Fall foliage finishes strong: Expert foresters call ’24 season “more impressive than expected”

16 November 2023- Fall foliage in Maryland this year was unpredictable yet still delighted with breathtaking fall color, even if it was short-lived in some areas of the state. We began the season discussing possible leaf outcomes from this summer’s drought, and Marylanders in some regions certainly saw their share of premature leaf drop and subdued fall hues.

The pace of leaf changes picked up markedly toward season’s end, with some of our Western Maryland foresters seeing changes in as little as 48 hours. As fall foliage draws to a close, our state foresters and park rangers – many of whom were first-time contributors to this report – summarize the season from their unique viewpoint in each region and show current foliage conditions across the state. For those of us who love (or hate) the winter, we’re including our predictions for the coldest months of the year as well.

Western Maryland

According to Forester Aaron Cook, of Indian Springs Wildlife Management Area, a veteran fall foliage report contributor, the season exceeded expectations but not without a few effects from the summer drought.

The 2024 fall foliage season in Frederick and Washington counties was more impressive than expected, and once underway, progressed at about the same pace as previous years,” Cook said.  “Unique to this fall was the significant growing season drought in this area. It caused a widespread premature ‘mini leaf change’ in late summer that had many of us under the assumption that most of the peak season would be lackluster. During this early leaf change, large swathes of our ridges turned yellowish-brown and then dropped.

Pockets of deep russet and copper hues remain in some of Western Maryland’s forests. Photo by Mark Spurrier.

“Once October arrived, the unaffected trees began to change on schedule and in the instance of maples, their color was exceptional, if short-lived. The season culminated quickly, and leaf drop was rapid, with leaves going from near peak to past peak and falling in the span of a few days. Oaks were notably subdued this fall, which can be expected in dry years. It was still a glorious display, and hopefully a snowy winter will help to recharge aquifers and the vigor of our resilient trees.”

New to the fall foliage report this year, Ranger Kendra Bree brought us reports from Fort Frederick State Park and Sideling Hill Creek State Park. Bree’s keen eye and observations closely matched those of her colleagues in nearby areas of Western Maryland. “This is my first year at the park, but it seemed the leaves were slow to start changing colors, then fast to drop the leaves all at once,” Bree noted. “The trees were still mainly green throughout September and the first half of October, then the color exploded in late October, and now most of the leaves have fallen. I would guess that this past year’s mild winter and dry summer influenced the color change, at least in Western Maryland.”

A magical carpet of gold, tangerine, and scarlet steals the spotlight from the trees this time of year at the Washington Group Campground at Sideling Hill Creek State Park. Photo by Ranger Kendra Bree.

What to Expect from Winter in Maryland

A strong El Nino weather system is expected across the United States during the winter months, bringing with it increased chances for precipitation and colder temperatures in the southern states and drier, warmer weather in northern states. With Maryland geographically in between, it’s hard to predict what El Nino means for us. However, four of Maryland’s past big snow events occurred during El Niño winters, and weather forecasters have recommended paying close attention to evolving weather patterns and precipitation lines as we head into winter. 

Recreation SpotlightWinter Camping at Maryland State Parks

Winter in Maryland means wide open views and starry nights, and there’s no better way to enjoy the outdoors any time of year than camping at one of our gorgeous state parks. While most of our campsites are only open during the warmer months, a few sites are open until December or even year-round! See which parks offer this longer camping season and visit our reservation site for availability of specific campsites or cabins. For those looking for a little extra shelter from the chilly nights, many of our cozy cabins are heated and open into the winter months. To learn more about all park amenities available to visitors during the winter season, visit Maryland State Parks’ webpages or call an individual park’s office for the most up-to-date information.