If ever there was a season to get out and see some of NC’s natural beauty, it’s Fall 2020. We’re lucky in our state, since we enjoy one of the country’s longest color seasons, over 5 weeks, thanks to the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains’ many 6,000-foot peaks, and multiple micro climates.
Leaf Peeping 2020
The main things to know about leaf season are what drives early color and what extends the season. Elevation is the key to early color, so it starts at the highest peaks and works its way down. Cold sunny weather speeds up the color changes and warm wet weather slows things down. To help you start planning your trip leaf peep, we’ve put together a list of places to visit that coincide with when their leaves will be changing. Color changes can be a little unpredictable, though, so please make sure to check online before you go. Also, overnight accommodations and restaurants must comply with the current COVID limitations so please RESERVE NOW if you’re thinking of a stay.
2020 Fall Color Map ~ From the “Fall Color Guy” and Progression Updates on ExploreAsheville.com
Dr. Howard Neufeld, Professor of Plant Eco-physiology at Appalachian State University, is better known as The Fall Color Guy, as he annually provides information on the fall color progression. According to Dr. Neufeld, the September weather is the key. “If it gets sunny and cool, especially at night, then we should expect good color this year, particularly among trees that turn red, like red maple and sourwood, red oak and black gum. It should also place the peak timing near its usual, which would be Oct 12-18 in the High Country at elevations between 3,000′ and 4,000′: a week or two earlier at the highest elevations and 7-10 days later for each 1,000′ drop in elevation.” (via WataugaOnline.com)
Please do check back for updates before you head out for viewing and for tons of info on your visit, please head to BEST website ever for the scoop on the NC Mountains, our pals at www.RomanticAsheville.com.
Late September to Early October starts at 6,000 Ft.
Along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Graveyard Fields is under 6,000 ft but because of the unique plant species you will find changing leaves earlier in the season. Take the moderate level 3.2 mile hike to explore the waterfalls. PS – it’s called Graveyard Fields because the tree stumps left behind after it was destroyed from fires and logging.
As the highest point east of the Mississippi, Mount Mitchell, which reaches 6,684 ft. is typically one of the first places in the state to see changes in the leaves. Keep Mount Mitchell State Park on your radar if you want to try and catch some colors changing early in the season. Make the hike to the summit and you’ll find an expansive observation deck with unparalleled views.
Early to Mid October Color Around 5,000 Ft.
Grandfather Mountain is another early bird when it comes to leaf season thanks to its high elevation. Drive up or hike to the famous Mile-High Swinging Bridge for gorgeous panoramic views of the surrounding mountains from the summit. On your way back down the mountain be sure to stop by Mildred’s Grill for a bite to eat and then walk over to the park’s wildlife habitats to see the black bears, or head to nearby Banner Elk for lunch & cuteness.
The charming town of Blowing Rock should be on your fall must-visit list no matter what, but it’s also one of the best places to visit to see a little color in earlier October. Spend some time on Main Street shopping and dining, then make your way to The Blowing Rock for some local history and lore. Tweetsie Railroad is also nearby if you’re looking for family-friendly fun.
“The highest town in Eastern America” and a familiar name to most Charlotteans, Beech Mountain is an early location in the fall color season usually by the 1st or 2nd week of October. Lots to see and do here, including the not-totally-canceled Autumn at Oz plus hiking & more. From here, Romantic Asheville recommends you head south to head to the Waterrock Knob and Black Balsam areas for great color views.
Come the month of October you can expect to see just about everyone making their way to the gorgeous falls to soak up everything that makes the fall season so special, plus the fresh, crisp mountain air. Check out the falls and the continue up the road to Wiseman’s View for truly spectacular views of the falls and gorge below. You’ll also be able to look directly across to Table Rock and Hawk’s Bill Mountain. If you stick around ’til dark you might even witness the elusive Brown Mountain Lights phenomenon.
Another great place to stop is Moses Cone Memorial Park, located at milepost 294 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Enjoy short, easy hikes, a gorgeous lake, horseback riding and a little shopping at the Craft Center.
If you haven’t had your apple fix, stop by the Orchard at Altapass at milepost 328 (a personal fave). Make sure to get apple cider. And though a little out of the way, if you love cheese then make the drive to West Jefferson and hit up Ashe County Cheese.
Mid to Late October For the Win at 3,000 to 5,000 Ft.
Mountainous areas surrounding Asheville with 3,000-4,000 foot elevation show plenty of color during this time. If you want a more laid-back trip to see the leaves, just head to Downtown Blowing Rock.
The Table Rock hiking trail can be one of the most rewarding hikes you can take if you’re up for a workout. While it can be pretty strenuous, the view at the top is so worth it, with spectacular views of Linville Gorge. Also known for its rock-climing, Table Rock can be reached by car on the road to the summit open April-December.
Per Romantic Asheville, Hawksbill is one of their favorite (strenuous) hikes in the area. The “1.5-mile round-trip hike to the summit of Hawksbill Mountain (elevation 4,009 ft.) has an amazing payoff with panoramic views of the canyon of Linville Gorge Wilderness Area – with the valley floor and Linville River 2,000 ft. below you. On a clear day, you can even see the skyline of Charlotte – about 90 miles away!“
It’s 26 miles from downtown Asheville in the Pisgah National Forest, and offers panoramic views, including that of Cold Mountain made famous by the book & movie. There’s a strenuous 1.5 mile hike to the summit where you’ll find an area to picnic. Per our expert guides at Romantic Asheville, “George W. Vanderbilt (the Biltmore) constructed the 16-mile Shut-In Trail in the 1890s to climb the Pisgah Ridge from the estate. This trail, still in use today, closely follows the current Blue Ridge Parkway. Vanderbilt created the country’s first school of forestry nearby at the Cradle of Forestry. There you can tour many historic buildings, hike, and learn all about Vanderbilt’s groundbreaking work in forestry.“
End of October into Early November When It Ends
This may be the one time to go to the Biltmore Estate and not solely focus on the home. When the leaves are changing the property is absolutely gorgeous and definitely worth the short trip to Asheville. Take your time to explore as much of the property as you can, there are scenic mountain views around every corner.
From the lake you can see surrounding leaves and the reflections on the water. The lake is located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains in the Hickory Nut Gorge. From certain points you can spot Chimney Rock which is another scenic spot to visit this time of year.
Other places to visit at the end of the month include Chimney Rock State Park and places near the towns of Tryon and Rutherfordton.
Heading out to check out the leaves?
We’d love to see where you end up. Tag us on Instagram @ScoopCharlotte to share your adventures.