North Carolina Mountains Fall Foliage
The North Carolina mountains fall foliage season is a beautiful show each and every year. The fall leaf color changes start in the higher elevations of the Western North Carolina mountains about the first week of October and will work its way down to the lower elevations of the mountains toward mid November. Due to the varied elevations of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains you can always find the best show of color somewhere in the fall months of September, October and November. The biggest factors involved in the changing colors of the foliage are elevation and the weather. The warmer the weather the slower the progression of color. Cooler temperatures and an early frost will speed up the leaf color change show.
To get a vibrant display of fall foliage cool temperatures are needed during the month of September with sunny
days and some rain. Too little rain and dry conditions make the trees drop their leaves too early before the colors appear. Too much rain and windy conditions will also have a detrimental effect on the fall foliage show.
Fall Foliage Reports and Weekly Updates For 2017
10/11/2017: Fall Foliage Report and Updates: The remnants of Nate caused portions of the the Blue Ridge Parkway to close for clean up but now all sections of the parkway are open to traffic. Areas along the parkway that are over 5500 ft in elevation have dropped their leaves or the leaves are brown in color. The remaining green leaves that were slow to change due to the warm temperatures now have a great chance to end up making the last two weeks in October a pretty fall foliage season. The best color now is in the elevations at 4000 ft range with elevations in the 3000 ft range spreading color rapidly. There is a lot of gold color but the reds and oranges are starting to show up also. The rain from Nate will be good for the rest of the fall foliage season in Western North Carolina. Peaking or near peak areas this weekend include Grandfather Mountain, Rough Ridge and the Highlands area. Linville and Linville Falls is also reported to be showing some great colors. Color is spreading into the areas of Mount Pisgah, Devil’s Courthouse and Pisgah National Forest. This weekend and next week the areas of Boone and Blowing Rock should be very colorful. Reports of color of red, gold and yellow are showing at locations in Waynesville, Cashiers and Whiteside Mountain in the dogwood trees, sourwood trees, birch, beech and blackgum.
The lower elevations (those below 3000 ft) are full of yellow and gold colors. These areas would be the Pisgah National Forest, Looking Glass Rock and north of Asheville at Banner Elk, Table Rock and Hawksbill Mountain. There is a cold front moving in this weekend bringing lower humidity and cooler temperatures. The last two weeks of the month should be the time to see peak colors in the mountains of North Carolina.
10/7/2017: Fall Foliage Report and Updates: The last few weeks of warm temperatures have slowed the progress of colors change down quite a bit. And the lack of rain in the last 3 weeks is now causing some of the trees to drop their leaves early before the colors can change. There are reports of good color along the BRP north of Asheville in the 4500 -5000 ft elevations. The areas around Grandfather Mountains, Rough Ridge and Beacon Heights have reports of good color as well as Table Rock at Linville Gorge and Hawksbill Mountains. Peak colors have been pushed back to take place in mid to late October. The mid and lower elevations remain mostly green. The mid range elevations south of Asheville are still mostly green with peak colors predicted in another 10-14 days. Tropical Storm Nate may bring some much need rain but the fall foliage season doesn’t need the wind.
9/28/17 Fall Foliage Report and Updates: The warm temperatures of early fall have slowed this year’s color progression down. There is some color reported now in the highest elevations of the NC mountains near Grandfather Mountain and Rough Ridge. Some reports are of about 25% color seen in the trees. Two separate cold front are moving through the region in the next 48 hours. This will certainly result in a quick change next week in the showing of color the first week of October. Next week a trip to Grandfather Mountain and Rough Ridge in North Carolina should be interesting. The mid elevations are predicted to peak in about 2 more weeks. Peak colors are predicted in mid October for the area of Boone and Blowing Rock. But the lack of rain may result in a lack of vibrancy. There is little rain in the forecast for the next 10 days or so.
9/25/17 Fall Foliage Report and Updates:Fall colors are starting to make an appearance in the mountains of North Carolina in the highest elevations north of Asheville. Grandfather Mountain is at peak now! This year’s fall foliage season is about a week earlier than a typical year. This is because of this summer’s moderate temperature and there was no drought. Grandfather Mountain is always the first area in the mountains of North Carolina to show color due to the high elevation. There are also reports of the mid elevations starting to show a hint of color already.
