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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 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
From 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.
October 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.com; www.romanticasheville.com
What is your favorite spot to peak NC fall foliage?
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