The fall leaf show in the mountains and foothills surrounding Asheville in western North Carolina brings a kaleidoscope of colors for many weeks. Our Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains have one of the longest autumn color seasons in the country, thanks to our many 6,000-foot peaks (highest in eastern USA), deep valleys and varying microclimates. Experience a 5-week span of color that slowly descends from the tallest ridges down to the lowest valleys. During the past 14 years, we've tracked the foliage peak times and best places to see. Get details below! (Pic above: South Mountains State Park trail to High Shoals Falls in early November.)
Sept 25, 2017: Photo of Linn Cove Viaduct with first fall colors. See our Top 20 Fall Spots Along the Blue Ridge Parkway
Blue Ridge Parkway & Mountains Fall Foliage Forecast 2017
Everyone asks: “When is peak color?” The great news is that we usually have 5 to 6 weeks of autumn color in our mountains and foothills. Find the areas of best color by taking a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway or other scenic roads up and down the ridges. Elevation is the biggest factor for time of color change. An early frost speeds up the color change and warm weather prolongs it.
Peak Color 2017 Prediction
September 25, 2017 Update: Spotty color is appearing in the highest regions. While color started a little early due to cool weather, the last week of summertime temperatures have slowed the transition. More warm weather coming this week, so color change will be slow. Best color now along the Blue Ridge Parkway is found in the Grandfather Mountain and Graveyard Fields areas. The Craggy Gardens summits are past peak due to Irma's high winds taking down so many leaves, but valley views are green. Watch for more updates on our Facebook page.
Weather Outlook: Summertime temps this week through Thursday (highs in 80s in valleys and 70s in most of mountains). Much cooler this weekend, but plenty of sun.
- September Last Week: 6,000+ feet elevation: Many high ridges like Mount Mitchell have spotty color, while these two lofty places along the Parkway usually have the most early color: Rough Ridge at Grandfather Mountain and Graveyard Fields.
- October First Week: Above 5,000 feet elevation. The leaves in the highest mountains north of Asheville turn first, especially , Craggy Gardens, and Beech Mountain. South on the Parkway, head to Waterrock Knob and Black Balsam areas.
- October Second Week: 4,000-5,000 feet elevation. Brilliant color really picks up steam, including Mount Pisgah and Devil's Courthouse areas south on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The mountains surrounding Waynesville and Cashiers peak, including Whiteside Mountain with the Shadow of the Bear. Also, see colorful highest ridges of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and drive the Cherohala Skyway. Camp at Lake Santeetlah.
- October Third Week: 3,000-4,000 feet elevation. The ultimate week for the most color including large sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway. This also includes much of Pisgah National Forest. Drive the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway. Top hikes there include Looking Glass Rock or Cradle of Forestry. North of Asheville, best color will be Banner Elk and hikes to Table Rock and Hawksbill Mountain at Linville Gorge. West of Asheville, head to Maggie Valley, Cherokee and Bryson City.
- October Last Week: 2,000-3,000 feet elevation. The city of Asheville, French Broad River and Biltmore Estate show their best color, along with many of our small towns including Sylva and Saluda. It's a great time for a waterfall hike in DuPont State Forest or a stroll at the NC Arboretum.
- November First Week: 1,000-2,000 feet elevation. Color fills the lush Hickory Nut Gorge at Chimney Rock. See the fall reflections on Lake Lure. Also hike and camp at Lake James and South Mountains State Parks east of Asheville. The leaf progression concludes in the foothills around Marion, Rutherfordton and Tryon Foothills Wine Country.
Note: We tweak this forecast depending on weather patterns and our observations. Please remember that locations for peak color are estimations based on previous years. Also, areas at the exact same elevation often change at different times, depending on sun exposure, soil conditions and more.
There are many festivals and events tor enjoy in September and October. See our 40 Favorite Fall Festivals.
Best Photo Spots
Find our top places to capture the colors with our Fall Photo Journal 2016, 2015 and 2014. Also see our favorite Scenic Drives, Motorcycle Drives, Mountain Views and Pet-Friendly guides.
Pic: Dry Falls
Autumn Leaf Viewing Tips
Here are some of our tips for a fabulous fall getaway:
- Make your lodging reservations ASAP at our top B&Bs, cabins and hotels. Many book up weekends well in advance.
- To avoid the biggest crowds and to save on lodging, stay Sunday through Thursday nights. Saturdays during October are very busy everywhere!
- If you are exploring the outdoors in our national parks and forests, research first. Frequently, you will not have cell or Internet service in remote areas including many hiking trails and waterfalls.
- With the varying elevations of the Blue Ridge Parkway, it is the easiest place to find color. The elevation of the Parkway in Asheville is approximately 2,200 feet, and it rises to 6,000+ feet as you drive north or south. When you find a particular area of brilliant foliage, take a hike, picnic at an overlook or detour on an intersecting road. Be patient and expect slow traffic, especially Saturdays and Sundays. Since the Parkway has limited signage for things to do along the road, see our Blue Ridge Parkway Top 20 Fall Stops.
- If you encounter fog and low clouds on the Blue Ridge Parkway, don't despair. The weather changes rapidly, so it could be sunny around the next bend. 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.
- Bring a sweater or jacket. While it might be 70 and sunny in Asheville, it could be 20 degrees cooler at the higher elevations. Rainy day? Here are some indoor options for things to do.
- Take a picnic or snacks, especially if you are driving the Parkway. Restaurants and stores can be hard to find in the most scenic areas.
- For visits to Biltmore Estate, buy your tickets in advance to save money and to get your preferred house tour time. See our Fall at Biltmore Guide for details.
- Fill up the gas tank before leaving the city. Gas stations are sparse in remote areas and there are none along the Parkway.
- Don't rely 100% on your GPS to navigate our mountain roads. That's a good way to get lost. Take a map or our written directions for the many places we feature.
- Take your camera. The warm light of the early morning or late afternoon can create especially dramatic images. Rainy days often provide the most striking and rich photos! Morning fog also creates dramatic photo opportunities.
- Enhance fall colors by wearing polarized sunglasses.