Foliage Plus Snow Equals ‘Snowliage’—Here’s Where to See It
Leaf-peeping just got a whole lot cooler.
Leaf-peeping doesn’t have to wrap up as winter slowly approaches. There’s a new term that’s been coined to describe the natural phenomenon of snow falling on autumn foliage: snowliage. This happens when winter crashes fall’s party long before it’s officially due to arrive on December 21.
While the idea seems simple enough—the rare moment when fall’s fiery colors and snow flurries collide—it’s hard to describe this glorious vision. Thankfully, we have photos—and experts to tell us how and where to see snowliage this season. Get ready for your new favorite part of fall with this guide to snowliage spotting—and tips to increase your odds of catching it in the wild.
Why are we seeing more snowliage lately?
If you’ve never heard of snowliage before, you aren’t alone. Scott Highton, a professional photographer and founder of Virtual Yosemite, says he hadn’t seen or heard of the word until a few years ago. A quick search on the internet reveals that snowliage has only recently entered the public vocabulary. While there’s a chance that’s because, well, trends are trends, Highton thinks the uptick is partially due to global warming.
“[Climate change] is causing increasingly dramatic effects on weather. These changes have become more significant in just the last five years,” says Highton. “The results, particularly in regional weather, have made previously unusual combinations—such as those creating ‘snowliage’ conditions—more frequent.”
The good news is that snowliage usually occurs at high altitude, according to Highton, where it’s normal for snowfall to take place a bit early in the season. Addison Green, a national meteorologist, adds: “The key to finding these potential snowy and colorful scenes is to be in higher elevations above sea level, where the colder air is likely to be more prevalent and snow comes down easier, versus rain or an icy mix.”
Where are the best places to see snowliage?
You’re probably wondering: where the heck can I spot some of these autumnal flurries? Unfortunately, like any weather forecast, snowliage is almost impossible to predict until a few days before it’s about to happen.
Green says that in the US, chances of seeing snowliage are higher in northern New England, upstate New York, the upper portion of Michigan and Minnesota, western portions of Nebraska and The Dakotas, as well as Colorado up to Montana. Highton, who is based in the San Francisco Bay area, also notes that snowliage has happened in Northern California in recent years.
Tips and tools for timing it right
To catch some snowliage IRL, keep an eye on fall foliage forecasts from sources like The Weather Channel and Accuweather, as well as the Average First Snowfall maps from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Fall Foliage Prediction Map could also help figure out when peak foliage is taking place, so you can look out for weather forecasts around those dates. Green suggests starting your snowliage research as early as the beginning of September.
To up our chances, let’s look at where snowliage has often fallen (and been captured) across the country to figure out where you might want to plant yourself for the rest of autumn. By no means does this list cover all the places that experience snowliage—it can technically be anywhere!—but these are places where snowliage has been frequently reported and where experts recommend you’ll have a better shot.
“Be sure to bring your camera to capture the two seasons as they collide,” Neilson says. It’s too beautiful not to shoot (and post everywhere you possibly can).
Yosemite National Park, California
For two years in a row, Yosemite National Park has experienced the whimsical, wonderful event that is snowliage. Highton first witnessed it here in November 2020, where he was able to capture the magnificence in a 360-degree VR panorama. “The snow beautifully highlights the textures of the granite peaks surrounding Yosemite Valley, while the afternoon sun illuminates the changing leaves on the trees,” Highton writes.
This past year, Yosemite had snowliage on its grounds around the third week in October, according to Highton, which lasted for a couple of days before melting away.
Green Mountains, Vermont
Over the past few years, there have been several instances of snowliage in the Green Mountains, which run through the center of Vermont. Many of the sightings have been tracked by social media posts and local news coverage, showcasing expansive views of foliage-meets-snow from the tops of Mount Mansfield and Killington Peak.
White Mountains, New Hampshire
Kris Neilsen, Communications Manager of New Hampshire’s Division of Travel and Tourism Development, says that one of the most dramatic snowliage scenes can occur in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains, home to the highest mountain in the Northeast: Mount Washington (6,288 feet).
“When the mountain tops of the Presidential Range are covered in a blanket of fresh snow and all the autumn colors are still visible from the trees, it’s quite a majestic sight,” says Neilson. As a matter of fact, Mount Washington just had a snowliage happening this October. Seeing is believing!
Adirondacks Mountains, New York
Green, who has reported on the weather in upstate New York, says the western portions of the Adirondacks Mountains is one of the best places to see snowliage in the region. (Here’s a photo from this past year to prove it.) To make a stay out of it, Green suggests visiting the towns of Watertown and Old Forge, both near the Adirondacks.
Rocky Mountains, Colorado
The Rocky Mountains, the largest mountain system in North America, is another spot Green recommends for snowliage seekers to get their fix. The Rockies can easily be seen in several Colorado towns like Meeker, Craig, and Walton.
Eastern Sierra, California
Another part of Northern California that has seen a decent amount of snowliage activity in recent years is the eastern Sierra, part of the Sierra Nevada and not too far from Yosemite. Highton says that the Eastern Sierra is well-known for its fall colors that tend to be “more intense” then the other parts of Sierra Nevada, which makes it the perfect spot for when the snow falls.
Mono County is one area where snowliage has been spotted this year, especially in Mammoth. Highton suggests checking out June Lake and Mono Lake for spectacular displays, if and when the snow makes an appearance in the fall.