We are well on our way to having one of the more colorful fall seasons in our 13 years at the Inn on Mill Creek Bed & Breakfast! Mother Nature has really outdone herself in 2020, perhaps knowing that we needed this beautiful break in a chaotic time. Let’s see where things stand with the progression of fall foliage in the mountains around Asheville, NC, as we head through the third full week of October.
Color is quickly going past peak at many places above 4,500 feet, but there are also a few areas above 4,000 feet that still have more color to come thanks to an abundance of late changing tree species. The fall foliage is changing gradually this year rather than in spurts every other week, and different spots at the same elevation can show different progression due to varying tree types and microclimates and that is very obvious this year. Color is most abundant below 3,000 feet. Here in our immediate neighborhood of Pisgah National Forest at 2,300 feet, the hickories, sassafras, sweet gums, birch and some maples are bright and beautiful, helped along by a few cold nights this past weekend. The dogwoods and sourwoods are also keeping their color for the most part. But temperatures are back in the mid-70s and the oak leaves are just starting to change, so we suspect there will be a few more weeks of color, albeit not as bold and bright as right now, happening in our neck of the woods.
Along with beautiful fall color, we’re also enjoying the nice variety of birds in Pisgah National Forest as migration nears an end, plus it seems we have a few newcomers to the neighborhood, including this Red-breasted Nuthatch spotted for the first time last week.
Continuing this year’s fall color report theme of The Hunt for Red… and Orange… and Yellow October, and noting that color change is so varied this year, there are several places to check out if you’ll be in our area of western North Carolina October 21-27:
- The Blue Ridge Parkway north from Asheville to Craggy Gardens: Going north from the Folk Art Center at Milepost 382.6 in Asheville, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a curvy tree-lined drive that gradually takes you up in elevation to views starting around Milepost 368 at Craggy Gardens, with a picnic area, a visitor center, and a set of peaks called the Craggies with hiking trails like Craggy Pinnacle. Note that Craggy Gardens itself is going to be past peak as it’s above 5,000 feet, but the expansive view from Craggy Pinnacle at 5,800 feet is worth braving cool temperatures and possible wind gusts. If you’re not feeling up for a hike, the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center parking lot near Milepost 364 has an awesome view as well (but parking can be a challenge if you’re there on a weekend). Along the way from Asheville to Craggy Gardens is another great hike near Milepost 375 called Rattlesnake Lodge, which is the location of one of our favorite hiking trail photos of all time capturing one of Rosco the Innpug’s first hikes.
- The Blue Ridge Parkway south from Highway 80 to Mount Mitchell State Park with bonus waterfall hikes: Another stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway that shows off beautiful color around every turn and at every overlook this time of year is between Highway 80 north of Marion at Milepost 344 and Mount Mitchell State Park at Milepost 355.4. Bonus waterfall hike side trip #1: If you go north a few miles on Highway 80 past the Parkway, you’ll find a great waterfall hike called Roaring Fork Falls. Bonus waterfall hike side trip #2: If you want to turn the other direction off of Highway 80, going north on the Blue Ridge Parkway for more hiking options, check out Crabtree Falls at Milepost 339.5. One of our favorite scenic drive loops from the Inn on Mill Creek that incorporates this section of the Blue Ridge Parkway is Highway 70 east to Highway 80 north, then south (really southwest) on the Parkway to Curtis Creek Road (best traveled in a four-wheel drive vehicle), which intersects the Parkway at around Milepost 352, just before Mount Mitchell State Park, and goes back south to Old Fort. Along the way from Highway 80 on the Blue Ridge Parkway south to Curtis Creek Road is Milepost 350.4, where you’ll find the Green Knob overlook plus parking area for the Green Knob hiking trail, with views looking south toward the Inn.
- The Montreat Hiking Trail System: Just north of the town of Black Mountain, about 15 minutes from the Inn on Mill Creek, is the community of Montreat, with a a fabulous set of hiking trails maintained by the Montreat Conference Center. The trails have varying degrees of difficulty, from nature walks in the woods to hikes with a view. We have trail maps here at the Inn for guests.
- The Point Lookout Trail near the Inn on Mill Creek: Stick close to our neighborhood with a walk on the 3.5-mile paved greenway, Point Lookout Trail. From the upper end of the greenway at the intersection of our road and Yates Avenue about 1.5 miles from the Inn, the first mile of the greenway brings you to a gorgeous overlook, viewing 20+ miles of peaks in the 2,000-3,000 foot elevation range covered in velvety oranges. Special note: On the greenway, you’ll see a red feather icon painted on the pavement, which is the marker for the 90-mile Fonta Flora State Trail, of which Point Lookout Trail will be a part.