We are heading into mid-October and fall is upon us. The mountain foliage, right on cue, is making the stunning transition to the color that brings so much attention here in the fall. Typically, the Blue Ridge Parkway experiences the much-anticipated change in fall foliage around the middle of October. Many factors, however, contribute to variations in when and where colors will peak. The Parkway stretches almost 500 miles north-to-south, meanders from the east- to west-facing slopes, and most importantly, varies in elevation from just under 650 feet at James River in Virginia to over 6,000 feet south of Mt. Pisgah in North Carolina.
Many visitors have been frustrated trying to go to one spot on one day in October, hoping to find the leaves in full color. A far better plan is to drive some distance on the Parkway, changing elevation and north-south orientation. Anyone who does this from now until mid- to late-October will catch at least some of the pretty color that we’re famous for.
Remember that weather conditions like wind and rain can accelerate the rate at which leaves fall off the trees, so get out and see the color while it’s there.
Virginia, Milepost 0-50
In Virginia at the northernmost part of the Parkway, there are full color dogwoods, sourwoods, and a few other species mixed into a still mostly green backdrop. There are some nice colors along Highway 43 coming up from Buchanan to the Parkway, with full color birches, sourwoods, dogwoods, red maples, and tulip trees just starting to change.
James River Area, around Milepost 60
The James River area is starting to change as well, and the slopes around Milepost 53 have a nice mix of species that change to a brilliant red color.
North Carolina, Mileposts 294-331
In North Carolina, from Moses Cone to the Minerals Museum, the fall color is really beginning to show along the Parkway. From Flat Rock north towards Grandfather Mountain, the maples and the dogwoods are turning red, and the Virginia creeper vines are vibrantly scarlet. The white oaks, chestnut oaks, poplars, birch, and yellow buckeyes are all showing a predominately yellow color. Gentian, some goldenrod, and a variety of aster are still in bloom along the Parkway.
The Linn Cove Visitor Center, Milepost 304
Around the Linn Cove Visitor Center, Fraser magnolia leaves are brownish-yellow, dogwood leaves have turned red, red and sugar maple foliage is showing a reddish hue, silver maple leaves are showing yellow, brown, and red, mountain maples have been showing a brownish color, striped maple leaves are yellowish-brown, and American beech leaves are showing yellow and brown.
Grandfather Mountain, Milepost 305
On Grandfather Mountain fall colors have become more widespread and have increased in intensity and variety, and are increasing daily with new splashes of reds, yellow, and oranges.
Price Lake and Moses Cone, Mileposts 294-297
While Grandfather Mountain has by far the most vivid color at the moment, Price Lake and Moses Cone are not too far behind. Rich red sourwood leaves are out in force and accompany the yellowish blooms that can be seen throughout the park. There is also a good showing of maples along Price Lake, with beautiful red colors. At Price Picnic area, some yellow, orange, and red maple leaves are presenting a limited through striking display.
The most striking view on the Cone Estate is looking through the maples at Bass Lake, which are presenting lots of yellow and red and some orange coloration, up the fields still covered in purple aster towards the house. Goldenrod is also still blooming at the Estate.
Linville Falls, Milepost 316
Linville Falls is also showing good color. It has reached 40-50% of its peak display with a number of oranges, yellows, and red. Looking down from Erwin’s View at the falls and into the gorge, there are very prevalent patches of color.
Craggy Gardens, near Milepost 364
The high elevation of Craggy Gardens has already reached its peak for fall foliage, and some of the trees are now bare after being hit with some significant wind and rain. Just below Craggy Gardens, from 3,000 feet to 5,000 feet, the color change is between 50% and 75% depending on where you are viewing. Any of the overlooks in the Craggy Gardens area should give you some spectacular views of the surrounding colors.
The lower elevation of Asheville is still predominately green, with about 20-30% color change. Aster and goldenrod blooms are still common in this area.
Mt. Pisgah, near Milepost 408
Driving south from Asheville towards Mt. Pisgah, fall color is really coming on in the changing red oaks, tulip poplar, dogwoods, maples, sassafras, poison ivy, and Virginia creeper. The deep red to scarlet colors of the changing sourwood trees are stunning. The mid elevations are at 50-75% color change, while the higher elevation of Mt. Pisgah is approaching its peak of color.
The Southern Sections – Mileposts 418-469
At the southern end of the Parkway, Graveyard Fields is at its peak and simply spectacular with stunning reds, rusts, and yellow dominating. The rest of the southern end of the Parkway is also looking good, with the highest points almost at their peak, and the mid elevations at about 50% color change. Waterrock Knob Visitor Center is a great place to see the colors down south right now.
As always, we remind you to drive carefully while on the Parkway. Keep your eyes on the road as you enjoy the view.