Wanna Track Fall Colors in Michigan? Try This Cool Tool.

(Screenshot via smokymountains.com)

By Karel Vega
September 19, 2023

Curious to know when to plan the perfect fall color trip or when you’ll see peak fall colors in your area? This fall foliage prediction map can help.

The fall season officially begins on Saturday, Sept. 23. It’s one of the most anticipated times of the year for Michiganders, as our landscape is overtaken by beautiful shades of red, yellow, and orange. Much of the Mitten is already seeing some signs of fall colors in its leaves. But as we all know, these vibrant hues never stick around quite as long as we’d like.

If you’re curious to know when to plan the perfect fall color trip or when you’ll see peak fall colors in your area, this fall foliage prediction map from smokymountains.com can help.

As of this week, the tool is tracking patchy changes for much of the Lower Peninsula, with some partial color changes already happening in the Upper Peninsula. By Oct. 2, the map predicts that much of the UP will have reached peak or near-peak fall colors, with the Lower Peninsula’s peak arriving the week after.

Sadly, the map predicts that much of the state will be past the color peak by mid-October. If you’d like to track color changes across the state this fall, check the map out here.

Why do leaves change color in the fall?

(Photo via Aaron Burden on Unsplash)

There wouldn’t be much use for this map if not for the fact that our leaves undergo a dramatic change in the fall, sometimes seemingly overnight. But why does this happen?

According to the US Forest Service, the science of it all comes down to three main factors: nighttime length, weather, and certain pigments in leaves.

As nights grow longer in the fall, leaves slow the production of a certain pigment called Chlorophyll. This compound gives leaves a bright green color during their growing season. Then, as less and less Chlorophyll is produced due to less sunlight, the other pigments in the leaves are able to show their colors.

And, of course, weather also plays a big role. The US Forest Service says warm sunny days coupled with cool—but not freezing—nights lead to the most vibrant fall colors. Certain factors, like several warm fall days in a row, can affect how vibrant fall colors end up being.

You can learn more about the science behind leaves changing colors here.


  • Karel Vega

    Coming from a long background in public radio, Karel Vega strives to find stories that inform and inspire local communities. Before joining The ‘Gander, Karel served as managing editor at WKAR, the NPR affiliate in East Lansing, Michigan.

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