The fall foliage show in the mountains and foothills surrounding Asheville in western North Carolina brings a kaleidoscope of leaf colors for many weeks. Our Blue Ridge and the Great Smoky Mountains have one of the longest autumn color seasons in the country, thanks to our many 6,000-foot peaks (highest in the 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 15 years, we've tracked the foliage peak times and best places to see. (Feature Photo: Chimney Rock)
Blue Ridge Parkway & Mountains Fall Color Forecast 2020
Leaf peepers ask: “When is peak color?” Great news... we have many weeks of autumn color in our mountains and foothills. Since you find the areas of best color by simply driving the Blue Ridge Parkway or other scenic roads up and down the ridges, you don't have to worry about exact dates. The elevation is the biggest factor for the time of color change. Also, chilly sunny weather speeds up the color change and warm weather and rain prolong it. See the many details below!
Our Typical Peak Foliage Color Timeline - Don't focus on exact dates since nobody can predict mother nature.
Shadow of the Bear by Lisa Duncan Taylor via Facebook
- September last week: Spotty color begins at 6,000+ feet in the highest mountains plus on high rocky ridges including Rough Ridge and Graveyard Fields on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
- October First Week: Colors transform above 5,000 feet elevation, including Mount Mitchell and Grandfather Mountain. Mile-high Beech Mountain is a great place to stay for refreshing temperatures. South on the Parkway, head to Waterrock Knob and Black Balsam areas. Hike & picnic atop both Max Patch and Roan Mountain on the AT.
- October Second Week: 4,000-5,000 feet elevation. Best colors really pick 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 the 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 includes large sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Check out Little Switzerland off the Parkway, as well as Bakersville and Spruce Pine. This also includes much of Pisgah National Forest near Brevard. Drive the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway. Top hikes there include Looking Glass Rock or Cradle of Forestry. North of Asheville, the 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 Fourth Week: 2,000-3,000 feet elevation. The city of Asheville, French Broad River, and Biltmore 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.
Fall color on Biltmore Estate includes the massive mum display in the Walled Garden. See our Fall at Biltmore Guide.
Blue Ridge Parkway Top Stops
One of America's top scenic drives is the best place to see the autumn show. See our 20 Parkway Top Fall Stops near Asheville.
There are many street festivals and autumn-themed events in September and October in Asheville and nearby small towns. See our 40 Favorite Fall Festivals. (Due to COVID, many fall festivals will be canceled or postponed for 2020. Find more on our Travel Updates for Western NC.)
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 Blue Ridge Parkway's great variation of elevation, it is the easiest place to find color during most of October. 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. 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.
- Bringing the dog? See our Pet-Friendly Guide.
- 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.