Fall is progressing quite nicely as we head toward the the third weekend of October, with bright yellows as the dominant color in our neck of the woods, 2,300 feet in elevation inside Pisgah National Forest east of Asheville. Read on for tips on where to spot great color this week and next.
Just as we suspected, the 2020 fall season is differing from the past few years, in a good way. We’re seeing more consistent gradual color change in the middle of October this year, whereas previous years saw a stall in color, with early changing leaves dropping by mid-month and late changers not quite ready to show their stuff. That is definitely not the case this year.
Although we had two days of rain over the weekend, leaf drop was fairly minimal in our neighborhood of Pisgah National Forest. A lot of leaves on dogwoods, tupelos, sweet gums, carolina silverbells and sourwood trees had just started changing when the rain showed up and those trees have kept their color, and there has been little wind to knock leaves down (other than the tulip poplars, which have been disappointing for several years now but are actually looking more golden-hued than brown this year). Now we have bold bright yellows and stunning reds starting to shine in the landscape, as birch, maple, hickory, sumac, sassafras trees join the fall color show already in progress.
Our theme for this year’s weekly fall color reports is The Hunt for Red… and Orange… and Yellow… October, and if you’re on the lookout for peak and near-peak fall foliage in the North Carolina mountains from October 14-20, we highly recommend a drive to one of the following destinations:
The Blue Ridge Parkway between Little Switzerland and Linville/Grandfather Mountain, northeast of Asheville: Take Highway 70 east from Old Fort to Highway 221 north out of Marion to Highway 226 to the Blue Ridge Parkway, just north of Little Switzerland at Milepost 331 — and continue heading north on the Blue Ridge Parkway for more than 25 miles of gorgeous fall color everywhere you turn and a trip around Grandfather Mountain on one of the Parkway’s greatest engineering feats, the Linn Cove Viaduct at Milepost 304.4. Highlights along the way include Chestoa View, Linville Falls, and Grandfather Mountain (note, advance reservations are required for Grandfather Mountain).
Mount Mitchell State Park: Home to Mount Mitchell, the highest peak in the eastern United States — and five others on the of highest ten peaks in the east — Mount Mitchell State Park provides excellent 360-degree views of the mountains in all directions as well as nice hiking trails. The state park is off of the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 355.4 northeast of Asheville. We recommend a driving loop from Highway 70 east out of Old Fort to Highway 80 north in Marion, which will bring you to the Parkway at Milepost 344. Then go south on the Parkway to Highway 128 and drive to the parking area at Mount Mitchell State Park. To get back to the Inn on Mill Creek, head further south on the Blue Ridge Parkway back to Highway 70 in Asheville, just past the Folk Art Center. If you’re in the mood for even more hiking, check out Roaring Fork Falls and Setrock Creek Falls just off of Highway 80 north of the Parkway.
The Blue Ridge Parkway from Mt. Pisgah to the Looking Glass Rock overlook: Going south on the Blue Ridge Parkway from Asheville, check out Mt. Pisgah at Milepost 408.6, which inspired the naming of Pisgah National Forest. A hike from the parking lot offers great high elevation views. Driving further south on the Blue Ridge Parkway another nine miles brings you to Milepost 417 and an overlook with a view of the iconic Looking Glass Rock, a natural feature made of compressed volcanic rock that towers over the surrounding ridges. Feeling adventurous? There’s a hike to the top of Looking Glass Rock. For more exploring southwest of Asheville, get off the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 412 (Highway 276) and head to the Cradle of Forestry, a 6,500-acre heritage site at the location of the nation’s first school of forestry, which now includes paved interactive hiking trails. It’s about 20 minutes from the Mt. Pisgah parking lot.