Week 3 of the fall foliage season in western North Carolina is feeling a lot like the night before Christmas, or the day before you get to see a loved one after several years apart, or the moment before you get served your very favorite dish at your very favorite restaurant. Anticipation is building, something special is coming soon, the hints are there… patience… it’s hard!
We’ve had to deal with rain the past three days, making leaf peeping a challenge due to fog, bleh, but we have good news to report! The forecast for the rest of this week and into the weekend of October 11th looks very promising, with highs in the low 70s during the day, 50s at night, and hardly any chance of rain (fingers crossed it stays that way). Color is happening in isolated tiny bursts right now, and fall color hunters will still need to venture higher than 4,500 feet to find dashes of crimson, gold and orange among all the green. The Blue Ridge Parkway near Grandfather Mountain is showing bits of color here and there, with the added pops of red provided by mountain ash berries.
Recommended hikes for Week 3:
- The Bridge Trail at Grandfather Mountain off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Hwy 221 northeast of Asheville heads up a series of switchbacks from the hiker’s parking area of Grandfather Mountain to the visitor center. Check out the Mile-High Swinging Bridge while you’re there.
- The Deep Gap Trail at Mount Mitchell State Park off the Blue Ridge Parkway north of Asheville, specifically the first mile from the peak of Mt. Mitchell (tallest peak in the eastern United States) to Mt. Craig (the second tallest peak in the eastern United States). Be sure to wear layers for elevations above 6,000 feet and remember the weather can change on a dime.
- The Sam Knob Summit Trail off of Hwy 215 southwest of Asheville. Views, views, views, and we hear that there is fall color happening the area around Sam Knob. Added bonus: Hwy 215 is a pretty drive.
While we wait for Mother Nature to finish wrapping her gift of fall foliage to give to us at our elevation (2,300 feet), we can still talk trees. It’s time for our weekly segment of Seeing the Forest through the Trees, where we feature one of our native tree species here in the North Carolina mountains. This week, it’s the beautiful birch tree. There are different types of birch trees here in our area, including River Birch, White Birch, Mountain Paper Birch (found at high elevations, for example, at Mount Mitchell State Park), and Yellow Birch. We’re going to focus on our favorite, the Sweet Birch.
While it doesn’t grow as tall as the Yellow Birch, doesn’t have as rough, peel-away bark as the River Birch and Mountain Paper Birch, and its bark isn’t as light as the White Birch, it does have very cool looking catkin flowers that can be 3 to 4 inches long, and another nice characteristic of this tree is that the twigs smell like wintergreen when broken. But what we really like is that the glossy green leaves of the Sweet Birch turn a striking gold color in the fall and it is an early to mid-season changer whose leaves tend to stay on the trees for a while, so it’s an awesome contributor to our fabulous fall foliage here in the mountains of North Carolina.
What will Week 4 bring in terms of fall color? Stay tuned!