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It’s the time of year marked by crisp air and sweaters, pumpkin spice, and cinnamon soirées. We’re talking sunkissed September serenades and October Opuses full of cider-sipping sagas and bonfire ballads.
But we fall for fall leaf by leaf, and the fall foliage spectacle improvisationally changes its cue every year. Arrive too early, and you only catch the opening foliage act; too late, and you miss the main peak color event.
I crunched the numbers on 60,518 annual tree life cycle observations — or phenophase records, for you botany buffs — covering 305 deciduous tree species. That’s a decade’s worth of data, spanning 2,561 observational sites across the U.S., all to serve you the most accurate, tailored-to-your-needs foliage forecast for 2023! I also designated a few states as “Leaf Leaders” for providing some of the best places to see fall colors in the U.S.
Read on or select a jump link to discover when the leaves in your neck of the woods will put on their grandest show of the year.
Independent: My data analysis research is conducted with independence and impartiality to ensure the integrity of the findings. My research is editorially independent, but Trips to Discover may earn a commission for any purchases made through links on this page.
Raw Data Source: USA National Phenology Network. 2023. Plant and Animal Phenology Data. Data type: Individual Phenometrics. 1/1/2012-12/31/2022 for Region: 71.538800°, -66.934570° (UR); 24.396308°, 172.558333° (LL) USA-NPN, Tucson, Arizona, USA. Data set accessed 9/5/23 at http://doi.org/10.5066/F78S4N1V
Collection: I crafted a tailored dataset using the USA-NPN, featuring 60,518 tree status phenophase observations gathered from a span of a decade. These observations come from 2,561 unique sites across the United States and cover 305 species of deciduous trees. My collection focused on two key phenophase classes: “colored leaves” and “falling leaves.”
Cleaning: I narrowed the range of tree status observations to focus specifically on core U.S. fall foliage from August 1 through November 30 of each year. I refined the original dataset to include only sites within the contiguous U.S. I generated a unique Key ID for each observation by combining the site ID, latitude, longitude, state, common tree name, individual ID, and observation year information. I used this Key ID to merge the “colored leaves” and “falling leaves” phenophase observations into pairs.
Analysis: After an initial examination of over 30,000 paired records, I found that “peak fall foliage” generally falls between the first date leaves start to drop (the initial “falling leaves” date) and the date the last leaf changes color (the final “colored leaves” date). This intersection of phenophases yields the most leaves in vibrant hues still clinging to the trees, also known as peak foliage. I calculated the average date range for peak foliage across the 2,561 observation sites, spanning ten years of data. I then aggregated these site-level averages at the state level. I grouped states into eight regions, determined by geographical proximity and comparable peak foliage dates, with the aid of GPT-4 technology. The “Leaf Leader” states were designated based on my subjective evaluation.
Dates: I then derived four critical metrics for each of the eight regions:
Foliage Start: Average of states’ “falling leaves” start dates in a region.
Peak Start: The earliest peak foliage midpoint in a regional group.
Peak End: The last peak foliage midpoint in a regional group.
Foliage End: Average of states’ last “colored leaves” record date in a region.
Replicability: All raw data is publicly available. For questions, email [email protected]. [Google Sheets link] contains the cleaned data and calculations minus proprietary info and raw data. Please credit if sharing.
Leaf Leaders 🍂: Michigan, Wisconsin, and Washington
The first region in the contiguous U.S. to witness the splendor of fall foliage sits along the border with our Canadian neighbors. This region, which I call the Northern Frontier, will likely experience peak fall foliage between October 4 and 14 this year. Michigan is a stand-out (I call Leaf Leader 🍂) state in this region, particularly for its sugar maple trees with palettes of orange and red that should hit peak foliage on Sunday, October 1, 2023.
The spectacular sugar maple tree also calls Wisconsin home — another Leaf Leader in the Northern Frontier. My analysis suggests that Wisconsin sugar maple trees will hit peak foliage on Tuesday, October 3, 2023. The brilliant red of the state’s aptly named red maple trees should peak just before their sugary friends — on Tuesday, September 26, 2023, to be precise.
