It’s the second week of October and right on cue, the mountain foliage is making the striking 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 elevations, 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.
In Virginia the colors are underway. At the northern most part of the Parkway, the Ash, Walnut, Hickory, Tree-of-Heaven, Hackberry, Poplar, and other species of trees are producing vibrant gold, yellow, and yellow-brown colors. Brilliant red and bronze colors are showing on the Maples, Dogwood, Virginia Creeper, Sumac, and Black Gum trees.
The understory is at about 50 percent color change; however, the canopy is still mostly green when viewed from the overlook. This means that there is a lot of color on the trees that you can see while driving along the Parkway, but not as much when you stop at the overlooks to view the panorama.
The Peaks of Otter area is reporting fall colors in the Black Cherry, Black Gum, Black Walnut, Box Elder, Choke Cherry, Dogwood, Mountain Ash, Red Maple, Sassafras, Paradise, Shag Bark Hickory, Sourwood, Striped Maple, Sweet Birch, Tulip Poplar, and White Ash trees, as well as in the Wild Grapevine, Winged Sumac, Poison Ivy, and Virginia Creeper.
In North Carolina we have reports of some nice color mixing with the green leaves in the Boone / Blowing Rock area from Milepost 284 to 295. Colors are even more intense near the Linn Cove Viaduct, particularly between Milepost 300 and 306. Fall blooming Witch Hazel, Goldenrod, and Aster wildflowers are still being seen in the area as well.
Craggy Gardens is at the peak of its 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 Mount Pisgah area, fall color can be seen in the changing Maple, Dogwood, Sourwood, Sassafras, and Oak trees. Mount Pisgah is approaching its peak showing color at 75 percent from milepost 400 to 413. The lower elevations are at about 50 percent.
At the southern end of the Parkway, fall color is showing nicely and is expected to be generally at peak this coming weekend. At the higher elevations, the long-range views still have nice color but the immediate road side is showing some bare branches.
Places like Graveyard Fields, Waterrock Knob, and Richland Balsam have all passed their peak of color, but the long-range views from these high points are still good.
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!