The Golden Hours

Explore autumn’s changing colors at these midwestern locations.

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Amish Country, Shipshewana - September 2014
Shipshewana North Park Campground

Photo by Megan Fernandez

Before Starbucks created pumpkin lattes, the real excitement of autumn was waiting for the leaves to turn. But Mother Nature is a cruel tour agent. Who hasn’t scheduled a weekend road trip in search of fiery foliage only to discover that the sassafras and sugar maples were lagging behind schedule, or that the leaves on the tupelos and birches already bit the dust?

Enter technology to solve the leaf-peepers’ lament. The folks down in Tennessee with the Smoky Mountain’s travel guide have put together an interactive map that predicts the progress of fall foliage across the Lower 48. Their prognostications—done in concert with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)—use historic data and variables such as temperature trends, sunlight, precipitation, and soil moisture to determine when the reds, yellows, and golds will arrive full force.

The labyrinth at New Harmony, IN

The prediction for 2017 is that most of the state will start coloring up the third week of September, with peak color around October 8. That’s slightly sooner than usual, but perfect if you’re heading out to the Indiana Renaissance Faire in Fishers. Elizabethan garb will look particularly majestic against a backdrop of bronze and scarlet foliage.

Can’t wait that long? The NOAA/Smoky Mountains brain trust estimates autumn will arrive a week earlier than that in the northeast corner of the state. But there should still be plenty of leaves blazing if you’re planning a drive through Amish country to catch the first day of the annual Fall Crafters Fair in Shipshewana on October 5.

Tied up until later in the month? Things stay greener longer in southwest Indiana. Look for peak color on or about October 15 in the charming town of New Harmony, where there are public gardens and a much-beloved state park to show off the season’s finery.

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