Cooler temperatures and sunny weather in the mountains of Western North Carolina and the Upstate and mountains of South Carolina have kicked off the start of the region’s fall leaf color show.
“We’ve had this cool weather for the last 10 or 15 days. That has made the color really jump out,” said Howie Neufeld, a plant physiologist at Appalachian State University who follows the annual show.
The visual changing of the seasons tends to reach a peak in Asheville, N.C., around the last week of October, Neufeld said.
Higher elevations around the city – including places in the Blue Ridge Mountains – typically show their best colors even earlier.
The most brilliant show usually comes to areas near Boone and Blowing Rock around mid-October, Neufeld said.
Plan to arrive early if you want to avoid long lines of cars during peak tourism times or if you want to take pictures. You’ll capture more vibrant colors when the sun is at a low angle – in the morning or evening. Arrive closer to sunset and stop at an overlook if you prefer to see the stars. Overlooks can be ideal for stargazing.
Neufeld recommends these locations if you plan a visit:
▪ Julian Price Memorial Park, at the foot of Grandfather Mountain near Blowing Rock, is also offering early colors this year. Among the park’s seven trails is the 2.7-mile Price Lake Loop Trail, which is flat enough to be family friendly. You’ll also be close to the Moses Cone Manor House. Visit the manor early or on weekdays to avoid crowds at this popular spot. The park’s 13.5-mile Tanawha Trail offers views of the Linn Cove Viaduct and hugs the southeastern ridge of Grandfather Mountain.
▪ Craggy Gardens is a high elevation – at more than 5,000 feet – about 20 miles northeast of Asheville. That height gives it dramatic views on the Blue Ridge Parkway and beyond. Changing of the leaves happens quickly up there, so plan a stop around the last week of September or first week in October. The show of leaves moves downhill after that, at about 1,000 feet every 10 days or so.
▪ A drive on U.S. 64 is also a good option to find scenic mountain sites. Choose a path that takes you from Hendersonville to Chimney Rock, or from Hendersonville to the highlands. Hendersonville is apple country, so you’ll find cider and other goods to take home as you’re passing through. This year’s drought should make the apple crops especially sweet, Neufeld said.