It’s almost autumn, which means that Virginia’s many forests, parks, and scenic highways will soon be transformed by the vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows of the changing fall foliage. And thanks to the 2023 Fall Foliage Prediction Map, we can estimate just how soon that change will happen.
This year, the foliage in Northern Virginia will be the most colorful and vibrant around October 23. NoVA will begin to see partial fall foliage by around October 9, which will develop into the “pre-peak” by October 16. By October 30, the leaves will be past their prime.
SmokyMountains.com, a travel brand promoting the Smoky Mountain region, began creating this prediction map in 2013, when its users asked about when to plan their trips to see the best leaves. Every year, the group generates a map of predicted foliage changes throughout the continental U.S.
For a full visual of how the fall leaves will progress throughout the season, move the slider at the bottom of the interactive map below.
Interactive map courtesy SmokyMountains.com
The predictions are based on meteorological data such as the historical precipitation, temperature, the types of trees that are present in each area, historical trends, and user data. However, just like any weather report, there is a possibility of error. Unpredictable weather conditions like droughts in summer could potentially impact when the leaves change.
This year, SmokyMountains.com is implementing a form for users to upload real-time photos of the foliage that will help inform future predictions.
And if this information, like the late-summer arrival of pumpkin spice lattes, feels like it’s coming too early, there is good reason: It enables travelers to make arrangements for fall leaf-peeping trips in advance.
“Similar to a weekend weather forecast, the timing of our map update is important. The backbone of the map is meteorology — temperature, moisture, sunlight, and precipitation. While meteorology is most accurate immediately before an event, a forecast is more useful to travelers and end users when made in advance,” SmokyMountains.com said.
The site also created a list of the best places to view fall foliage in all 50 states. In Virginia, the winning locations are Shenandoah National Park, Whitetop Mountain, and the Potomac Heritage Trail.
The Virginia Tourism Corporation provides weekly updates on fall foliage.
Virginia’s trees provide an array of colors, according to the Virginia Department of Forestry. Black gun trees have bright red leaves, while dogwoods have red to maroon leaves. Both change early in the season. Also changing early in the season to yellow will be tulip-poplar trees.
In the middle of Virginia’s fall foliage season, you will see the following types of trees change:
- Red maple — orange to brilliant scarlet
- Sugar maple — bright orange
- Beech — yellow to orange
- Hickory — gold
And oaks end the season, showing off their deep red, amber, and russet colors.
Feature image of George Washington National Forest, Nicolas / stock.adobe.com
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