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North Carolina offers one of the most colorful and long-lasting fall foliage displays in the world from the first weeks of October through early November. The annual show of vibrant reds, orange and gold begins in the higher elevations, such as Mount Mitchell and Grandfather Mountain, and works its way down the mountains, to the foothills and then the Piedmont.
Predicting “Peak” Color Times
Peak color times vary each year and depend on factors such as high temperatures and precipitation during the summer months. This year, the dry summer weather and unusually high temps are leading to some dry, brown and dying leaves. Otherwise, the drought and temps are causing a slow turning and are not promising for an overall vibrant showing. The dry temps of September have slowed the turn, but current cool temperatures should speed things along!
Spotty color is already being reported in higher elevations. Grandfather Mountain already has a beautiful display, as does Beacon Heights (as of 9/29/16).
Best Fall Foliage Color Drives
Blue Ridge Parkway
From Winston-Salem, the drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway up to Grandfather Mountain and the Linn Cove Viaduct is a popular one for fall leaves that will not disappoint. Asheville boasts a 5,000-foot elevation change within 50 miles of the city, making the Blue Ridge Mountain range one of the longest lasting fall foliage color displays in the country.
Bakersville to Roan Mountain – Appalachian Trail
Another great fall color drive, according to Fall Color Forecaster Dr. Howard Neufeld, is to drive “up NC 261 from Bakersville/Spruce Pine to Roan Mountain.” Where the Appalachian Trail crosses the road there, you can hike in the forest and see spectacular views.
Suggested 2016 Fall Color Viewing Schedule
October 3-9: Highest elevations north of Asheville above 5,000 feet, such as Mount Mitchell, Grandfather Mountain, Beech Mountain, Rough Ridge, Watercock Knob and Graveyard Field areas are just starting to turn.
October 8-16: Color should reach the 4,000 feet mark and above, in such areas on the Blue Ridge Parkway as Grandfather Mountain, Craggy Gardens, Mount Pisgah, Black Balsam and Devil’s Courthouse southwest of Asheville. Also find peak viewing in the Cashiers area of NC, such as Whiteside Mountain and Shadow of the Bear (don’t miss the waterfalls!) and the Great Smoky Mountains, including Alum Cave and Chimney Tops.
October 14-23: Vibrant color should be plentiful at the 4,000-3,000 ft elevation marks in mountains surrounding Asheville. Take the Blue Ridge Parkway north or south of Asheville for great views or drive the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway. Also visit areas like Pisgah National Forest and hike to Cradle of Forestry or Looking Glass Rock, Banner Elk for great hikes; or visit Linville Gorge and hike to Table Rock or Hawksbill Mountain.
October 20-29: During this time, the city of Asheville (and Biltmore Estate there) has historically shown the brightest fall foliage colors, as well as areas around Sylva and Saluda, NC. Try a waterfall hike in DuPont State Forest or a walk to the NC Arboretum.
October 25-November 5: As the colors make a final showing, visit the Chimney Rock area, or consider a boat tour on Lake Lure. Also check out South Mountains State Park and Lake James.
November 1-8: The foothills will not be left out of the show! Visit the foothills around Rutherfordton and Tryon Foothills Wine Country.
Right here in Winston-Salem, be sure to make the drive down Reynolda Road under a canopy of reds and golds by Reynolda House of American Art and Reynolda Village, as well as Old Salem. A walk around Salem Lake will showcase the finest in fall color as it reflects off the shimmering waters.