The third Leaf Leader in this region, Washington, hosts the brilliant vine maple trees with shades of yellow, orange, and red. These Pacific Northwest wonders will hit peak foliage in the state on Saturday, October 21, 2023. One common tree in Washington, the bigleaf maple, should hit its peak colors of yellow and gold on Wednesday, October 4, 2023.
Fall Foliage: September 30 – October 23, 2023
Peak Foliage: October 2 – October 18, 2023
States: ME, NH, NY, and VT
Leaf Leaders 🍂: Maine, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont (all are leaders)
Our second regional group is extra spectacular — every state in the Northeast region is a Leaf Leader! New Hampshire starts the display with red maples hitting peak color on Friday, September 29, 2023. The state’s American beech trees follow suit, turning shades of golden brown and yellow and peaking around Wednesday, October 4, 2023. Shortly after, the White ash of New York, with its uniquely purple and deep red leaves, will peak in color around Monday, October 9, 2023.
In all the excitement, Vermont’s sugar maples will begin to blush and hit a peak on Wednesday, October 11, 2023. Adding another layer to the scene, the Northern red oaks of Vermont will hit their deep red and brown peak colors by Wednesday, October 18, 2023. Not to be counted late, Maine’s sugar maple trees join the fun and hit peak color a day later on Thursday, October 19, 2023.
Rounding out the Northeast fall foliage palette are the American beech trees of New York, hitting peak yellow and brown on Monday, October 23, 2023. Finally, Maine’s Northern red oaks will reach peak red and brown on Tuesday, October 24, 2023!
3. Southwest and South
Fall Foliage: September 29 – October 28, 2023
Peak Foliage: October 5 – October 21, 2023
States: AZ, CA, CO, NM, NV and UT
Leaf Leader 🍂: Colorado
Just after the Northern Frontier and Northeast kick off our crimson and gold gala, the Southwest and Southern U.S. join October’s opus. To the region’s Leaf Leader, Colorado, with its iconic quaking aspen trees of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Leaf peepers can expect these beauties to peak their classic golden yellow on Sunday, October 8, 2023.
But before the main aspen event in our color quest of Colorado is the opening act of the eastern, Fremont, and narrowleaf cottonwood trees along the state’s riverbanks. These early risers will hit peak yellow on Sunday, September 24, 2023. Rounding out our foliage frolic in Colorado on Tuesday, November 7, 2023, is the addition of deep reds and russet hues provided by the Gambel oak.
Other notable trees and states in our harvest of hues include the California black oak, which peaks its brilliant yellows on Tuesday, October 3, 2023. Arizona’s higher elevation quaking aspen hit peak color on Saturday, September 30, 2023. New Mexico’s eastern cottonwood treens peak their yellow on Sunday, October 22, 2023. Utah’s higher elevation aspens hit peak fall color on Friday, October 13, 2023. That same day, Nevada’s Fremont cottonwood trees hit their familiar yellow.
4. Great Plains and Midwest
Fall Foliage: September 30 – October 31, 2023
Peak Foliage: October 11 – October 20, 2023
States: IA, KS, MO, NE, and SD
The Great Plains and parts of the Midwest are next in the U.S. to join our crimson crawl. While the area is most known for its prairies, the parks, rivers, and residential areas are home to stunning fall foliage. The red maples of Iowa and Missouri are particularly worth catching their peak red and orange around Thursday, November 2, 2023.
Dogwood trees, especially in Missouri, like the flowering, Appalachian or alternate-leaf varieties, turn a splendid purple and red. These trees hit peak fall color in Iowa and Missouri around Saturday, October 14, 2023. The American elm trees in South Dakota turn yellow around Thursday, October 12, 2023.
The eastern redbuds, primarily of Missouri and Kansas but also Iowa, hit their peak yellow and red on Tuesday, October 10, 2023. On Tuesday, October 3, 2023, the eastern cottonwood trees of the Nebraskan Rivers will turn a brilliant yellow. The green ash of South Dakota will turn a not-so-green shade of golden yellow around Tuesday, October 10, 2023.
5. Northwest Inland
Fall Foliage: October 1 – October 31, 2023
Peak Foliage: October 11 – October 21, 2023
States: ID, OR, and WY
Leaf Leader 🍂: Oregon
Oregon, Idaho, and Wyoming experience peak foliage after their northern counterparts and yet often after their southern peers. Not fitting neatly into the Northern Frontier or Southwest or West, these three states are in their own region, which I’m calling the Northwest Inland.
