It doesn't matter if you've chosen the perfect location to see the best fall colors in the Midwest (hint: our 30 Great Midwest Fall Color Getaways is a good place to start). Arrive too early, and the leaves are still summer-green. Arrive too late, and only bare branches remain.
Horticulturalist Richard Jauron of Iowa State University Extension says multiple factors affect the changing color of the leaves, which can make predicting peak fall colors challenging. "The actual things that tell the trees to color and drop their leaves are day length and cooler temperatures," Jauron says. "But the weather does affect things. It's been very dry in Iowa the last few weeks, so many of the trees are under stress, which can make them change early."
Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula in the autumn. You don't want to miss an incredible view like this one, would you? Photo by Bob Stefko
Because temperatures tend to drop in the north first, Jauron says, the uppermost parts of the Midwest should be showing off fall colors the earliest, likely in late September. But if rain has been scarce, people in the center and southern areas of the Midwest might not have to wait too long for that Instagram-worthy scene.
Here's the secret to timing your getaway just right: In several Midwest states, the leaves' progression is carefully observed and updated regularly online (some leaf-peepers even turn in daily reports). To enjoy the best autumn getaway this year, use fall color reports like these:
Check the Illinois Department of Natural Resources page while mapping out your trip to destinations such as Galena, where autumn vibes pair well with cozy downtown shops, or the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, where the rolling terrain of southern Illinois offers great autumn views.
Fall color in Southern Illinois; Photo by John Noltner
Plan your drive at just the right time with the Iowa DNR's weekly fall color updates. We recommend some of Iowa's best-kept secrets, Decorah —a mountain town without mountains!—in Iowa's northeast corner, or the Historic Hills Scenic Byway.
Despite an elevation below 900 feet, Decorah feels like a mountain town, a nook hiding more than an hour from any interstate. Photo by Ryan Donnell.
The St. Louis River Tumbles over rocky terrain in Jay Cooke State Park before flowing to Lake Superior. Photo by Ryan Donnell.
This handy guide from the North Dakota Tourism Division will point you in the right direction. Try Medora and nearby Theodore Roosevelt National Park or the 63-mile Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota; Photo by Jeff Van Hoosen
Keep an eye on the TourismOhio report, updated weekly, to make sure you choose the right weekend to visit places such as Oxford's Miami University. Another great fall getaway option is the Hocking Hills.
Miami University’s Upham Hall arch
Travel Wisconsin's interactive Fall Color Report is brand new this year. Use it to time your trip to places like Door County. If autumn's rich colors are stirring up your artistic side, the Wisconsin Art Fall Getaway, a self-guided tour about 50 miles southwest of Madison, happens Oct. 20-22, 2017.
Fall color in Sturgeon Bay; Photo by Kevin J. Miyazaki
Know of other great places for fall color reports? Leave your ideas in the comments below!