Fall color is turning quickly and early on the Blue Ridge Parkway this year. There are many factors contributing to the variation in when and where autumn color will peak. The Parkway stretches almost 500 miles from north to south through mountainous regions. It meanders from east to west facing slopes and most importantly, it varies in elevation, from just under 650 feet at the James River in Virginia to over 6000 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 along the Parkway, changing elevations and east-west orientations. Anyone who does this over the next week or two will catch at least some of the pretty color that the Blue Ridge Parkway is famous for. In Virginia south of Roanoke, through the Mabry Mill and Rocky Knob area, down to the state line, the Maples, the Poplars, the Dogwoods and the Ashe are at about 50% to 60% of fall color peaks right now. Look for the nice red of the Sumac from around milepost 155 to 160. Fall wildflowers are still beautiful in this area of the high plateau within agricultural fields adjacent to the roadway. Sweet Golden Rod, Sneezeweed, and some Cardinal flowers are especially nice throughout the district. In the Doughton Park area of North Carolina, lots of the same species and color reports apply, with Dogwood, Maple and Sourwood showing red, along with the bright yellows of Poplar in many areas. Blooming nicely in this are the Golden Rods, Jewelweed and many others. In the Blowing Rock area, color is spectacular from the high elevations around Grandfather Mountain. A featured hike here is the hike from Flat Rock at milepost 308.2. As you emerge from the woods on to the Flat Rock you can see the colors on Grandfather in the distance and up close the red of the Blueberries, the Redberries, the Mountain Ashe and the Red Oak. For late wildflowers, check out the meadow at Crabtree Meadows at milepost 340. You can see late Purple Aster, Snake Root and various Golden Rods as you walk down the amphitheater to access the meadow. As you drive along the Parkway, key color areas throughout here are from about milepost 312 to 317 where the Dogwoods, Maples and Oaks are very pretty. Around Mt. Mitchell, between milepost 350 and 358, the Mountain Ashe and the Maple are spectacular. Sweet Birch is turning yellow and the Sourwood’s red color is very nice right now. We don’t think about Rhododendron this time of year but some of those leaves fall off each year making room for new growth and the bright yellow of these dying leaves makes for a nice addition to the fall color along the Blue Ridge Parkway. South of Asheville, in the 5000 foot and above elevation, the color will probably peak this weekend. That would include Graveyard Fields and Waterrock Knob. Ironweed, Jewelweed, Golden Rod and Smartweed are all in bloom here as well. Weekends in October tend to be crowded, so expect heavy traffic and use the overlooks for frequent rests. Please follow Parkway rules of etiquette and allow faster moving cars to pass by. Remember the Parkway has tighter than normal curves, early morning fog and lots of wildlife that demand more caution than your typical driving experience. Enjoy the view, but watch the road.
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