It’s the middle of October and the mountain foliage is making the striking transitions 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 elevations and north-south orientation. Anyone who does this from now until late October will catch at least some of the pretty color that we’re famous for.
In Virginia the northern district of the Parkway is just about to reach its peak for this autumn. Many species of trees are in full color at various elevations, and a few leaves have already been blown or rained down. Tree species displaying color include Sourwood, Dogwood, several Hickory species, Tulip Poplar, Birch, Red Maple, Striped Maple, Oaks, Cucumber Tree, Virginia Creeper, Sassafras, Pawpaw, and Black Walnut.
The James River area shows about 50% of the trees with color right now, while the Montaballo area is probably closer to 80% color in the trees.
The Peaks of Otter area is showing really nice color as well.
In North Carolina there are good colors from the Boone/Blowing Rock area at Milepost 292 through the Minerals Museum at Milepost 331.
Near the Moses Cone Manor House, there are views of gold, yellow, burnt orange, and orange-red colors, along with green. Oaks, Maples, and Fraser Magnolia are providing much of the color, and late-blooming Purple Aster, Goldenrod, Hyrangea, and Smartwood can still be seen.
A little south at Price Lake, 60%-75% of the leaves have turned, with a good display of bright red, yellow, orange, orange-pink, and contrasting green colors.
The Linn Cove Viaduct area is presenting a stunning palette of fall colors with Fraser Magnolia showing a brownish-yellow color, Dogwood a deep red, Red and Sugar Maple a reddish hue, Silver Maples yellow, brown, and red, Oaks are red, yellow, brown, and green, and Striped Maple, Moutain Maple, Witch Hazel, and American Beech all predominately yellow and brown.
On Grandfather Mountain the colors are out in force and are near peak, and have increased in intensity, variety, and breadth of coverage.
From Linville Falls to the Minerals Museum, the colors are also starting to peak. Colors showing are red from the Maples and Dogwoods, yellow from the White Oaks, Chestnut Oaks, Poplars, Buckeye, and Birches. The Virginia Creeper vines are vibrantly scarlet, and the Sourwood leaves are showing a deep red to burgundy color.
North of Asheville, Craggy Gardens has already passed its peak of color, but the high elevation overlooks are beautiful right now, as you can look out at the changing colors below you. Peak color can be found between 3,500 and 5,000 feet in places like the Craggy Gardens Picnic area and Lane Pinnacle Overlook. There are nice, vibrant red and yellow colors with the Dogwood and Sourwood trees in particular putting on a good display.
From Asheville to about 3,500 feet, the color change is between 50% and 75%. Driving from Asheville south to the Mount Pisgah area, fall color can be seen in the changing Maple, Dogwood, Sourwood, Sassafras, and Oak trees.
The mid elevations are at 50% color change; the higher mountain areas are at peak or just past peak for color.
At the southern end of the Parkway, the higher elevations have generally passed their peak and lost their leaves, but the long-range views still have nice color, with the valleys below at 50%-75%.
Enjoy October in the mountains. Check out the fall festivals in our neighboring towns. Drive carefully while you are on the Parkway. Keep your eyes on the road as you enjoy the view.