Best Places in North Carolina to See the Fall Colors

Best Places in North Carolina to See the Fall Colors

Bright, warm fall colors and crisper days are just around the corner. Fall, the season poet John Keats describes as a “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” does not officially begin until later this month, but it’s not too early to plan where – and even when – is best to see North Carolina’s fall colors.

One of the biggest factors in determining timing is elevation. The higher the elevation, the earlier the fall leaves will be at their most colorful. Find out when and where to see North Carolina aflame in golds, reds, and oranges.

High Elevation, Early Peak

For points at or higher than 5,000-feet elevation, peak color is usually around the first week of October.

  1. Beech Mountain: The summit rises to 5,506 feet allowing you to see to Tennessee. Due to the high elevation, expect the colors here on the earlier side.
  2. Craggy Gardens: Part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, this point is also known for its wild rhododendrons. A moderate hike on the Craggy Gardens Trail leads you to a high-elevation vantage point to see fall colors on the surrounding mountains.

03. Graveyard Fields: About an hour and a half southwest of Craggy Gardens, the Graveyard Fields are also along the Blue Ridge Highway. A three-mile hike is well worth the trek and will allow you to see waterfalls and the brilliant shades of fall from 5,320 feet at the trail’s highest point.

Mid Elevation, Slightly Later Peak

At slightly lower elevation, points between 3,000 to 4,000 feet typically peak around the third week of October.

04. Cashiers: This Blue Ridge Mountains town sits on a 3,484-feet-high plateau. The town is close by to hiking trails, Whitewater Falls, and offers other activities such as golf, fishing, horseback riding, and dining.

05. Banner Elk: At 3,701-feet elevation, this town in the Blue Ridge Mountains offers a range of ways to enjoy the fall colors. A variety of hikes, including nearby Grandfather Mountain, paddling on Wildcat Lake, or simply meandering around town are all options.

06. Looking Glass Falls & Looking Glass Rock: Nestled in the Pisgah National Forest, the picturesque Looking Glass Falls are worth stopping for any time of the year. Those up for a hike to the Looking Glass Rock at 3,970-feet will be rewarded by a sweeping view of the surrounding mountains in fall splendor.

Fall colors in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Parkway
Fall colors along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Image courtesy of Valerie/Flickr Commons.

Low Elevation, Later Peak

For lower elevations, between 2,000 to 3,000 feet, fall colors peak around the third week of October.

07. French Broad River: The river runs right through Asheville, which sits at an elevation of 2,134 feet. Whether you want to stroll along the river, picnic at a park on its banks, or kayak, canoe, paddleboard, or fish in the river, fall foliage at its most brilliant will flank you on either side in late October. Click here for more on access points for your preferred activity.

08. Lake Lure: At 1,125 feet elevation, the surrounding fall leaves will likely peak the first week of November. Watch reflections of the fall colors in the lake, stroll the boardwalk, or venture out into the Hickory Nut Gorge for hiking and climbing options or to the village of Chimney Rock.

For further exploration and to plan when to see fall colors at their peak, consult fall foliage predictors such as Asheville’s or the Smoky Mountains’ .

Image courtesy of SmokyMountains.com.
Visit the site for the interactive map, adjustable by date range for fall 2020. The predictions are based on elevation, precipitation, temperature, and other factors.

For more North Carolina places to visit, check out our ‘safecation’ series.

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