Fall Foliage In North Carolina (Best Times & Places To View In 2020)

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Fall leaves turning colorsNorth 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 temperatures and precipitation during the summer months. Forecasting fall color is always an inexact science, and there are differing opinions on when to expect it.

Recent warm weather will slow down the peak color timeline, and we certainly had a lot of late hot days this year.

Spotty color is already being reported in higher elevations. Grandfather Mountain already has the start of a beautiful display and is nearing peak color.

Best Fall Foliage Color Drives

Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway Fall FoliageFrom Winston-Salem, the drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway up to Grandfather Mountain and the Linn Cove Viaduct (near Banner Elk) is a popular one for fall leaves that will not disappoint.

Asheville also 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.


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 in Old Salem. A walk around Salem Lake will showcase the finest in fall color as it reflects off the shimmering waters.

Take a short drive and make a loop west down U.S. 421 to U.S. 601 near Yadkinville, to Highway 89 toward Walnut Cove, then U.S. 311 toward Walkertown; another lovely drive is up Highway 52 and travels the rural roads to Hanging Rock State Park.

Bakersville To Roan Mountain – Appalachian Trail

Another beautiful 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.

Apple Festival At Bethabara Park

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this event is not taking place in 2020.

Suggested 2020 Fall Color Viewing Schedule

Keep in mind that due to our hot start to fall, fall foliage changes have been delayed significantly. Also, an active hurricane season has brought a vast amount of rain to the mountains and throughout North Carolina, taking some early peaking leaves from the trees.

Fall Autumn yellow gold leavesOctober Week 1: Above 5,000 feet, colors start to transform in the Grandfather Mountain and Beech Mountain areas. Plan an outdoor hike while the weather is still warm enough.

October Week 2: Peak color should reach the 4,000-5,000 feet mark and above. Peak areas may include the Blue Ridge Parkway around Boone and Blowing Rock, and areas in the Great Smoky Mountains.

October Week 3: Vibrant color should be plentiful at the 3,000-4,000 ft elevation marks. Prime viewing will be in the mountains surrounding Asheville, including Sliding Rock, Looking Glass Falls, Wildcat Falls, and other waterfalls in Pisgah National Forest, and the Linville Gorge and Maggie Valley areas.

October Week 4: During this time, the city of Asheville (and Biltmore Estate) has historically shown the brightest fall foliage colors, as well as areas around Brevard, Paynesville, and Cherokee. Try a waterfall hike in DuPont State Forest or a walk in the NC Arboretum.

November Week 1: As the colors make a final showing in the lower elevations, visit the Chimney Rock area, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, or consider a boat tour on Lake Lure.  Also, check out South Mountains State Park and Lake James.

Resources: www.visitnc.com, biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors; Dick Thomas, Executive Director, and naturalist at the Piedmont Environmental Center in High Point; Fall Color Guy Facebook page, blueridgemountainlife.comwww.romanticasheville.com

What is your favorite spot to peak NC fall foliage?

About The Author:

Kristi was born and raised just up the road in Mount Airy (a.k.a. Mayberry) and frequented Winston-Salem often growing up for school field trips, shopping, and dining. After attending Appalachian State University, and a brief stint living in Southern Virginia, Kristi returned to Winston-Salem, NC in 1999 and began her work in non-profit, public relations and writing. She and her family enjoy the convenience of living near downtown Winston-Salem. She enjoys the arts, photography and cooking. "I'm a small town girl at heart, but Winston-Salem isn't an overwhelming city. It is rich with friendly people, history, culture and has a vibrant art community and that is why I am proud to call this "My Winston-Salem!"

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Karen Banks
October 10, 2018 8:33 pm

So, I’m reading about the Fall colors schedule, then get really interested in the Salem Lake 2-hour hike tours, then read 2017!! REALLY DUDE??? Last year’s news??? You’ve had an entire year to update this. Is ANYBODY efficient anymore??? I’m out.

Michelle Schenker
October 16, 2018 7:19 am
Reply to  Karen Banks

Sorry Karen, That was for 2017. We just updated the content for 2018. You might want to check out the Apple Festival at Bethabara the last weekend in October this year.