Although many regions of North Carolina will witness the changing of the leaves this fall, the best view of the colors will be in the western part of the state, near the Blue Ridge Mountains. In fact, tens of thousands of people flock to this mountain range that spans over North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia, because of its bold colors. Due to its varied elevations, it is also one of the longest running leaf seasons in the world, beginning in October and ending in early November.
Since the changing of the leaves varies from year to year and region to region, there is no exact best time to take it in. But, since the foliage starts changing at higher elevations first and then works its way down the mountain, you can plan your trip accordingly.
Set Out High in Early October
At the beginning of October, the foliage will begin to change colors at the highest elevations, areas that are 5,000 feet above sea level and higher. During this time, some one of the great spots to take in the colors is Grandfather Mountain, located in Linville, which is just a short drive from Boone, Blowing Rock and Banner Elk. You will have to purchase a ticket to enter the park, but can then drive at your own leisure, stopping along the way to take in the breathtaking views. You’ll also find plenty of other attractions along the way including a nature museum and the Mile High Swinging Bridge, as well as amenities like a restaurant, gift shop, picnicking areas and hiking trails.
Start Moving Down the Mountain in October
After the first few weeks of October, you can begin to see the leaves change color slightly lower down the mountain, around 4-5,000 feet. Here, you’ll want to check out the areas of Boone and Blowing Rock, as well as pretty much anywhere along the Blue Ridge Parkway. A particularly good spot during this time is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is one of the largest national parks in the country, as well as the most visited, but just one visit and you’ll understand what all the hype is about. Be sure to check out the views from Clingmans Dome, the tallest point in the park, and at the many overlook stops along Newfound Gap Road.
Go a Little Lower in Late October
Around the third week of October, areas around 3-4,000 feet will be hitting their peak seasons of color. This includes areas like Nantahala Gorge and Linville Gorge, although one of the most impressive spots you can visit here is Pisgah National Forest. This massive forest spans across more than 500,000 acres and features some of the most amazing scenery on the east coast. Particularly good spots for taking in the foliage are Looking Glass Rock – a massive rock known for the way its face reflects the sunshine or the Cradle of Forestry – a 6,500 acre heritage site dedicated to forest management and education.
Go Below 2,000 Feet at the End of October
At the end of the month, the best places to take in the fall leaves will be under 2,000 feet. This includes many of the towns in Western North Carolina, like Asheville, Brevard, Hendersonville and Cherokee. Although there are numerous stops you could make in any of these towns, one of the most beautiful and intriguing stops you can make is at Biltmore Estate in Asheville. In addition to seeing the leaves on your drive to and from Biltmore, you can also enjoy the colorful blooms in the Estate’s gardens and grounds. Plus, you can stop in at Antler Village and try a few of Biltmore’s award-winning wines at their winery.
Check Out Lower Elevations in November
From the end of October through the first week of November, the rest of the lower mountain elevations should be in full display. During this time, two of the best spots to check out are Lake Lure and Chimney Rock. Lake Lure, best known as the location where Baby met Johnny in Dirty Dancing, has over 720 acres of lake and beach area to enjoy at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Here, you can take in the fall colors by car or by a guided boat tour.
Just outside of Lake Lure, is Chimney Rock State Park, a historic park that spans nearly 7,000 acres and offers breathtaking views of the fall foliage. Of course, the best view is from top of the Chimney Rock itself – a granite monolith that is over 500 million years old and 315 feet tall. From the top, you can see Lake Lure, as well as numerous mountain ranges along the horizon. Other great spots in the park to check out are Hickory Nut Falls and the Hickory Nut Gorge.