2020 Fall Color Report for the North Carolina Mountains, Week 1

Welcome to our weekly fall color reports for 2020. We’ve been doing these fall foliage updates for several years now and this is the first year in a while where we can say that this first week of the season has been showing some real potential for fabulous early color… let’s discuss!

Flagstone path leading into the distant background with fall leaves covering some of the stones

The walking path between our sculptures, labyrinth and wetlands boardwalk

When the fall season officially kicked off on September 22, as is usually the case in our neck of the woods, the temperatures started dropping in the evenings. And the higher-than-average rainfall that we had in late summer seemed to magically give way to our normal drier climate (with an off day here and there). Within a few days, noticeable fall colors started appearing on a few trees. Keep in mind we are VERY early in the season and have a long way to go… and let’s just pretend that 2020 isn’t listening and ready to throw us a curveball. But we have high hopes for a very pretty start to October with lots of color to come. 

Two large trees with fall color on a lawn with a two-person swing between them, facing a wooded area

The tupelo trees on our south lawn are always early changers

At our elevation (2,300 feet), our handful of early changers have burst out of the gate. We have little pops of color here and there among the green, in particular the scarlet-hued dogwoods, bright yellow carolina silverbells, orange-crimson tupelos and stunning red sourwoods, the latter of which tends to stay colorful throughout the season. And don’t forget the wildflowers this time of year, such as purple asters, fire-engine-red cardinal flower, and goldenrod. Visitors to our area early in the fall season also have the opportunity to see Monarch butterflies migrating through, and keep an eye out for the numerous migrating warblers and other birds heading south as well.

Sunshine shining through a wooded hillside covered in leafy trees, some of which are showing fall color

Hints of fall color area already showing at the Inn on Mill Creek

Closeup of a monarch butterfly on a white butterfly bush bloom

Monarch butterflies migrate through from late September through mid-October

If you’ll be in the greater Asheville area September 30 – October 6, your best bet for finding fall color is to head to higher elevations, above 5,500 feet, using the journey to look for color progressing along the way and to take advantage of stellar mountain vistas. This year, the theme for our fall color reports is The Hunt for Red… and Orange… and Yellow… October. Pack some layers for cool October temperatures at high elevations and check out the following suggestions for Week 1:

Graveyard Fields: A perennial early fall destination, Graveyard Fields is in a valley at 5,000 feet in elevation, surrounded by hills at 6,000+ feet. There you’ll find two waterfalls and a hiking trail across the valley between them. See hike info at www.hikewnc.info/besthikes/graveyard-fields/graveyard-fields. Red and orange tones typically dominate the landscape, which include wild blueberry bushes, in early October. To get there, simply take the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Asheville to Milepost 418. Parking is right off the Parkway. Planning Tip: Graveyard Fields is a very popular spot in early October so it’s best to go midweek if you can.

Grandfather Mountain and Rough Ridge: The mountain is just starting to show color so plan a trip up Hwy 221 north out of Marion, where sporadic gold tones of birch, silverbell trees and sassafras can be spotted the closer you get to your destination. Grandfather Mountain’s entrance is off of Hwy 221 north of Linville. Spend some time at Grandfather — they’re offering guided hikes from October 3-11 — then go a little further up Hwy 221 and jump on the Blue Ridge Parkway heading north a few more miles to Milepost 302.8. There you’ll find parking for a portion of the 13-mile Tanawha Trail known as Rough Ridge. Enjoy the great views and beautiful early color. See more details about the hike at www.romanticasheville.com/rough_ridge.htm. Planning Tip: Grandfather Mountain is currently requiring visitors to purchase admission tickets online in advance so book early.

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