The region’s Leaf Leader, Oregon, hosts a gorgeous blend of quaking aspen and maple trees that paint the landscape in yellows, reds, and oranges. However, it’s a three-part show with the quaking aspen hitting peak yellow early on Friday, September 29, 2023. It’s half a month later that the state’s bigleaf maples hit their peak on Saturday, October 14, 2023. Finally, it’s another two weeks before Oregon’s Vine Maple trees hit peak orange and red on Sunday, October 29, 2023.
But before Oregon’s harvest of hues comes the quaking aspen of Wyoming! Because so much of the state sits at a higher elevation, most trees get an early start and peak around Saturday, September 23, 2023. A week later, The green ash will join in with its shades of yellow, peaking around Sunday, October 1, 2023.
6. Northeast Corridor
Fall Foliage: October 3 – October 31, 2023
Peak Foliage: October 6 – October 30, 2023
States: CT, DC, DE, MA, MD, NJ, PA, and RI
Leaf Leader 🍂: Massachusetts
The eastern counterpart to the Northwest Inland region is the Northeast Corridor, named after the railroad that stretches through most of these states. Its Leaf Leader, Massachusetts, starts the show on Thursday, October 5, 2023, with its white ash trees in full peak color — known for their vibrant purples and reds.
Up next, the red maple trees join the autumn palette on Tuesday, October 10, 2023 — signaling the real peak foliage season of a classic New England fall. Then, on the eve of Friday, October 13, 2023, the iconic sugar maple trees hit their yellow and fiery red peaks. Late to the party, but with a grand entrance, are the black oak trees, which turn a deep red and will peak in color around Sunday, October 22, 2023.
Connecticut, Maryland, and Pennsylvania’s sugar maple trees should hit peak fall color around Friday, October 13, 2023. That Monday, October 16, 2023, the region’s red maple trees should see peak color. Then, on Wednesday, October 18, 2023, Maryland’s sweetgum trees hit full red, orange and yellow.
7. Midwest and Appalachian
Fall Foliage: October 1 – November 2, 2023
Peak Foliage: October 13 – October 21, 2023
States: IL, IN, KY, NC, OH, VA, and WV
Leaf Leaders 🍂: North Carolina and Virginia
As the fall season progresses, we move toward the center-south of the U.S. Usually experiencing peak fall foliage in the third week of October, the Appalachian and rest of the Midwest take a turn. North Carolina, our first Leaf Leader, takes the stage on Saturday, October 7, 2023, with its black gum trees hitting their peak dark purple and red foliage. Then, our second Leaf Leader, Virginia, enters the symphony of color on Friday, October 13, 2023, with its red maple trees.
That Monday, North Carolina’s sugar maples hit peak yellow, orange, and red on October 16, 2023. Virginia’s sugar maples follow suit that Wednesday, October 18, 2023. Then, with most of the region in full color, North Carolina’s red maple trees hit a timely peak on Saturday, October 21, 2023. Virginia’s American beech trees are rounding out the region’s foliage season, with their copper leaves in full display by Monday, October 30, 2023.
The rest of the region’s red maples and sugar maples should hit peak color on Thursday, October 19, 2023, and Saturday, October 21, 2023, respectively. The shagbark hickory, particularly in the Midwest, will reach its full colors of yellow and gold by Sunday, October 29, 2023.
The South and Gulf regions of the U.S. may not be as well known for their fall foliage as their northern neighbors, but this vast region offers a wide variety of trees that put on tremendous displays of fall color. In mid-October, around Monday, October 16, 2023, The black gum trees, primarily in Tennessee and Alabama, will hit their peak deep crimson colors.
Just a beat later, likely around Thursday, October 19, 2023, Florida, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas will join Tennessee and Alabama with an orchestra of red, yellow, orange, and purple sweet gum trees in full peak. The southern red oak trees will peak orange and brown in Georgia by Saturday, October 21, 2023.
Then, the classic red maple trees that encompass most of the South and Gulf region will hit their peak colors on Thursday, October 26, 2023. Rounding out the area and the entire U.S. will be Tennesee’s sugar maple trees taking full color around Sunday, October 29, 2023.