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When is peak foliage season in the Adirondack Park?

This file photo from Oct. 5, 2016 shows peak foliage at Heart Lake outside of the village of Lake Placid, on the Adirondak Loj property owned by the Adirondack Mountain Club. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

LAKE PLACID — This time of year, the people answering phone calls at visitor bureaus, hotels and resorts throughout the Adirondack Region are fielding questions about fall foliage on a daily basis. Most of the time, visitors only want to know one thing.

The big question in the Adirondacks is “When are your leaves going to peak?” The standard answer is that the leaves peak sometime within the last two weeks of September, the first two weeks of October.

Yet, in the High Peaks region, leaves tend to peak earlier.

If tourists are going to spend the time and money to travel to the Adirondacks with their families to take photographs of the fall foliage, they want the most bang for their buck. They want color, as much of it as they can get, and they want it on demand, when they are here on vacation. But peak is always up to Mother Nature; it can’t be rushed or delayed.

There are too many variables to predict an accurate time of peak foliage in any given location: elevation, weather, latitude, soil composition. What’s peak one day in Keene Valley or the Champlain Valley would probably be past peak in Lake Placid, which is at a higher elevation. But the state does its best, using more than 85 spotters for its weekly foliage report.

In 2016, Jim Carroll, a volunteer spotter and contributor to the New York Fall Foliage Report from the Tupper Lake/Mount Arab region, told the Lake Placid News, “I think the real key to a colorful year is more warm afternoons, cool nights and a frost here and there. It’s definitely up to Mother Nature.”

Carroll and his wife Regina Rockburn have been volunteer foliage spotters for Empire State Development’s I LOVE NY since the late 1990s. Rockburn said that — based on their weekly reports for more than 20 years — peak foliage season in the Tri-Lakes region of the Adirondacks is usually between Sept. 24 and 28.

In New York City and Long Island, however, peak could be toward the end of the foliage season in the middle of November.

Unfortunately — for everyone — there is no way to accurately predict peak foliage conditions anywhere in New York. What may look like peak one day could be even better the next day. Or the weather could turn nasty and the wind can blow many of the colorful leaves off the trees overnight. The best answer for the question “When is peak?” is “You’ll know it after it’s over.”

The best tool tourism officials can use is the weekly New York Fall Foliage Report at www.iloveny.com to give callers an idea of what is happening or about to happen in the region.

According to the “Guide to Fall Colors in Upstate New York,” by SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry biology professor Donald J. Leopold, there are three main ingredients that lead to a spectacular fall color display: “species that have the potential to turn intense color, ideal weather (i.e. sunny and dry conditions, cool nights), and large landscapes that are either rather uniform or have an interesting blend of textures like a mixture of deciduous and evergreen trees and array of topographic features.”

Not all of the 125 tree species in New York contribute to the fall foliage spectacle, according to Leopold. Shrubs can help. And there is one coniferous tree that adds shades of yellow, the eastern larch or tamarack, which is the last to turn color in the Adirondacks.

See New York’s latest Fall Foliage Report HERE.