5 Best Places to See Fall Foliage in North Carolina

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Although many regions of North Carolina will witness the changing of the autumn leaves, the best view to see genuinely stunning fall colors will be in the western part of the state, near the Blue Ridge Mountains. Tens of thousands flock to this mountain range that spans North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia because of the bold colors you take in when enjoying outdoor fall activities. 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. Since the foliage begins to change at higher elevations and then works its way down the mountain, you can plan your trip accordingly.

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Grandfather Mountain, Linville
At Grandfather Mountain, you can choose to hike an accessible trail or a more challenging trail through the park's backcountry.

Grandfather Mountain, Linville

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. 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 you can then drive at your 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.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The sun rises over the mountains of Great Smoky Mountains National Park at the peak of autumn's colors

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

After the first few weeks of October, you can see the leaves change color slightly lower down the mountain, around 4-5,000 feet.  Here, you’ll want to check out the Boone and Blowing Rock areas and pretty much anywhere along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a perfect spot during this time.  It is one of the country’s largest national parks and the most visited, but just one visit, and you’ll understand all the hype.  Check out the views from Clingmans Dome, the tallest point in the park, and at the many overlook stops along Newfound Gap Road.

Pisgah National Forest
Looking Glass Falls in autumn, Pisgah National Forest near Asheville, NC

Pisgah National Forest

Around the third week of October, areas around 3-4,000 feet will be hitting their peak seasons of color, including regions like Nantahala Gorge and Linville G. However, one of the most impressive spots you can visit here is Pisgah National Forest. This massive forest spans over 500,000 acres and features some of the most amazing scenery on the east coast. Some excellent spots for taking in the foliage are Looking Glass Rock – a massive rock known for its face reflecting the sunshine and the Cradle of Forestry – a 6,500-acre heritage site dedicated to forest management and education.

Biltmore Estate, Asheville
Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC

Biltmore Estate, Asheville

At the end of the month, the best places to take in the fall leaves will be under 2,000 feet, including 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 fall foliage 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.

Chimney Rock State Park
Chimney Rock State Park

Chimney Rock State Park

The rest of the lower mountain elevations should be on full display from the end of October through the first week of November.  During this time, Lake Lure and Chimney Rock are two of the best spots to check out.  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 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 the top of the Chimney Rock itself – a granite monolith over 500 million years old and 315 feet tall.  From the top, you can see Lake Lure and numerous mountain ranges along the horizon.  Other great spots in the park to check out are the Hickory Nut Falls and the Hickory Nut Gorge.

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