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.
North Carolina Mountains Fall Leaf Color Forecast 2014
September 11, 2014 Update: If you haven't made your reservations for a B&B, cabin or hotel, you better do it soon. Looks like it's going to be the busiest fall in years! To help you plan your trip, see our new photo collage: Top 50 Fall Things to Do. And see below for our list of festivals and events in September and October.
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. Below is our best guess of the progression of the color show:
October 2-11: 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 and Graveyard Fields areas.
October 10-18: Color will increase in elevations greater than 4,000 feet, including the Mount Pisgah, Black Balsam, Devil's Courthouse, Waterrock Knob, 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 16-25: 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.
October 22-30: 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 26-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 peak at Lake James and South Mountains State Parks.
Also see our favorite Scenic Drives, Motorcycle Drives, Mountain Views, and Pet-Friendly guides.
Also find the best bed and breakfasts, cabin rentals and hotels in the mountains!
See Autumn Photos from previous years: 2013 | 2012 | 2011
TOP 40 FALL EVENTS 2014
Fridays: Drum Circle, downtown Asheville
Sept & Oct: Apple & Pumpkin Orchards & Farms
Sept 5-6: Historic Morganton Festival
Sept 5-14: Mountain State Fair
Sept 5-Oct 26: Asheville Eliada Corn Maze
Sept 12-14: Goombay Festival
Sept 13: 2nd Saturday Art Events River Arts District
Sept 19: Downtown After Five Live Music
Sept 20: Mountain Life Festival Great Smoky Mtns
Sept 20: Art in Autumn Fest in Weaverville
Sept 20-21: Heritage Weekend at Folk Art Ctr
Sept 20-21: Farm Tour
Sept 20-21: Flock to Rock Birding Weekend
Sept 26-28: NOC's Guest Appreciation Weekend
Sept 26-28: Greek Festival
Sept 27: Carolina Craft Day NC Arboretum
Sept 27: Art on the Island Fest in Marshall
Sept 27: French Broad Brew Fest in Hot Springs
Oct 4: Blue Ridge Pride
Oct 4: Heritage Folk Festival in Mars Hill
Oct 4-5: Autumn at Oz at Beech Mtn
Oct 4, 11, 18: Asheville Art in the Park
Oct 4-5: Art on Main Downtown Hendersonville
Oct 11: 2nd Saturday Art Events River Arts District
Oct 11: Oktoberfest Downtown Asheville
Oct 11: Yancey County Dream Home Tour
Oct 11: Church Street Waynesville Art & Craft Show
Oct 11: Cycle to Farm Bike Tour
Oct 11-12: Bonsai Expo at NC Arboretum
Oct 11-12: Spruce Pine Potters & Heritage Fest
Oct 16-19: LEAF Festival
Oct 16-19: Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands
Oct 18-19: Tour de Falls Waterfall Tour
Oct 18-19: Woolly Worm Festival
Oct 18-19: NC Arboretum Chrysanthemum Show
Oct 18-19: Lake Lure Arts Festival
Oct 18: Apple Harvest Festival
Oct 19: HardLox Jewish Festival
Oct 25: NOCtoberfest
Oct 25: Downtown Brevard Halloweenfest
Nov 1: Western North Carolina Pottery Festival
Nov 1-2: Weaverville Art Safari
Nov 8-9: River District Artists Studio Stroll
AUTUMN LEAF WATCHING 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 pretty busy at attractions such as Biltmore Estate, and highways and country roads will be busier.
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.
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.
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.
THANKSGIVING & CHRISTMAS
Looking ahead, see our Thanksgiving Things to Do and Top Holiday Outings.