Good news for fans of autumn — the 2020 fall foliage prediction map is out.
Guessing when a place will be awash in fall colors can lead to frustration and disappointment if you get there too early and everything is still green, or too late and the trees are bare. To take the guesswork out of planning trips, use the interactive tool from SmokyMountains.com, a site promoting tourism in the Smoky Mountains region, to better time your leaf-peeping.
Now in its eighth year, the map was developed by SmokyMountains.com co-founders David Angotti and Wes Melton using publicly available data to predict when peak fall would happen, county by county, for the entire United States. Each year, Angotti says, their model gets more and more accurate as they work out kinks in the system, which is based on meteorology and data.
To best use the fall foliage map, Angotti says, keep in mind that while the tool may show that a state is at its "peak," that doesn't mean you're guaranteed an autumnal wonderland.
"There are areas of the country that don't really have many trees that are going to change brilliant colors," Angotti says. "I wish I could make fall happen in South Florida or in the desert, but at the end of the day, the math is basically showing when the temperature and precipitation trends would cause peak fall to occur in each of these areas."
Another thing Angotti says to keep in mind is that the map's date-selector slider breaks down fall by the first day of each week.
"For example, if you pick September 7, that's approximately the foliage you can expect to see September 7 to the 13th," Angotti says.
Like other aspects of life, seeing fall foliage may be different this year because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Traveling anywhere means reading up on restrictions in your home state, the state you're visiting and any states you plan on driving through. Follow standard coronavirus precautions, such as wearing a mask in public, maintaining a six-foot distance from others and practicing good hand hygiene.
As you begin to tinker with the fall foliage prediction map, here are some of Angotti's recommendations for seeing America's best autumn colors in person.
Angotti's first recommendation for fall foliage tourism is the 11-mile Cades Cove Scenic Drive in Tennessee. He also recommends traveling to Gatlinburg and enjoying the foliage while walking about town. According to the prediction map, parts of Tennessee should begin to peak in October.
"Maine has just stunning foliage," Angotti says. Being one of the top fall destinations in the country, Maine has its own foliage checker for travelers, along with other resources on the best routes to drive to see foliage. According to the SmokyMountains.com map, Maine should be peaking by Sept. 28.
Angotti calls Vermont's fall foliage absolutely incredible. "People flock to Vermont this time of year," he says. The map shows Vermont entering its peak in the third week of September.
Those planning a Vermont foliage trip may be interested in taking a train ride through the state on Amtrak's Vermonter route. The line runs through Vermont's natural wonders and various charming towns.
Data from VacationRenter.com shows that Lake Willoughby, Burlington and Stowe are the most-booked fall destinations in Vermont.
On the West Coast, Angotti says, Washington is popular for leaf-peeping travelers. Visitors can start in Seattle, then venture out to explore places such as Leavenworth, a Bavarian village in the Cascade Mountains that erupts in autumnal colors. The Washington Post named it one of America's best fairy-tale destinations if you want to pretend like you're in a Hallmark holiday movie. According to the map, Washington state should begin to peak between Oct. 5 and 12.
Home to 127 indigenous species of trees, the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania are another popular destination for fall foliage enthusiasts that Angotti recommends. According to the map, the Poconos should peak about Oct. 12.
Angotti recommends multiple spots throughout North Carolina, starting with Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Smoky Mountains. He also recommends Bryson City, where there's a fall-friendly scenic train that goes through the national park, and Asheville, which Angotti says is particularly beautiful during the fall and offers great restaurants, wineries and microbreweries. According to the map, North Carolina should peak about Oct. 19.
Link to Washington Post interactive graphic: