Our fall color reports for 2017 have officially begun! Autumn is a spectacular season in the North Carolina mountains. Find out how to maximize your leaf peeping in the Asheville area each week with our fall foliage reports. It’s Week One. Let’s begin!
The first week of the fall season generally starts off with a whisper. Warm and sunny blue sky days end in nights that are cool, but not cold (unless you find 60 degrees cold, which Innkeeper Brigette does!). And a tiny number of trees might get some dabs of color to their leaves starting at the end of September… a sourwood tree here, a dogwood there. Typically, the celebrities of the early fall show are the many wildflowers: aster, cardinal flower, goldenrod, to name a few. But this year is different, with reports of good fall color in mid-September in a few places. Seriously?! Yes indeed!
The Asheville area is still mostly green. We repeat, the Asheville area is still mostly green. Still, at our elevation of 2,300 feet, some trees in the “early changers” group — dogwoods, sourwoods, black gums, tulip poplars and carolina silverbells — are showing off even earlier than usual. What does this mean for the fall season overall? Perhaps not a lot as warm weather last week and this past weekend put a stall on Mother Nature’s lead foot. (We see you trying to put your fall color pedal to the metal, Mother Nature.)
Where it’s really going color crazy is above 5,500 feet. Although that’s where most of the fall color begins anyway, a few spots are about a week ahead of schedule. While we repeat, again, the Asheville area is still mostly green right now, what you can expect in late September and early October this year is for some of our highest elevations in the area to have awesome color. And that, my friends, is what we love about the fall season in western North Carolina. It is gradual, beautiful, and long-lived. While we wait for fall foliage to really get going in our neck of the woods near Asheville and Black Mountain over the coming weeks, you don’t have to go hours out of your way to catch some color.
Now, as you know, each year we pick something fun to do for our fall color reports to help make suggestions on where to go and what to do. Last year, we had three themed hikes each week — To a View, Walk in the Woods, and Fall Color Waterfall. This year, we’re going on the road with something we’re calling Daytrip Destination Drives. Because the journey is usually just as nice, especially here in the mountains of North Carolina! We’ll bring you two Daytrip Destination Drives each week, plus nearby spots with fewer crowds, because as you know fall is the busiest season of all in the mountains.
Without further ado, here are our Daytrip Destination Drives for the time frame of September 26 – October 3:
Daytrip Destination Drive #1: Grandfather Mountain. Hugging the Blue Ridge Parkway and Highway 221 northeast of Asheville, Grandfather is more than just a mountain. With several hiking trails, a nature museum, picnic areas, wildlife habitats, a mile-high swinging bridge, and more, this state park/nature preserve has a little something for everyone. And at almost 6,000 feet in elevation, it has some of the earliest fall color in the mountains.
Grandfather Mountain’s Facebook Page is helping everyone to keep up with the colors, but if you can make it in person, it is so worth the trip. Be sure to check ahead of time to see if the entire mountain is open — Grandfather has some of the most extreme weather in the mountains and it can get rather windy up there! To get to Grandfather Mountain, we recommend a scenic drive on Highway 70 East out of Old Fort to Highway 221 North in Marion. That’s a beautiful drive that will take you all the way up to the Linville area, and Grandfather Mountain is right off Hwy 221, two miles north of Linville. Add some variety to your drive on the way back by taking the Blue Ridge Parkway south (at Milepost 305) to Highway 226 near Spruce Pine, which will bring you south back to Highway 221 just north of Marion.
Alternative Destination: A less-crowded spot not far from Grandfather Mountain is the Chestoa View overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway two miles south of Linville. Chestoa View has an easy half-mile hiking trail, a small picnic area, and an overlook that offers up a view of Grandfather Mountain and some of the other beautiful peaks in the greater Linville/Linville Gorge area. To get there, take the same route as above, going toward Linville on Highway 221, but then turn south on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Linville and drive two miles. The entrance to the overlook will be on your left.
Daytrip Destination Drive #2: Graveyard Fields. Graveyard Fields is an amazing valley at more than 5,000 feet in elevation. Located off the Blue Ridge Parkway southwest of Asheville, Graveyard Fields typically sees the earliest fall color of anywhere in the mountains around Asheville due to the types of shrubs and trees that are there and the elevation. Stunning red foliage of blueberry bushes and trees in the “fields” is surrounded by gorgeous golden tones in the trees above. Two waterfalls and the Yellowstone River (different from the one out west, obviously) provide many photo opportunities.
To get to Graveyard Fields, take the Blue Ridge Parkway south from Asheville to Milepost 418.8. You’ll see the parking lot on your right and you’ll be right above the “fields” part of Graveyard Fields. Stairs will lead you down to a paved pathway to the river, that you can cross and then head out on hiking trails from there.
Alternative Destination: If the crowds are looking crazy at Graveyard Fields, head a little further west to Flat Laurel Creek in another high-elevation valley, which has a 2.5-mile hiking loop.