually does, too.
"This year's leaf model is predicting an earlier-than-typical peak fall," Wes Melton, a data scientist who helped make the map, told Travel+Leisure. The reason for the early peak? Warmer temperatures and lots of rain in some areas over the summer. The good news is that if you can't pull together a trip to see the leaves ASAP, Melton's data points to a "prolonged color period" as well. This means that there's a little bit more time to get organized, depending on your location.
Leaves change around Walden Pond. (Photo: eflon/flickr)
Peak time: Foliage season is already underway in the region, per SmokyMountains.com's map. The region may be at or near its peak by the middle of September, and it'll be past its peak by the start of October. Southern Maine and the northern parts of Vermont and New Hampshire will be past their peak by the end of September.
Where to go: Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts, inspired Henry David Thoreau, and when you see the autumn's colors reflected in the water, you'll understand why. The Catskills and Adirondacks are classic foliage destinations where you can catch several leaf peeping tours or simply wander among the vivid, leafy boughs on your own. Hike to the top of Hogback Mountain in southern Vermont and you'll be rewarded with a 100-mile view of orange, scarlet and gold. The small town of Medfield, Massachusetts, is a quiet destination off the beaten path where you can walk six miles of footpaths through the gorgeous foliage at Rocky Woods State Reservation. New Hampshire's White Mountain National Forest guarantees spectacular leaf viewing each year. Climbing the tallest mountain on the U.S. Atlantic coast at Acadia National Park will get a stunning view of the color-splashed landscape.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is among the most visited national parks in the U.S. (Photo: Upendra Kanda/flickr)
Peak time: Some parts of the Southeast will have minimal to patchy color changes by the middle of September. If you give it a few more weeks, swatches of Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee will be at their peaks. However, most of the region won't start to peak until around Oct. 15, with the southernmost areas not peaking until the end of October.
Where to go: You'll never fail to get breathtakingly colorful views with a trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park — there's a reason it's among America's most visited national parks. If you're looking to get a tour of what the Southern states have to offer, check out Alabama's Fall Color Trail, which will take you from the scenic views of Oak Mountain State Park to Cheaha State Park, the highest point in the state at 2,407 feet above sea level. The overlook at South Carolina's Caesars Head State Park offers one of the most stunning views of autumn in the Appalachians, and a hike to nearby Raven Cliff Falls offers an ideal photo opportunity where water cascades down the dramatic 400-foot falls surrounded by fall colors. The city of Asheville, North Carolina, is a great stop if you crave a hip urban setting surrounded by gorgeous foliage. Georgia's Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest always has spectacular views for leaf peepers. Arkansas' Ozark Mountain Region also promises an array of crimsons, yellows and oranges that offers many stunning photo opportunities.
You can spot bald eagles and other birds among the leaves in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. (Photo: Cuyahoga jco/flickr)
Peak time: Like some parts of the Northeast, the Midwest is already experiencing some partial foliage changes. Those areas — the northern portions of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota — will peak by the middle of September. The rest of the region is expected to peak around the end of September and first couple of weeks in October.
Where to go: Michigan's Upper Peninsula is home to some of the most gorgeous fall foliage in the country, framing the area's more than 200 different waterfalls in a backdrop of spectacular color. Just 20 miles from downtown Cleveland, Ohio, sits Cuyahoga Valley National Park, a 33,000-acre preserve where you can spot bald eagles and other birds nestled among the leaves. The Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway offers the opportunity to see autumn's splendor from a variety of viewpoints — from scenic bluffs to glistening waterways. Missouri's Katy Trail is the nation's longest rails-to-trails bike path, and it'll take you through small towns and farmland and give you breathtaking views of the Midwest's fall foliage.
Leaves begin to change around Belton Hills and the Middle Fork of the Flathead River in Glacier National Park. (Photo: glaciernps/flickr)
Peak time: The northernmost states in the region won't begin to really change up the colors until near the end of September. By Oct. 8, most areas in the region will be at their peaks. About half of Texas won't peak until the end of October, however, well past the rest of the region's foliage pinnacle.
Where to go: They may be called the Black Hills, but this area of South Dakota is blanketed in a variety of colors every autumn. Leaf peepers looking for an overview of what the area has to offer should take a drive along the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway. Montana's Glacier National Park offers breathtaking views at all times of year, and fall is no different. Although the park is home to many evergreens, you'll also see bright yellows and crimsons, which creates a stunning contrast among the greens. Nestled in the Missouri River bluffs in northeastern Nebraska, Ponca State Park offers gorgeous landscapes dotted with fall colors and the Lone Star State has more to offer than just cacti — Lost Maples State Natural Area is a great place to see some of fall's best oranges and yellows.
Fall starts early in Alaska's Denali National Park. (Photo: Alaskan Dude/flickr)
Peak time: The window for foliage in the Northwest is pretty small. Portions of Washington and Oregon are already starting to turn, while a nice section of Idaho is already at its peak. By the end of September, many counties in the region will be at their peak.
Where to go: The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area that spans southern Washington and northern Oregon is typically an ideal place to see the colorful show put on by the area's maples, cottonwoods and ash trees, but wildfires late this summer have made the area less-than-hospitable for leaf peepers. The Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest in Washington is home to gorgeous creeks and lakes that reflect the colorful foliage, and Mount Rainier National Park boasts brilliant fall colors, thanks to its vine maples, huckleberry bushes and larch trees. Oregon's 2.3 million-acre Fremont-Winema National Forest offers many scenic vistas of vibrant oranges and yellows, and Idaho's Teton Scenic Byway is a must-see with its variety of colors dotting the mountain range. You might be surprised to find so many hues in Alaska's Denali National Park, but the area's breathtaking beauty gets much more colorful in the fall. Keep in mind that fall starts early and ends quickly in Denali, so make your way up there in late August or early September to catch the park's brilliants reds and oranges.
West and Southwest
The Rio Chama in Abiquiu, New Mexico, is colorful in the fall. (Photo: Larry1732/flickr)
Peak time: The middle swath of Colorado will peak by mid-September with Utah following suit a week or so later. New Mexico will peak by the start of October, with Arizona and Nevada peaking between Oct. 8 and 15.
Where to go: Aspen may be known for its skiing, but every autumn the golden foliage of the town's namesake tree makes the area's slopes worth the trip even without snow. The leaves begin changing in Arizona's Coconino National Forest as early as September, but the gold rush really beings in October. New Mexico's Sangre de Cristo mountains are splattered in orange, gold and yellow ever fall and offer a wealth of photo opportunities, and you can never go wrong with a trip to the Lake Tahoe area during this time of year. The fall color show lasts for weeks here, and the gorgeous foliage provides the perfect backdrop for the variety of outdoor activities available at Lake Tahoe.
Editor's note: This story was originally published in October 2011 and has been updated with new information.