WHEN TO GO:
Although the exact height of color varies from year to year, the time to go leaf-viewing is somewhat predictable based on geographic location and summer weather, and this year’s predictions are calling for a close-to-normal schedule. The Blue Ridge Mountain Foliage Guide calls for peak color September 28th through October 5th for areas above 5,000ft, and October 5-16 for areas between 4,000 and 5,000ft. This covers most spots in the Appalachians: more specifically, the Great Smoky and the Blue Ridge Mountains. To maximize your fall foliage experience, start north in the mountains late this month and in early October, and mid- to late October head to destinations closer to the Upstate.
Many of the State Parks and other popular leaf-viewing areas have up-to-date information on color levels on their websites. Here are a few links for current conditions:
Blue Ridge Mountain Life Fall Foliage 2016 Forecast and Guide
The Smoky Mountain Fall Foliage map
The Blue Ridge County Daily on facebook
Grandfather Mountain fall color gallery
WHERE TO GO:
A world-famous leaf-peeping destination is the Blue Ridge Parkway. The 469-mile drive meanders from North Carolina all the way to Virginia, and a longer drive on the Parkway in October through changing elevations and aspects will most likely yield some sections at peak color. Plan a hike or two at locations such as Graveyard Fields (milepost 418, elevation 5,120ft), Linville Falls (milepost 316.3, elevation 3,360ft) or Sam Knob (milepost 420, elevation 6,045ft) for the full experience. (For those looking for a longer road trip, the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park is also an autumn leaf-viewing drive destination – Blackrock Summit is an awesome hike ending in almost 360˚ views of the mountains that will soon be bursting with color!)
Not too far off the Blue Ridge Parkway, these North Carolina parks will give you an early preview of color (due to their high altitude) and unbeatable views for next couple of months; Grandfather Mountain near Linville, Blowing Rock near Boone, and Mount Mitchell (highest peak in the state of NC) are three of our favorite fall destinations in the Blue Ridge Mountains. And on your way north into the Appalachians plan a stop at Looking Glass Falls near Brevard in the Pisgah National Forest; this roadside waterfall will leave you breathless!
Been-there, done-that in North Carolina? Head west to Georgia with a stop at the Chattooga River before making your way up to Brasstown Bald, the highest point in the state of Georgia. Scenic Anna Ruby Falls and Tallulah Falls in the awesome Tallulah Gorge also deserve a mention as two of the tallest waterfalls on this side of the Mississippi that, come autumn, cascade through a riot of color into their mountain coves.
Looking for a destination closer to home? Chimney Rock, NC is just over an hour from Greenville, and together with nearby Lake Lure and the Rocky Broad Riverwalk offer views, hikes, waterfalls and lake views galore.
|View from Bald Rock near Cleveland, SC|
Autumn at the Biltmore Estate is a special time, and the mountains around Asheville are well-known for the hardwood forests that turn brilliant yellows, reds and oranges this time of year. Nearby find the North Carolina Arboretum, the 343-acre preserve that becomes a kaleidoscope of colors every fall.
Just because the viewing tower at Sassafras Mountain is still under construction shouldn’t keep you from heading up to the highest point in South Carolina for spectacular views of the leaves turning in four states!
Any one of the dozens of waterfalls in the Upstate and nearby North Carolina will offer spectacular scenery with a backdrop of color as the leaves turn. Head to DuPont State Forest and the Hooker Falls area for a 3-mile hike that encompasses three waterfalls including the majestic Triple Falls. Or try Raven Cliff Falls, a 2.2 mile one-way hike to the overlook or the 8-mile round trip hike to the top of one of the most scenic spots in the Upstate.
The Blue Ridge Escarpment offers a multitude of hiking and viewing options this fall. Our favorite views are from Pretty Place (verify chapel hours before making the trip!), Caesars Head State Park, Bald Rock Heritage Preserve and Jumping Off Rock, all around an hour’s drive from Greenville. The lower elevations mean peak leaf color will be in mid- to late October.
If you’re not looking to make the drive up into the mountains, go for a drive on Scenic Highway 11 that follows the base of the Blue Ridge Escarpment and offers unbeatable views of the foothills such as the often-photographed Table Rock. Plan a stop at Table Rock State Park or Long Shoals Wayside Park for a picnic and some fresh mountain air.
Only have a few hours to spare? Head to Paris Mountain State Park for a hike to Mountain Lake, take a ride on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, or go for a stroll in Falls Park with a stop at the iconic beech tree with its exposed roots and effervescent yellow foliage. Pack an apple from one of the nearby orchards to snack on, and enjoy fall in the Upstate in all its glory!
WHAT TO BRING:
While we still have some hot days ahead of us here in Greeville, remember that higher elevations mean cooler temperatures, especially in the a.m.; bring warm clothes and a steaming thermos of coffee, tea, hot chocolate or cider to warm up that brisk mountain morning!
Maps and directions will come in handy when you lose cellphone coverage up in the mountains! If you’re headed into the mountains, bring an atlas or state highway map for easy reference to nearby cities and possible scenic routes. Or, if you plan on taking a cruise on the Blue Ridge Drive, print off a mile-marker map for easy reference to all the pull-offs, hikes and visitors centers in the park.
Finally, bring your entire family. You’ll find that the pictures you take of your autumn excursion are nowhere near as vibrant as the memories you’ll make with your loved ones.