EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Scientists don’t fully understand why leaves turn yellow or red in autumn, but they know a mix of dry days and cold nights is a recipe for some beautiful colors.

Hope Leeson, a botanist who teaches at Rhode Island School of Design, says we’re on track for some vibrant colors this fall.

The best time:

The peak time for colorful fall foliage can be different every year. If you’re staying in Rhode Island, mid-October is likely best. The farther North you go though, the earlier you’ll see colors.

“They could start now or even toward the end of September,” Leeson said.

However, the weather could completely change Leeson’s predictions.

“You never know how things are going to turn out. You could get a really cold stretch and that could be the deciding factor,” she continued.

What to look for:

If you’re going leaf peeping earlier in the season, be sure to look out for the black gum tupelo trees that normally grow near swamps.

“Those are already turning. You’ll already see a few of them, just a brilliant red color, almost a scarlet color” Leeson said.

If yellow is your favorite color, look for trees like elms, birches, or some types of maple trees.

“Silver maples or even some of the planted species like Norway maple or sycamore maple really just turn a yellow to yellow-brown depending on which species you’re looking at,” Leeson explained.

Her personal favorites are the red and scarlet oaks, saying, “It’s just such a deep red-brown color.”

If you have an iPhone, you can easily look up different kinds of plants in the “Photos” app.

Story continues below slideshow.

Where to go:

Leeson says the best way to take in all autumn has to offer, is to get outside, hike and be immersed in the outdoors.

“One of my favorite experiences is walking among sweet birch or black birch which has a really tasty syrup or sap,” Leeson said. “When the leaves fall, and they’re beginning to decompose on the ground you get that smell.”

“You’re really just getting sort of a snapshot if you’re driving in a car. My best advice is walking,” she continued.

In Rhode Island, Leeson recommends any DEM Management area or land trust properties. She said if you want to see red maples, look near wetlands, swamps or the edge of a pond.

“In South Kingstown, the Great Swamp management area, that’s a DEM management area, you’ve got five or six miles of trails that you can walk and there’s a lot of wetlands there,” Leeson said.

Nature conservancies or Audubon preserves are also great options, Leeson said.

“Over in the East Bay, in Little Compton, there are some incredibly beautiful, preserved areas,” she noted.

Try the beach:

Trees aren’t the only source of color in the fall. For a more unique fall foliage experience, Leeson said to give leaf peeping at the beach a try.

“Wherever there’s a dune system that’s big,” she explained. “Goosewing Beach has a very broad dune system. Beaches on the South Coast like Weekapaug and East Beach, there’s a very broad dune system.”

“All of those shrubs turn brilliant red colors as well like the blueberries, sumac. You get some incredible colors there,” she continued.

Stay safe:

If you’re outdoors, it’s important to keep safety in mind.

Since it’s hunting season, Leeson said anyone walking in the woods should wear bright orange.

Have fun:

For fall foliage lovers, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. The leaves don’t change color every day, so take advantage of the colorful show while you can.

“Days like this I think are just really special, bright blue sky, sun, dry weather,” Leeson said. “It’s a good day to be outside.”