Fall Color in the North Carolina Mountains: Week 1

Welcome to the 2012 installment of our weekly reports on fall foliage in the mountains of North Carolina! We focus on areas within an hour of the Inn on Mill Creek near Asheville and Black Mountain, including the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The beginning of October is still mostly green at our elevation of 2,300 feet above sea level. It appeared that we were in for an early fall, but rain earlier this week {including this morning!} could stall the colors a bit.

For now, the burning bushes and goldenrod are providing a great show, while the majority of leaves on the trees gear up to change.

Along the Point Lookout Trail near the Inn

Some of the early changers are popping up here and there, including dogwoods, bright red sourwoods and tulip poplars. Unfortunately, the tulip poplars are having another rough year, perhaps as a lingering result of drought conditions in previous years, so their yellow leaves are tinged with brown.

Poor tulip poplars…maybe next year

A few maples are also starting to turn, as well as the birches and beeches, which are yellow and hard to miss along our road through Pisgah National Forest. One way to tell the beeches from the birches is that the beech trees will keep their leaves — that dull to a bronzy orange — into the wintertime.

If you come to the Inn in early October, look for one of the sourwood trees on Bernard Ridge above the pond.

Our sourwood tree never fails to disappoint!

The best places to see some early color this first week of October and this coming weekend are at higher elevations, which usually see their peak by mid-October. Here are two spots we recommend:

  • Mt. Mitchell: Evergreens (both alive and not alive anymore) dominate the landscape at the tallest peak in the eastern United States, but from the observation deck at the top, you can see panoramic views of the Black Mountain Range’s high peaks and early changing leaves dotting the landscape here and there. Mt. Mitchell State Park is located off of the Blue Ridge Parkway via Highway 128, about 60 minutes from the Inn on Mill Creek.
  • Grandfather Mountain: Look for mountain ash trees with their bright red berries along the road to the top of Grandfather Mountain. Grandfather’s eastern flank tends to change early, and is visible from the mountain’s Mile High Swinging Bridge. There are a couple of ways to get to Grandfather Mountain from the Inn on Mill Creek — we prefer Highway 221 north out of Marion. It’s scenic and not typically as busy as the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Keep in mind that the higher elevations typically see much cooler daytime temperatures than at the Inn this time of year, so be sure to wear layers.

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