It has been a beautiful and brilliant fall color season in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and while many leaves have fallen you can still enjoy views of crimson and rusty orange hues around the region.
Fall Color Report: The Final Days
If you still want to catch some strong fall colors, which are in the 1,000-2,000 ft elevations as this leaf season now draws to a close, head over to Morganton to Apple Hill Orchard and Cider Mill, because it’s also the perfect time to shop those NC apples. And when I say “apples”, I mean, 22 varieties of apples, flowers, cider, scratch-made, mouth-watering apple EVERYTHING, honey, jams, jellies, fruit butters and MORE at the Farm Market, and a treat for the of all senses at the family farm. Make a beautiful and delicious fall afternoon of it.
Top Fall Color Activities This Week
Right now in McDowell County is also a terrific time to get some wheels in some dirt! I’m talking mountain biking, y’all. The mild temperatures and improving visibility are the perfect combination for an invigorating trail ride, from beginner to advanced. Check out the Old Fort Gateway Trails off of Curtis Creek Rd. These are 6 miles of hiking, running, biking and horse trails and is only phase one of a 42-mile trail expansion network in the works. Anyone in your group like fishing? That’s available here, as well, with the easy and handicapped-accessible path to Curtis Creek. Sounds like a whole day of fun for everyone!
Lake James State Park’s Fonta Flora Trail is another must visit this time of year. Make sure to have your camera at the ready, too, because based on the name alone, Fonta and Flora, you know it’s going to be gorgeous! The trails are primarily natural surfaces with gentle grades and views aplenty of spectacular Lake James. It’s open year-round to both hikers and bikers. Our furry friends are welcome on leashes. Access the trailhead in the Fonta Flora County Park and be prepared for a glorious day of exploration.
It’s always good to take in some art and culture which will be easy this coming weekend with the Toe River Arts Fall Studio Tour. This is an annual driving tour through neighboring Mitchell and Yancey Counties, which will be a delight of its own as you cross the bridges, and cruise along the acres of fields, miles of forests, passing old barns alongside the Toe River. Studio Tour maps are available at toeriverarts.org and showcase over 100 local artists in pottery, glass, wood, fiber, metal, jewelry, mixed media and more. What a great opportunity to take something home with you to commemorate your wonderful visit to McDowell County.
Expert Predictions for Fall Foliage in 2023
Every year, scientists, meteorologists, and travel guides do their best to predict when the leaves will begin to fade from green to the yellows, oranges, and reds that set our Blue Ridge Mountains ablaze. Different species of trees turn at varying times, and all are informed by their location, altitude, and the biggest factor of all - the weather.
“Fall Color Guy” Dr. Howard Neufeld, professor of biology at Appalachian State University, has been following and documenting the fall color season in Western North Carolina for 15 years. He said, "If I have to guess now, I’d say we might be 3-5 days late this year, because the long-range NOAA forecast calls for slightly elevated temperatures through November. Otherwise, all other conditions point to a good fall color season."
The Weather Channel is also predicting that leaves will change later than average due to warmer temperatures, specifically the low temperatures that encourage the color change.
Timing Your Trip to See Fall Color in the Blue Ridge Mountains
Due to our extreme variations in elevation and a wide variety of deciduous trees, the mountains of North Carolina experience one of the longest lead color seasons in the world. The Blue Ridge Mountains’ extended color season means that no matter when you plan your visit, you’re sure to spot some brilliant leaves — as long as you know where to look.
The fall color changes begin at the highest elevations in late September, soon after the first calendar days of fall. Look for early color at Grandfather Mountain or at Graveyard Fields on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Linville Falls often boasts bright pops of gold early in the season, so be sure to bring your camera.
Graveyards Fields, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 418.8, is the perfect place to experience the earlier changes. Grab your daypack and follow the 3-mile, round-trip hike to Graveyard Fields. Trek through the beautiful valley punctuated by fields and waterfalls.
Over the following weeks, color will make its way down the mountain slopes into the middle elevations. Early to mid-October is a great time to take a scenic drive along the Parkway, watch the leaves fall beside Crabtree Falls, stop for lunch at Little Switzerland or enjoy the 360-degree view from the summit of Mount Mitchell, the the highest point east of the Mississippi River. The only thing that can make your trip to its peak even better is taking in the view from one of the rocking chairs outside the gift shop. Many of the trees at Mount Mitchell are evergreens, but you can find color along the way to this popular destination.
During the month of October, take a relaxing scenic ride on the famous Blue Ridge Parkway. With numerous lookouts and vantage points along the route, the parkway offers sweeping views across the peaks and valleys of the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains.
Once the lower elevations start to experience the color change around mid to late October, plan a visit to the Pisgah National Forest. Maximize your leaf-peeping from the heart of the forest with more than 19 hiking trails. Mountain bikers, be sure to check out the single-track trail where you’ll fly through the flaming trees. The numerous waterfalls along the hiking and biking trails are spectacular this time of year.
Don’t leave the area without a visit to the awe-inspiring Linville Gorge. Located about 45 minutes outside of Marion and 40 minutes from the quaint little town of Little Switzerland, the gorge offers some of the best fall-color viewing in the area. The plentiful jagged rock formations are nothing short of majestic as they plunge 2,000 feet into the valley below to the Linville River. The blazing yellow, orange, and red trees lining the steep walls define autumn in the NC Blue Ridge Mountains.
By early November, the trees will be showing off along the main streets of Blue Ridge towns. Enjoy the autumn atmosphere as you browse shops, galleries and local restaurants in Old Fort and Marion. And don’t miss the beauty of fall reflected in the cool waters of Lake James.
Book Your Accommodations Early
Be sure to plan ahead for your fall getaway to the Blue Ridge. Old Fort, Marion, Nebo, Little Switzerland, or Linville Falls are the ideal base camp for all of your fall adventures in the mountains! This is one of the more popular times to visit the mountains and accommodations do fill up quickly. Book a place to stay at a local hotel, campground, cabin or vacation rental.