When is the best time to hit the road for the annual greatest show on earth: Fall Foliage? It depends on the location, but the U.S. leaf watch typically starts in early October at the highest peaks in a region and ends in the lower elevations sometime in November.

For a good idea of when trees are peaking in a particular area, the Smoky Mountains website has a Fall Foliage Prediction map that gives a general indication. Green means “not yet,” bright red is “peaking” and brown, well you can probably guess.

If you’re really anxious to get a sneak peek at changing leaves, have you thought about Alaska? Most people don’t, but autumn foliage colors peak from late August to early October in Alaska’s Tongass and Chugach National Forests.

Why do leaves change color?
When green leaves turn into the gorgeous fall colors of red, yellow, purple, and brown before they drop depends upon the weather conditions – temperature and moisture – when the chlorophyll in the leaves is declining. For a detailed explanation, check out the U.S. Forest Service Science of Fall Colors.

But really, you don’t have to understand the science behind Nature’s spectacle — just enjoy the view!

Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower.
—Albert Camus