- Autumn officially begins on Wednesday, September 22, 2021.
- This summer’s prolonged warm weather could delay peak fall foliage.
- Some leaves will begin changing color in early September, with most of the country seeing changes by mid-October.
We’re in no rush for summer to end. But after a deluge of heat waves, cicadas, and wildfires, it’s only natural to start anticipating colorful changing leaves and crisp air.
Autumn is only a few weeks away, and its signature foliage isn’t far behind. Whether you’re having an Insta-worthy picnic, going for a hike, or enjoying a scenic drive, you’ll be blown away by the season’s beauty—if you can time it right.
Reading: When will the leaves change in 2021
So, when will the leaves begin to change color this year? Here’s everything you need to know about leaf-peeping season 2021.
When is the first day of fall 2021?
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The fall season officially begins on Wednesday, September 22. This date marks the autumn equinox, or the date between the summer and winter solstices when day and night are nearly equal lengths. (We also know it as the first day of the year when you can order a pumpkin spice latte with no shame.)
When will the leaves start changing this fall?
Those red, orange, and yellow pigments are actually the result of complex processes inside each leaf, according to the United States Forest Service (USFS), and are controlled by by environmental factors. Trees slow down their production of chlorophyll—the green pigment that plays a key role in photosynthesis—when the nights become shorter, which happens around the same time each year.
But weather plays a big role in autumnal colors, too, and sprawling summer heat can interrupt the typical timeline. “A succession of warm, sunny days and cool, crisp, but not freezing nights seems to bring about the most spectacular color displays,” the USFS explains. “A late spring, or a severe summer drought, can delay the onset of fall color by a few weeks. A warm period during fall will also lower the intensity of autumn colors.”
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Peak fall foliage is difficult to predict, but if 2019 and 2020 were any indication, you can expect to wait a week or two longer than usual for the leaves to change. According to SmokyMountains.com’s popular fall foliage prediction map (which was last updated last year), leaves should start turning by September 21 in northern states on both coasts. The rest of the country will follow suit a few weeks later, depending on location and elevation.
When should you expect to see peak fall foliage?
In most places, foliage will reach its peak or near-peak color by mid-October, per the Farmers’ Almanac. As of now, October 5 to 21 seems to offer the best viewing window for the top half of the country, with earlier peaks along the Canadian border and later peaks in the South.
“Unfortunately, autumn color is not very predictable, especially in the long term,” the USFS writes. “But it generally starts in late September in New England and moves southward, reaching the Smoky Mountains by early November. It also appears about this time in the high-elevation mountains of the West. Remember that cooler high elevations will color up before the valleys.”
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