Right in time for the changing leaves, we’ve got the scoop for how best to experience the gorgeous colors of fall in the Asheville area, and the most scenic driving routes for appreciating them.
Leaf change is expected to follow this pattern:
- Early October to mid-October: Elevations above 5,000 feet — including Mount Mitchell, Waterrock Knob, and Craggy Gardens — will begin seeing colors transform.
- Mid-to-late October: While color changes remain strongest above 5,000 feet, more color will emerge in middle elevations. Along the Parkway, check out Mount Pisgah, Sam Knob + Black Balsam, as well as popular hiking destination Max Patch.
- Late October: Areas close to town at around 2,300 feet, including The North Carolina Arboretum, downtown Asheville + Biltmore, will be nearing full color.
- Early November: Leaf change will progress into the foothills (around 1,500 feet), including Chimney Rock.
How are these patterns calculated?
The mountains’ wide range of elevations means there is no single “peak week” to view the fall leaves in Asheville. However, there are ideal times to see the fall leaves at popular viewing locations.
Generally speaking, the highest elevations begin producing color once the nights cool off + the first signs of fall set in, generally early to mid-October. Our recent warmer temps may delay the arrival of brilliantly colored leaves, but experts are still optimistic that the season will be beautiful.
Wanna be a leaf geek?
See Explore Asheville’s interactive fall color map here. And, if you want to ID the mountains while you’re enjoying the colors, we recommend local photographer Tim Barnwell’s Blue Ridge Parkway Vistas and Great Smoky Mountains Vistas (bonus points if you order them from 1 of our local bookstores).
And while you’re leaf peeping, here’s some trivia to impress your friends – leaf colors are actually revealed as the process of photosynthesis slows down for the winter. As the leaves stop producing chlorophyll (which creates all those lush shades of green), these other hues, created by compounds like beta carotene + xanthophylls, shine through.
Hit the road
Here are a few of our favorite places within driving distance to see the leaves.
🍁 The Appalachian Trail | various locations
Since a good portion of this 2,190-mile trail runs near Asheville, including right through downtown Hot Springs, we recommend picking a section and combining your viewing with some world-class hiking. Our team especially loves Max Patch, Lover’s Leap, Roan Mountain, and the Rich Mountain Lookout Fire Tower (which branches off the main AT in a strenuous uphill section). Always remember to practice leave-no-trace hiking + camping practices.
Since driving the scenic route is the most iconic way to enjoy the leaves, make your drive a little more fun by stopping at the Folk Art Center to enjoy some art, and to grab a map. Before you leave you can plan out the perfect route for you and your crew + stop along some of the best overlooks to take photos. Check out our piece on the history of the Parkway here.
Only about 20 miles from downtown, Craggy is a perfect location to visit and still have the rest of your day open. Take the short 1.5-mile round-trip hike around Craggy Pinnacle Trail, and get panoramic views at the top. You can even see the Asheville Watershed.
If patience is your virtue, wait a little longer for the leaf change in the city. Drive up to the top of any parking deck for a great view, or admire the leaves on the city streets.
Soak up the view on your ride up to the highest point east of the Mississippi River by taking the Parkway and NC Highway 128. Walk up the quarter-mile paved trail to admire the view, or hike the 5.5-mile Mount Mitchell Trail, which gains 3,600 ft. in elevation. Protip: This hike is steep + strenuous. If you don’t want to hike 11 miles roundtrip, park one car at the top and one car at the campground. After all that walking, it’s probably time for a picnic – there’s a large picnic area + two group areas for visitors.
Wander the Arboretum’s gorgeous gardens and trails at your own pace, and if you want to extend the adventure, head into neighboring Bent Creek for more outdoor fun, including hiking, biking + horseback riding trails.
When visiting Pisgah Inn, you’re in a perfect location for leafing, hiking + eating. Choose between hiking up to Mt. Pisgah, Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower, or various trails around the Inn. Pisgah Inn has its own restaurant that’s ideal for grabbing lunch (reservation only) or dinner (reservation required; must be a guest of the hotel).