It’s time to talk leaf season. DYK: The Southeastern US has the greatest variety of trees in the country, and our particular corner is one of the richest in the region when it comes to tree species. The Great Smoky Mountains alone are home to over 200 different species of trees + shrubs. That dizzying variety creates the vibrant patchwork we get every autumn.
The highest elevations begin producing color once the nights cool off + the first signs of fall set in. Experts are optimistic that our recent colder temps and drier days will make for a striking season.
Due to the fact that WNC covers such a wide range of elevations, there is no single “peak week” to view the fall leaves in Asheville. However, there are ideal times to see the fall leaves at our popular viewing locations. An added bonus? Because of the area’s biodiversity, WNC has one of the longest seasons for fall foliage in the nation. 🍂
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.
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 one of our local bookstores).
Leaf change is expected to follow this pattern:
Early October: Higher elevations above 5,500 feet, including Mt. Mitchell, Craggy Gardens + Pisgah, will be nearing full color, will be nearing full color.
Mid-to-late October: More color will emerge in middle elevations, including most of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
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 and Lake Lure.
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.
🍁 Downtown Asheville
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 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 (be sure to check out the giant LEGO exhibit). If you want to extend the adventure, head into neighboring Bent Creek for more outdoor rec, 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).