The Asheville fall leaf color show in the North Carolina mountains attracts visitors from around the world. With the 5,000-foot elevation change within 50 miles of Asheville, our lush Blue Ridge Mountain range puts on one of the longest-running autumn leaf color displays in the country. After enjoying nature's grand show, head to downtown Asheville to enjoy the many local restaurants and shops. For many photos and timeline from last autumn, see our 2015 Fall Photo Reports and travelogue.
Blue Ridge Parkway & Mountains Fall Foliage Forecast 2016
The number one question is: “When is the peak color?” No matter when you plan an autumn visit in October or early November, you can take a short drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway or other mountain roads to find the best color of fall leaves. Elevation and weather are the biggest factors in the color show. Leaves begin their color change on the highest peaks and gradually work down to the lowest elevations. An early frost speeds up the show and warm weather prolongs it.
Where to Find Color Week-by-Week
- September 30-October 6: Highest elevations north of Asheville above 5,000 feet show the most color, especially in the Mount Mitchell, Craggy Gardens, Grandfather Mountain, Beech Mountain, Rough Ridge, Waterrock Knob and Graveyard Fields areas.
- October 5-15: Color will increase in elevations greater than 4,000 feet, including the areas near Mount Pisgah, Black Balsam, and Devil's Courthouse southwest of Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It will also be peak color in the Highlands area, including Whiteside Mountain with plenty of waterfalls to enjoy, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, including hikes to Alum Cave and Chimney Tops.
- October 12-21: Many of the surrounding mountains around Asheville show plenty of color, especially in the 3,000-4,000 foot elevation range. Take the Parkway north or south from Asheville. A great hike in Pisgah National Forest would be Looking Glass Rock or Cradle of Forestry. North of Asheville, head to Linville Gorge with hikes to the top of Table Rock and Hawksbill Mountain. West of Asheville, Bryson City and the Nantahala Gorge will shine.
- October 18-27: The city of Asheville (2,000 feet elevation) shows the brightest colors, along with areas around Hendersonville and Brevard. This is the perfect time for a waterfall hike in DuPont State Forest or leisurely walk at the NC Arboretum. This is also the peak leaf color for Biltmore Estate.
- October 24-November 4: The color show concludes in the Chimney Rock area (elevation of 1,300 feet). Ride to the top of Chimney Rock or take a boat tour on Lake Lure. Also best color at Lake James and South Mountains State Parks, along with Rutherford County.
There are many festivals and events tor enjoy in September and October. See our 40 Favorite Fall Calendar of Events.
Autumn Leaf Viewing Tips
Here are some tips to help you plan an Asheville fall vacation to enjoy the spectacular autumn colors of the North Carolina mountain leaves:
- Make your room reservations early. Many times, weekends are booked at inns and hotels months in advance. But you can also check for last minute cancellations!
- To avoid the biggest crowds and to save more on lodging, stay on Sunday through Thursday nights. Saturdays during October are super busy at attractions such as Biltmore Estate, and highways and country roads will be busier.
- If you are gettting outdoors in our national parks and forests, do you research first. Frequently, you will not have cell or internet service on the hiking trails or at waterfalls.
- With the varying elevations along the Blue Ridge Parkway, this is the quickest way to find the best areas for color. The elevation of the Parkway around the city of Asheville is approximately 2,200 feet, and it rises to 5,000+ feet as you drive north or south. The color show starts a the highest elevations in early October and progress down. When you find a particular area of brilliant foliage, take a hike along a trial or take a detour on one of the intersecting roads. Be patient and expect slow traffic, especially on Saturdays and Sundays. Parking at overlooks can be difficult. See our Blue Ridge Parkway Guide.
- If you encounter fog (low clouds) on the Blue Ridge Parkway, don't despair. The weather can change rapidly. It could be very sunny around the next bend or in a few minutes. Fog is most frequent in the mornings, and it can create interesting photo opportunities. The Parkway has more fog than other scenic drives in the mountains since it follows the high ridges.
- Enhance fall colors by wearing polarized sunglasses.
- Take a picnic or snacks, especially if you are driving the Blue Ridge Parkway. There is only one restaurant along the Parkway near Asheville. To find a restaurant, exit the Parkway near a town. See our Top 20 Picnic Spots.
- Fill up the gas tank before taking a scenic drive out of the city. Gas stations are sparse in remote areas and along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
- Don't rely 100% on your GPS to navigate our mountain roads. That's a good way to get lost. Take a map along also.
- Bring a sweater or jacket. While it might be 70 and sunny in Asheville, it may be 20 degrees cooler at the higher elevations. In mid to late October, snow or ice is possible at the higher elevations. See rime ice from October. Road closures and conditions on the Blue Ridge Parkway, along with weather reports, are available by calling the Parkway information line at (828) 298-0398. Rainy day? Here are some indoor options for things to do.
- Take your camera. The warm light of the early morning or late afternoon can create especially dramatic images. Find the best mountain views.
- Bring binoculars for bird watching to bringing a distant picturesque view a bit closer.
- For ideas on outings to combine with your leaf watching, see our 20 Bucket List Outings.