“Why We Celebrate” looks at holidays and occasions from all over the world, and explains their origins, the meaning behind them, and the reasons we observe them. Learn all about fall foliage, from how and why leaves change colors to the best places to see the beautiful fall leaves.

There’s a lot to love about fall — the change in weather, apple picking, pumpkin picking, pumpkin spice everythingHalloween — but if there’s one thing we adore most about the season, it’s the leaves changing color. Yes, we love the way the trees look in spring and summer too, but looking out and seeing a sea of different colors gives us a feeling that’s hard to describe.

If you love fall foliage as much as we do, we bet you’ll enjoy this guide that we’ve put together. It covers everything from fall foliage facts to different leaf colors, how leaves change color and where you can go for the best views.

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Fall foliage facts

  1. Although we notice the leaves changing color in the fall, the red, orange, and yellow pigments are actually present in leaves all year round. The only difference is that during other seasons the pigments are primarily underneath the leaves’ surface.
  2. The reason these beautiful colors come out in the fall is the change in sunlight. As the summer sun starts to wind down, the chemical chlorophyll breaks down, which brings out the hidden colors.
  3. Some suspect that global warming may have a negative impact on fall foliage, since part of the reason leaves change has to do with the change in temperature.
  4. A leaf’s color is typically a product of the species of tree on which it is found. For example, the leaves on aspen trees are generally a golden yellow during the fall months.
  5. Leaves that fall to the ground during this time of year are extremely important for the ecosystem, becoming a form of protection for tree seeds as they germinate during the winter.

How do leaves change color?

As mentioned above, the colors that we see in the fall are actually present in leaves all year long; however, they only become visible during the fall. This all has to do with chlorophyll, an important chemical that helps plants absorb energy from the sun that is eventually used to turn carbon dioxide and water into sugars and starches. Its color is a deep green, so it makes perfect sense that leaves are green when this chemical is abundant.

Photo of fall foliage

In the fall, however, the chlorophyll begins to break down as a result of changes in both temperature and the amount of sunlight present each day. As the chlorophyll breaks down, the deep green color naturally begins to diminish as well, allowing the leaves’ other colors (red, yellow, orange, etc.) to pop out.

The science behind leaf colors

While it may seem like the trees just pick and choose their colors at random, the truth is that there is a science behind which leaves turn which colors.

For example, let’s take a look at the leaves of the sugar maple. After they go through a series of shades of green, the leaves eventually turn yellow and orange, and then finish off the season by displaying a beautiful red color. This differs greatly from the leaves of, say, sourwood trees, which go from green to red, yellow, and even purple. Another example is oak trees, whose leaves tend to be mostly brown.

Photo of a colorful fall leaf

The reason for this difference in color has to do with the amount of chlorophyll left over and the other pigments that mix with it during the fall.

The best places to see fall foliage

Here are the top seven places we recommend for seeing the most eye-popping fall foliage:

Stowe, Vermont

Vermont is one of the best places in the world to see fall foliage, and Stowe, Vermont, in particular, is one town to check out. You may recognize the name, as this is where the Trapp Family Lodge — made famous by The Sound of Music — is located.

Portsmouth, New Hampshire

The Strawbery Banke Museum, in particular, is an awesome destination if you’re looking for the best fall foliage in New Hampshire. It’s an outdoor museum that occupies 10 acres. In addition to the views, you’ll also get to take in all the history that surrounds this New England town.

Camden, Maine

It’s one thing to just view mountains with rows and rows of trees; it’s another to view fall foliage with water in the background, too. This destination gives you the best of both worlds: You’ll get a little bit of the mountains and a seaside experience, too.

Kent, Connecticut

If you’re looking for somewhere that’s cute, quaint, and has a lot to do, then Kent, Connecticut, is your answer. This farming community is filled with charm. For awesome views of the Catskill Mountains in neighboring New York, head to Macedonia Brook State Park.

Photo of the fall foliage in Vermont

Keene, New York

You can’t go wrong with this upstate New York town, as it is home to the highest peak of the Adirondacks: Mount Marcy. While this is an awesome spot to visit all year round, you certainly won’t be disappointed in fall, when the leaves are bursting with color.

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

The Smoky Mountains offer fabulous photo ops all throughout the year, but if you visit in the fall, you will get a breathtaking look at the golden yellow leaves. October and November are the best months to come.

Mountain Lakes, New Jersey

Less than an hour from New York City is Mountain Lakes, New Jersey, and similar to Camden, Maine, a visit here will give you the best of everything — a great look at fall foliage as well as some awesome lakeside views.

In addition to going out and looking at the changing leaves on your own, you can also hitch a ride on a fall foliage tour. These are especially prevalent in the New England area. Keep in mind, though, that you need to plan for your tour well in advance.

Author

Madeline started her writing career as an art and culture reporter for her university newspaper, FSView. She has since contributed to Tallahassee Woman Magazine, CollegeFashion.net, and Mission Magazine. Based in New York City, she enjoys going to art galleries and drinking matcha lattes when away from the keyboard.

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