Fall is coming. When will Utah's colorful trees peak?

A view of the fall foliage from Guardsman Pass on Oct. 8, 2022. Experts say Utah's strong water year may delay when trees peak, but it could lead to more vibrant colors.

A view of the fall foliage from Guardsman Pass on Oct. 8, 2022. Experts say Utah's strong water year may delay when trees peak, but it could lead to more vibrant colors. (Carter Williams, KSL.com)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Summer is coming to an end, which means it's time to put those swimsuits away and break out those sweatshirts — and hiking boots to check out Utah's incredible fall foliage.

Some trees in Utah are already starting to show signs of turning, but SmokyMountains.com, which has created a detailed map outlining projected fall foliage peak times across the country every autumn for a decade now, estimates the trees will really start to turn in the coming weeks.

The latest projection shows the northern half of Utah could begin to peak by late September or early October, with most of the area reaching its peak by around Oct. 9. Meanwhile, most of southern Utah foliage is not expected to peak until late October or early November. All of Utah is listed as being past peak color by mid-November.

While there really isn't any exact science to know when trees will hit their color-change peak, the website uses historical trends, historical weather data, weather forecasts and information about regional tree types to offer its best guess. Then it updates the outlook based on current leaf reports submitted by users throughout the season.

"Similar to a weekend weather forecast, the timing of our map update is important. The backbone of the map is meteorology — temperature, moisture, sunlight and precipitation," website officials explained in a statement Tuesday. "While meteorology is most accurate immediately before an event, a forecast is more useful to travelers and end users when made in advance."

Credit: SmokyMountains.com

Utah's outlook mirrors the state's weather patterns this year, said Monica Traphagan, lead meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Salt Lake City office. She explains that precipitation typically dictates when trees begin to turn in Utah, as trees peak sooner in dry years and are delayed a bit in wetter years.

Given the wet winter and spring, and a strong monsoonal surge in August, there's plenty of moisture in the state to delay when trees slow chlorophyll production, which is when a tree's true colors emerge.

This could potentially set Utah up for a strong year to view those fall colors, though.

Michael Caron, associate professor of horticulture with Utah State University Extension, said he's not sure how delayed the season will be because of the moisture, but he says there's a higher probability that the trees will produce more vibrant colors because of the strong soil moisture. That's because trees become less stressed and it allows them to go through the normal fall process "gradually and more completely" than in drought years, he told KSL.com.

"The anticipation this year, with the wetter patterns we've had, should be for excellent fall colors," he said, noting that this year's wet spring and robust later monsoonal patterns helped mitigate negative impacts from hotter and drier periods at the start of summer.

The last step boils down to the weather in the next few weeks. Caron said cloudy and wet days in the early fall can mute tree colors and cause a shorter season.

Utah's current weather outlook is a bit beneficial on this end. Traphagan said there are warm and sunny days with cooler, but not freezing nights expected to linger through at least the next little while, providing what leaf-peepers want to see this time of the year.

"(That's) going to bring the good color displays out when you get into the fall period," she said. "Given that we've got temperatures that are near or above normal, you'd expect that to help out."

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com.


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