Vermont fall foliage isn’t a sport, but each autumn hundreds of visitors who arrive without reservations race from motel to motel looking for rooms. All too often this event resembles a road rally with those that trail the pack finding there are no rooms left for them.
Thousands of visitors come for Central Vermont’s summer festivals and winter carnivals. Several times as many come for Mother Nature’s month-long fall festival of color.
Vermont is one of only a few places in the world that has just the right combination of climate, soils and tree species to produce the spectacular array of colors that is fall foliage. Colors in Central Vermont generally turn the last 10 days of September and remain colorful through mid-October.
The change usually begins slowly – a few trees turn early. Later a few more trees change color. Then comes the show. Almost every year, individual forests in Central Vermont shift to full blaze over a span of just a few days.
Those who come the first week in October will likely see the most brilliant color. The second week of October brings the “harvest colors.” Colors are muted. Brilliant yellows have turned golden. Many find late foliage the most impressive.
There are two sure bets every fall. Foliage will arrive, and a few travelers who do not have room reservations will be stranded. The key to avoiding a night in the car is to reserve well in advance (weekends may be booked months in advance) or get a weekday room very early in the day. Foliage will be all around you. Find a room first and then travel the countryside. If you find rooms are in short supply, concentrate on locations outside the larger cities. In Central Vermont, chamber staff tries to remain on call during periods of severe room shortages. 802-229-4619.
Will there be good foliage this year? When will it be? The answer has remained pretty much the same year after year. Yes, there will be great foliage between mid-September and mid-October in Vermont.
Track the foliage through the season
Variations in frost and water table affect the brilliance of the color, but not the timing.
The reason for the consistency is basic botany. As days grow shorter after the summer solstice, the green leafy plants, which depend on sunlight to manufacture their food, begin to change.
Leaf-shedding trees reduce the supply of moisture and nutrients that supported the food-making activities of the leaves, and they withdraw food from the leaves for storage in the permanent parts of the tree. As that happens, the green chlorophyll pigments are no longer replaced. When the chlorophyll disappears, the leaves turn yellow.
The pigments that cause the yellow xanthophylls (which are responsible for the yellows in butter and egg yokes) and carotenes (which give carrots their yellow-orange tint) are present in the leaves all summer, but were simply masked by the abundant green chlorophyll.
While some leaves just turn yellow, others respond to Vermont’s cool fall nights and clear, sunny days by producing another pigment – anthocyanin. This one is red, and it mixes with the yellows to produce flaming orange hues. When it dominates, it produces the crimsons and even a few purples that give Vermont’s fall foliage richness and variety.