If you’ve been wondering if there was a way to measure when the fall foliage will be at its “peak” in your area, if you’re searching for that moment when the leaves will be the most colorful and quintessentially Fall, then you’re in luck. There’s a new interactive map from SmokyMountains.com that will actually show you, date-by-date, the timespan of the foliage across the U.S., and it’s pretty incredible. That’s the beauty of science, folks, writ large by the kaleidoscope of color we see and love on the trees during this season! And even if you can’t make it out to the actual Smoky Mountains, parents might find that the map is a handy guide for planning a scenic drive or a trip to the local (socially-distanced) pumpkin patch, since you can actually predict when the leaves will be the most stunning.
While you’re at it, admiring the leaves can extend beyond simply eyeing a winning Instagrammable moment: the science of foliage is pretty fascinating and might make for a good, kid-friendly science lesson. We know that leaves appear green in the spring and summer due to photosynthesis because they’re creating Chlorophyll. But the website goes on to explain that the leaves would actually be bright red, yellow, and gold all-year-round if it weren’t for the production of Chlorophyll, which slows down in the fall, leaving behind gorgeous colors of red, orange, and yellow. But leaves boast more compounds than just Chlorophyll (which was news to me, as someone who hasn’t picked up a STEM textbook in too many years). They also contain Beta-Carotene, which is most responsible for the foliage’s orange hues; Anthocyanins, which are more present in the fall and give the leaves their red color; and Flavanols, which are always in the leaves but can’t actually be seen until there’s less Chlorophyll production. Flavanols are responsible for the yellow color of the leaves.
The map shows that by September 7, the leaves across the country are not yet at their peak, although they are approaching their peak in certain areas, including parts of Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado. By September 28, just a few weeks later, many parts of the Rocky Mountains have largely already reached their peak, with some areas even past it. At the same time, parts of the Southwest, Midwest, and New England area will be at-or-approaching their peak, but the leaves will pretty different depending on where you are in the country. And by October 26, most areas of the country will be at peak or past-peak. Some parts of the South and Southwest, however, will have to wait until November for the leaves to be at the peak. Makes you want to get in a car and slowly drive South to maximize leaf-watching, I’m sure. Looking at the trees during this time of year is pretty magical, but actually being able to predict when they will be Peak Fall? That’s kinda mind-blowing.