It’s the second week of October and, right on cue, the mountain foliage is making the striking transitions to the color that bring 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.
At the northernmost end of the Parkway in Virginia from Mileposts 27 to 91, there is a good beginning to fall, with a good variety of trees showing color with 20-30% color change. Some of the trees are just starting to show their color, others are in full display, and some are past their peak with leaves on the ground.
At the higher elevations of 2,500-3,000 feet, between Mileposts 37 and 45, there are nice displays, with the Hickories, Dogwoods, Red Maple, Striped Maple, Tulip Poplar, Virginia Creeper, Grapevine, Birches, Oaks, and even Blueberry Bushes showing color.
The colors near James River are just beginning, and seem to be a week or two behind the higher elevations.
In North Carolina between the Boone-Blowing Rock area and the Minerals Museum, the colors have really started to turn and become more widespread, but have not yet peaked. Sims Pond near Milepost 296 is an outstanding spot to view fall foliage. with especially vibrant scarlet Sourwood leaves, red and yellow Maple leaves, and yellowish-brown Tulip Poplar leaves.
Between the Moses Cone Memorial Park and Price Lake, various Maples, Fraser Magnolia, White Oaks, Tulip Poplar, Sassafras, Sourwood, Dogwood, and American Beech are all changing and offer a vibrant and striking palette of red, yellow, orange, and brown colors.
On Grandfather Mountain fall colors have become more widespread and have increased in intensity and variety.
Further south, the high elevation areas around Mount Mitchell and Craggy Gardens are near the peak of their fall color, showing reds, oranges, and yellows as you drive along the road. The overlooks in the Craggy area are beautiful right now, as you can look out at the high elevation colors while also looking down on the still green valleys thousands of feet below you.
Driving from Asheville to the Mt. Pisgah area, fall color can be seen in the changing Maple, Dogwood, Sourwood, Sassafras, and Oak trees. Mt. Pisgah is showing color at about 50%, with the lower elevations around 25-35%.
At the southern end of the Parkway, fall color is showing nicely and should reach its peak by mid-month. Graveyard Fields is the most advanced area, with 75-85% color change showing.
Enjoy October in the mountains. Check out the Fall Festivals in our neighboring towns. Drive carefully while on the Parkway. Keep your eyes on the road as you enjoy the view.