You drive for hours in hopes of seeing a gorgeous blaze of fall colors, only to find the leaves are either still as green as an Irish shamrock or already brown or fallen.
Wannabe leaf peepers now can avoid such disappointments, thanks to online maps that help travelers pinpoint the perfect time to see colorful landscapes across the country. The site smokymountains.com, for one, offers a color-coded map of the United States depicting seven types of leaf conditions — ranging from “no change” (green) to “partial” (orange) to “past peak” (brown) — so you know precisely what to expect.
This year's display is a bit delayed, in some places by a week or more, according to the Weather Channel, because of warmer temperatures. While the map now shows colors beginning to change in the northern part of the U.S. and at higher altitudes, much of the country still has about a month or more before reaching peak foliage.
Many people don't realize that you can see signs of autumn as far south as Florida. I found beautiful yellows and even a sprinkling of red leaves on a kayak ride in central Florida last December. And the Rockies may not leap to mind for fall foliage viewing, but the sight of deep yellow aspen trees lining a winding river in Colorado or Montana is a magical thing. California wine country colors are usually spectacular beginning in late October and into December (the site California Fall Color — whose motto is “Dude, autumn happens here, too” — has a rough foliage map of the state).
Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee is particularly breathtaking in fall, with leaves beginning to change in mid-October and peaking just after Halloween.
Of course, fall color isn't limited to the United States. If you'd like to spot some beautiful foliage sooner than later, try heading north into Canada. Ontario's Fall Colour Report, issued twice a week, shows the percentage of trees that have changed hue in areas all over the province. It also offers useful information for planning road trips in each region. Banff in Alberta and Nova Scotia are two more lovely fall destinations in Canada.