Fall Foliage Journeys

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TWH – In the Northern hemisphere, many of us look forward to the fall/Mabon season to get outside again. The temperatures get cooler and the bite of summer humidity has been eased. The fall foliage beckons us out to drive and enjoy the stunning scenery.

While cooler temperatures have come earlier than usual to many parts of North America, the weather may not have been cooperating over the past few months to strengthen trees but it may have instigated stunning fall foliage this year.

Like in other parts of life, 2020 has brought extremes that may brighten the vibrancy of foliage colors. The West and New England have both seen extreme conditions, unfortunately, increasing the stress on trees. “This year we are seeing exceptionally vibrant fall foliage in Vermont,” said Dr. William Keeton, a Forest Ecology and Forestry Professor at the University of Vermont told CNN. “It is due to a combination of factors, including good tree growth last year, mild drought and both warm days and cool nights over the last month. ”

Despite the beautiful colors, the conditions are not a good thing. The North American Drought Monitor (NADM) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a cooperative between the United States Department of Agriculture, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Comisión Nacional del Agua (CONAGUA), Mexico. NADM has observed that about 75% of the Western USA is experiencing drought conditions while 80% of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island is experiencing severe drought.

NADM noted that “On September 27, the U.S. Department of Agriculture rated 100% of Rhode Island’s pastures in very poor to poor condition, along with 92% in Connecticut and Massachusetts.” NADM added “USDA topsoil moisture was rated 100% very short to short in Maine and New Hampshire. Worsening conditions led to further expansion of moderate to extreme drought (D1 to D3) from Pennsylvania to New England, as well as a southward expansion of abnormal dryness (D0).”

The Western USA is also experiencing severe drought as attested by the disastrous wildfires.

NADM wrote that “very poor to poor ratings were indicated by USDA on September 27 on at least 50% of rangeland and pastures in all Western States except Idaho, Nevada, and Utah, led by Oregon (82% very poor to poor). On the same date, topsoil moisture was at least 60% very short to short in every Western State except Arizona, led by New Mexico (86% very short to short).”

Canada meanwhile is experiencing mild drought along its southern border, but more severe conditions in eastern Quebec and the Canadian Maritimes.

Mexico is experiencing mild-to-moderate conditions along with Chihuahua, Durango, and Sonora as well as along its southern coast in Guerrero.

As for the foliage, the colors are starting to peak. While local guides will have the best and most up-to-date information, generally, Northern New England is just entering its peak season right now with lower latitudes along the East Coast, Midwest, and the West peaking later throughout October. Foliage in the lower latitudes will peak even later and in November from Southern California to North Florida.

There are some lovely drives if you live near one of them. In the UK, practically any portion of the Wye Valley from Tintern Abbey (Abaty Tyndryn) to Hereford is stunning.

In the US, Door County Wisconsin offers incredible foliage with Lake Michigan as an occasional backdrop.

Of course, there’s also the “Million Dollar Highway” from Silverton to Oura, Colorado, the section of US 550 from Bernalillo, New Mexico to Montrose, Colorado that runs along the San Juan Mountains. This is a fantastic road trip and well worth the effort.

Not all of us can travel, however. Many of us are practicing social distancing and avoiding crowds because of the pandemic. While cars are safer for observing social distancing guidelines, there are now many resources to view the foliage even if we cannot drive through it.

Starting in Vermont, there is a live stream of the covered bridge in the Mad River Valley showing some lovely fall colors.


Further West, there is a stunning cam of Niagara Falls.  There is foliage interspersed with the surrounding cities, but the falls alone are amazing.  Unsurprisingly, the view subject to weather and mist.  At night, the falls are illuminated with rotating colors, not foliage but still fantastic.

Niagara Falls and the Niagara River. [Photo credit: Ujjwal Kumar, public domain]

Further north, the colors are peaking in Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario. We get much of the same view as the visitors from the overlook.

[Algonquin Provincial Park.  Photo: Ptrbnsn CC BY-SA 3.0]

The next suggestion is a bit of a hack so there is some hit or miss: The New York State Thruway Authority. The Thruway connects New York City to Buffalo via Albany. The Thruway heads north from New York City paralleling the Hudson River. It then veers West to Syracuse and the Finger Lakes where it reaches Buffalo and parallels Lake Erie until its terminus at the Pennsylvania State line. However, the thruway is also riddled with cameras. Most of them are not very scenic unless you are a civil engineer or enjoy observing traffic. Though they are static cameras updating every few minutes, there are quite a few good views, although you might have to squint.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a National Parkway running 469 miles from Northern Virginia to North Carolina connecting Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They offer a series of cams like the New York Thruway, but again they are hit or miss with practical views of the area.

Just slightly west, however, we have Blackberry Mountain’s cam, which does an excellent job of compensating for those “practical” views.

Blackberry Mountain’s cam [via Earthcam]

There are some extraordinary places to see fall foliage in Europe.

The Canton of Bern in Switzerland broadcasts live pastoral views of the region and Gurten mountain. The image is rotating and updated every few minutes but obviously not streaming.

Lake Como, Italy is usually a summer destination at the foot of the Alps in the Lombardy region. The upscale resort town is part of the Y-shaped “Larian Triangle” used as a backdrop for many films. It’s obvious why that is. But the streaming webcam gives some amazing views of the lake and mountains.

Lake Como Italy [Photo Credit: Thunderbirds12345 CC BY-SA 4.0 ]

And finally southern Bavaria and the webcam of Tegelbergbahn – Bergstation with its rotation to Schwangau – Schloss Hohenschwangau and Füssen that include the 19th-century Romanesque Revival palace of Neuschwanstein Castle.

If you have a favorite Fall scenic drive, please share it in the comments. Safe travels on the road or online.