CHARLOTTE — Fall has officially arrived, which means leaf-peeping season is just around the corner.
Although it’s hard to predict exactly when the fall foliage will begin to change in the Carolinas and whether it will be a vibrant or dull season, Appalachian State professor Howard Neufeld, also known as the “Fall Color Guy,” provides weekly fall color reports.
For those planning a trip up to the High Country, Neufeld reminds leaf lookers that colors will start first at higher elevations, and then move downward over time.
One thing is for sure — the fall colors bring thousands of locals and tourists to the North Carolina mountains each year. Here are several places to visit to see the fall colors, in no particular order:
(Drive times from Charlotte were calculated by Google maps.)
1. Asheville — This popular eclectic town brings not only beautiful fall scenery to the table but also award-winning food and drinks. Take in the views of the Blue Ridge Mountains surrounding the city or spend the day exploring the Biltmore and taking advantage of its leaf-peeping opportunities. Elevation: 2,134′. Drive time: 2 hours and 15 minutes.
2. Banner Elk — This is a great option for anyone looking to enjoy more than just colorful leaves. The quaint town will not only be blanketed in a kaleidoscope of leaves, but it typically hosts a variety of fall festivals that are sure to keep you entertained. Elevation: 3,895′. Drive time: 2 hours and 30 minutes.
3. Beech Mountain — Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Beech Mountain is the highest town in the eastern United States at an elevation of 5,506 feet. Drive time: 2 hours and 50 minutes.
4. Blowing Rock — Not only are the views stunning, but this mountain town also reeks of fall. From the town square being overrun with pumpkins and mums to the local candle shop creating handmade autumn scents, Blowing Rock is a great place to enjoy peak leaf season. Elevation: 3,517′. Drive time: 2 hours.
5. Chimney Rock — Spend the day exploring the old-fashioned mountain town then hike to the top of “The Rock” to take in the colors surrounding the famous landmark. Elevation: 2,579′. Drive time: 2 hours and 10 minutes.
6. Crowder’s Mountain — Not far from the Charlotte city limits, a trip here will make you feel as if you’re escaping all the hustle and bustle. Climb to the top to see for miles in every direction. On a clear day, you can even see the Queen City’s skyline in the distance. Elevation: 1,625′. Drive time: 1 hour.
7. Grandfather Mountain — There’s nothing quite like taking in the autumn views from a mile-high swinging bridge. You’ll need to purchase tickets in advance to visit. Elevation: 5,946′. Drive time: 2 hours and 35 minutes.
8. Lake Junaluska — If you want to try and avoid some of the crowds that often pack the Blue Ridge Parkway, check out Lake Junaluska in Haywood County near Waynesville. Here you’ll find amazing views around a 3.8-mile trail that surrounds the lake. Elevation: 2,674′. Drive time: 2 hours and 45 minutes.
9. Lake Lure — Known for its role in the popular movie “Dirty Dancing,” Lake Lure sits in the heart of Hickory Nut Gorge. Elevation: 1,119′. Drive time: 2 hours.
10. Little Switzerland — A picturesque retreat that sits just off the beaten path (or Blue Ridge Parkway, in this case), this small town offers incredible views of Mount Mitchell, Table Rock and Grandfather Mountain, to name just a few sites. There are also gem mines to explore. Elevation: 3,468′. Drive time: 2 hours and 14 minutes.
11. Maggie Valley — Situated in the Great Smoky Mountains, this is known for stunning views, small-town character and rich mountain history. Drive time: 3 hours.
12. Raffaldini Vineyards and Winery — This may not be your typical fall tourist attraction, but the views of the surrounding mountains and valley from the winery’s deck and expansive patio are spectacular. Plus, why not enjoy the view and a glass of North Carolina wine at the same time? If you’re making the trip, another vineyard with a view worth noting is Dobbins Creek, which is less than 6 miles from Raffaldini. Elevation: 1,034′. Drive time: 1 hour and 20 minutes.
13. Sugar Mountain — Visit the resort and take the ski lift all the way to the top of the mountain for remarkable views of the area below. Elevation: 5,236 feet’. Drive time: 2 hours and 30 minutes.
14. Table Rock — Located in the Pisgah National Forest, Table Rock soars 3,950 feet above sea level and overlooks the Linville Gorge. It’s a hike to the summit, but the payoff is huge when you witness the aerial view. Drive time: 2 hours and 45 minutes.
15. Uwharrie National Forest — Hike one of the many scenic trails to take in the colorful leaves and crisp air and see where the first documented gold rush took place. You might even run into one of the ghosts from local folklore. Drive time: 1 hour and 20 minutes.
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