Climate depends on latitude, elevation, and topography, and from one point to the next on the Blue Ridge Parkway, both elevation and topography may be drastically different. This causes weather conditions on the Parkway that are both extreme and fast-changing. Underlying seasonal transitions, while unique in each elevation range, are always dramatic. A visitor driving up a single mountainside may see climates as different as those in Georgia and in Canada. Summer temperatures reach the 90s, and winter sees extended periods of snow, ice, and single-digit temperatures.
Rain and fog occur routinely throughout the year. Rain showers are constant in summer, abate in fall, turn to periodic snow in winter, and increase again in spring. Rain characteristically falls on only one side of a ridgeline, so from the highest ridgetops, a visitor can oftentimes see multiple weather conditions in a single long-range view. Fog may come in the form of a billowing, wispy mist across roadsides, or as a haze so thick and heavy that is appears solid. When masses of fog cover the lower ground, higher peaks and ridges will look like islands in a vast ocean of clouds.
Much of the Blue Ridge Parkway runs through temperate rainforests, so rainfall in the summer is constant. Cold fronts may be followed by sunny periods, but the general rule is daily thunderstorms. The lower elevations experience temperatures as high as the low 90s, the higher elevations are typically in the low- to mid-70s, and the very highest elevations stay chilled all summer due to a combination misty conditions and temperatures in the 50s and low 60s.
Temperatures peak in July, but the forests fully leaf out by June, except on the highest peaks. The higher elevations see spectacular rhododendron blooms that peak in the third week of June. Blue Ridge Parkway lands typically run at least fifteen degrees below lower elevations nearby, and the Parkway has therefore become a popular destination for vacationers and summer residents.
The temperature begins to drop in August and the rain begins to subside in September. These cooler, dryer days are are the first signs that the fall color change is approaching. By October, temperatures drop, and there may be hoarfrost or light snowfall.
Foliage color usually peaks in the last two weeks of October, and the leaves begin to fall in late October and early November. November is often the best month for long-range views. It stays beautifully clear and cool due to low humidity, infrequent rain, and no leaves to block the landscapes.
Depending on elevation, winter conditions can come as early as November on the Parkway, sometimes happening quickly and with little warning. During the winter months, expect many sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway to be closed due to accumulations of ice and snow. With our tunnels, long bridges, shaded curves, and road maintenance projects, these can sometimes be fairly long-term closures.
Hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing behind closed gates is welcomed and a wonderful way to experience nature’s quietness. If conditions allow, however, the Parkway is open to vehicle travel, and with colder temperatures and leafless trees, there are usually clear and crisp long-distance views from the ridgetops and roadways.
Snow becomes more and more likely as winter progresses, and the heaviest snowfalls may occur in March when the first of spring’s substantial rains overlap with the end of winter’s cold. From January through mid-March, waterfalls and cliffsides keep a sheen of ice, and snow may cover the highest peaks for weeks at a time. Temperatures stay well below freezing.
Winter’s end and spring’s beginning have a long overlap on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Abundant spring rainfall allows the tremendous variety of vegetation to grow lavish and lush. March is often clear and cold, and may occasionally see a late snow. April remains cool and is usually the rainiest month, but the weather has a volatility that replaces rain with shine with rain again very rapidly. Hoarfrost may be seen as late as May, but May, June, and July typically have warm days and chilly nights. The rhododendron blooms in June mark the last stage of spring.