Areas with elevations between 5,500 ft and 6,000 ft will peak first. Areas such as Black Balsam Knob (elevation 6214 ft) offers quite a view down below. Most ranges with elevations above 6000 ft have few trees but the view of the colors in the trees below are worth the hike.
Areas of the North Carolina mountains that show color first are north of Asheville. This includes Linn Cove Viaduct on the Blue Ridge Parkway and Rough Ridge. In the next week fall foliage colors will continue to spread and progress in the areas of Craggy Gardens (MP 364 on the BRP) , Beech Mountain, Graveyard Fields(MP 418 on the BRP) and Watterock Knob (MP 451 on the BRP).
All of the Blue Ridge Parkway is now open. There were some parts closed for cleanup after Hurricane Irma came through two weeks ago. But the cleanup and repairs have been complete and all portions of the parkway are open now. There are reports now of the mid elevations starting to show a hint of color. Mount Mitchell and Craggy Gardens are predicted to peak by the end of September or 10/1/17. Boone and Blowing Rock are still mostly green but the dogwood trees are tuning a nice red and plum color and the sugar maples are showing some nice colors of orange and gold. The longer cooler nights along with warm sunny days are all ideal conditions to get the fall foliage color changes started. There is a cold front moving in at the end of this week which will help with the fall foliage progression.
9/20/2017 Fall Foliage Predictions For 2017!
The fall foliage predictions for 2017 are in! The prediction by the experts for this year’s fall foliage show 2017 should be an average showing. This is due to the fact that this past summer had moderate temperatures and no drought. But don’t despair because an average fall foliage season in North Carolina is still a good one. If the weather for this month brings a lot of sunny days along with cool nights then that will help bring some good color for this autumn. Look for the early beginning of our fall foliage show to begin first in the dogwood trees, red maples and sourwoods. In fact the dogwood trees are already started showing some purple and orange colors to their leaves. Next to appear will be the gold, orange, yellow and red colors in the walnut, tulip poplar, maples, beech and birch trees. The very last to show colors are the oaks with the dark red and brown colors of autumn.
The fall foliage season in Western North Carolina and the Great Smoky Mountains (the Southern Appalachian mountain chain) is one of the longest fall foliage seasons in the United States. This is due to so many different species of trees in our mountains. With so many more different species of trees as compared to the areas in the north the fall foliage season in the North Carolina mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains can last as long as 8 weeks. And with the many different levels of elevations across the mountain chain in Western NC there is always a nice showing of color somewhere during the fall foliage months.
Weather And Elevation Is The Key
The key to the start of peak color changes is when the first frost occurs. Peak colors happened just days after the first frost in any given elevation. Lowest temperatures/frost occurs in the highest elevations first and then progresses down to the lower elevations. So peak color times happen in the highest elevations (over 4000ft) first and work down to the lower elevations. Color changes can start in late September and continue into early November depending on the elevation and the weather.
North Carolina Mountains Fall Foliage Guidelines and Tips For Viewing
The North Carolina mountains fall foliage show starts each year after the first frost and in the highest elevations of the North Carolina mountains.That will be in mountains that range over 4000 feet. Mid level elevations are 3000-4000 feet and typically peak in mid October. The lower elevations below 2000 feet will peak last near the end of October and into early November. The southern mountains in North Carolina are in the lower ranges-areas such as Chimney Rock, Lake Lure and the piedmont area of North Carolina.
Typical Peak Color Time Table
Here is a typical schedule for peak colors per elevation for the North Carolina Mountains Fall Foliage
- First week of October (about October 1-10) highest elevations of 4,500’ at peak
- Mid October (about October 10-16) mid elevations of 4,500’ to 2,500’ at peak
- Last week of October (about October 16-31) in the Asheville area lower elevations 2,500′ – 2,000’)
- Late October and early November (about October 24- November 5) areas south of Asheville such as the Chimney Rock area with elevations at or below 1,500′ at peak
Typically the start of the North Carolina mountains fall foliage color change start to take place after the first frost usual in late September in the highest elevations of the NC mountains those areas north of the Asheville area. Look for the color show to begin in the elevations above 5,000 ft such as Clingmans Dome, Mt. LeConte, Cataloochee and Newfound Gap Road in the Great Smoky Mountains. Grandfather Mountain and the Boone area will start to show color in the highest elevations as well as Mount Mitchell, Craggy Gardens, and Rough Ridge along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The North Carolina Travel webcams page has some nice webcam links to Asheville, Biltmore and Boone that shows some pretty fall foliage views during the fall months.
