Fall Foliage In North Carolina (Best Times & Places To View In 2024)

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Colorful autumn leaves in Winston- Salem, NC
Wondering where you can see leaves like this? Use our fall foliage guide to find out.

North Carolina offers one of the world’s most colorful and long-lasting fall foliage displays from the last week in September through October. The annual show of vibrant reds, oranges, 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.

Places For Remaining Peak Times

October 23-30
Peak time for elevations from 2,000 feet – 3,000 feet. This would include The cities of Asheville, NC; Brevard, NC; Bryson City, NC; Cherokee, NC; and Hendersonville, NC. Places of interest include Dupont State Forest, Biltmore Estate, Russell Brasstown Scenic Byway, and Cades Cove.
October 30-November 6
The remaining elevations’ peak time includes Gatlinburg, TN; Chimney Rock State Park; Lake Lure, NC; Helen, GA; Ellijay, GA; and Blue Ridge, GA.

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, with differing opinions on when to expect it.

Autumn days that are cool and sunny and where the temperatures do not go below freezing at night bring the best colors. The most colorful autumns usually happen when the mountains get sufficient rain in the summer.

Also affecting leaf color is the amount of rain, wind, and heat the high country receives during September and October.

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.

Fall Foliage Train Ride

A great way to see the brilliant red, warm oranges, and bright yellows is to ride on one of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad (GSMR) trains. The large picture windows or the open-air cabins will allow you to view the countryside in all its glory while you relax and enjoy the ride.

Two excursion routes leave from Bryson City, Nantahala Gorge, and Tuckasegee River. Each offers the promise of stunning foliage and a pleasant trip on the rails. In addition to their regular daily runs, The GSMR offers a sunrise and sunset excursion along the routes for a truly awe-inspiring experience.

The Nantahala Gorge Excursion is a four-and-a-half-hour round trip of 44 miles that carries you to the Nantahala Gorge and back. It offers a unique, moving dining experience if you select first-class tickets and have a meal in the dining car. Or you can pre-purchase one of the boxed lunches. There is a one-hour layover at the gorge for sightseeing before the return trip.

The Tuckasegee River Excursion is a four-hour round trip of 32 miles, traveling to the historic town of Dillsboro and back. You’ll travel through the man-made Cowee Tunnel and pass the famous movie set of The Fugitive, starring Harrison Ford. There is a one-and-a-half-hour layover in Dillsboro before the return trip. This break gives you plenty of time to explore the town, with its unique shops and great restaurants.

Tickets for all the trips sell out quickly, especially weekend excursions. So, if you are interested, now is the time to reserve your spot. See the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad website for details and tickets.

Winston-Salem

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

One of our biggest and most-loved events is the Apple Festival! Join us Saturday, Sept 23, 2023, as we celebrate the arrival of fall in all of its apple-filled goodness. Meet local artisans selling their wares while listening to music and enjoying a meal from one of our many food trucks. Don’t forget to buy a bag of apples from a local orchard on your way out! The perfect souvenir for this family-fun event.

Suggested 2023 Fall Color Viewing Schedule

Here is the fall color viewing schedule broken down by elevation, according to the “High Country of North Carolina Host.”

Last Week of September: 6,000 feet elevation, colors start to transform in the Grandfather Mountain and Mt. Mitchell areas. Plan an outdoor hike while the weather is still warm enough.

October Week 1: Peak color should reach the 5,000 feet mark. Peak areas may include Beech Mountain and Rough Ridge Trail Mile Post 302.9 off the Blue Ridge Parkway.

October Week 2: Vibrant color should be plentiful at the 4,000 ft elevation mark. Prime viewing will be in Banner Elk and Jumping Off Rocks Trail Mile Post 260.3 off the Blue Ridge Parkway.

October Week 3: At 3,000 ft elevation, peak color will be near Boone, Blowing Rock, West Jefferson, Price Lake Trail 297 off the Blue Ridge Parkway.

October Week 4: The colorful show will reach 2,000 ft elevation and will be vibrant in Wilkesboro, Stone Mountain State Park, and Yadkin Valley Overlook Mile Post 289.8 off the Blue Ridge Parkway.

When Is Leaf Pickup?

Now that you’ve admired the beautiful leaves out and about, you’re home and realize there’s plenty in your yard as well! Find out when the city is due to pickup your leaves curbside with our leaf pickup schedule.

Autumn is my favorite season. What is yours and why? Tell us in the comments.

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