Where to go to view NC mountains fall foliage:
- Great Smoky Mountains
- Blue Ridge Mountains
- Grandfather Mountain
- Highlands and Cashiers area
- Asheville area
- Mt. Mitchell
- Boone, Blowing Rock and West Jefferson areas
- Blue Ridge Parkway
- Chimney Rock State Park
A typical North Carolina mountains fall foliage season
Normally about the very last of September or the first or second week of October the leaves start changing in the highest elevations (above 5000 feet). Then the second to third week elevations above 4000 feet start the change. Mid October the show is well underway and include the 3000-4000 feet elevation areas. By late October and early November the lower elevations of 1300 feet are changing. By the second week in November the peak season and the show is all but past for the mountain regions of North Carolina but in the lower elevations across the piedmont to the coast the fall foliage show can last thru last November.
NC Fall Foliage Map by the Depart. Of Biology at Appalachian State University Showing Typical Peak Colors Time Table
Great places to view North Carolina fall foliage would be:
Clingmans Dome off US 441 through the Great Smoky Mountains (between Cherokee and Gatlinburg) Elevation of 6,643 feet.
The Blue Ridge Parkway where overlooks offer long-range panoramic views of the Great Smoky Mountains. Craggy Gardens at Milepost 365.
Mount Mitchell – in Yancy County, NC. Has an elevation of 6,684 feet and is the highest point east of the Mississippi River.
Grandfather Mountain – near Linville, North Carolina. Has an elevation of 5,946 feet. Just south of Boone.
The typical best times to plan a trip to view North Carolina Mountains fall foliage by regions and based on the past years would be:
● Western North Carolina Highest Elevations – Late September to Early October
● Western North Carolina – Early to Mid October
● Western to Central North Carolina – Mid October to Late October
● Central North Carolina – Late October to Early November
If planning a trip to view the NC mountains to view fall foliage here is a general guide and timeline by week:
North of Asheville in the highest elevations above 5,000 feet is where the fall foliage show begins and is where the most color typically occurs. These areas include Mount Mitchell, Craggy Gardens on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Grandfather Mountain and Rough Ridge.
Fall foliage color will then start to appear in elevations greater than 4,000 feet. Areas including the Mount Pisgah, Black Balsam, Devil’s Courthouse, Waterrock Knob and Graveyard Field. Peak color also occurs in this time period for the Highlands area, including Whiteside Mountain and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
In the surrounding mountains of Asheville there is plenty of color in the 3,000-4,000 foot elevation range. A ride north or south on the Blue Ridge Parkway from Asheville will be a beautiful site about this week. A ride thru the Pisgah National Forest (Looking Glass Rock or Cradle of Forestry) normally is a great trip. North of Asheville Linville Gorge (Table Rock and Hawksbill Mountain) would be a nice fall foliage hiking trip.
The city of Asheville at the 2,000 feet elevation have the peak colors during this time period, as well as areas around Hendersonville and Brevard. DuPont State Forest or the NC Arboretum are great places to enjoy the fall foliage colors. The Biltmore Estate in Asheville is also at peak leaf color during the later part of October.
October 24-November 5
The fall foliage color show nears its end in the Chimney Rock area with an elevation of 1,300 feet. Visit Chimney Rock and Lake Lure for a last look at the beautiful fall foliage season in the North Carolina mountains for 2013. In late October and early November the fall foliage show makes its way across the piedmont region such as Greensboro, Winston-Salem, High Point, Raleigh and then spreading to Eastern North Carolina. The North Carolina coast has few hardwood tress so there isn’t much color change in the coastal region of the state.
Why North Carolina is a great place to view fall foliage
In the mountains of North Carolina the annual fall foliage show starts in late September and spreads across the state into early November. If traveling in North Carolina in the fall there will always be an opportunity to view some lovely scenes of leaves changing colors somewhere in the state. North Carolina is lucky to have about 4-6 weeks in the autumn to undergo this fall foliage show of nature as the warm days of summer slowly change into the cold days of winter.
Falls colors video in the Asheville area…