“Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile,” author William Cullen Bryant once wrote. Keeping that in mind, Western North Carolina finds itself the beneficiary of that smile every September and October.
[dropcap]F[/dropcap]all in the mountains is spectacular. A peek out of any window provides a kaleidoscope of color. Splashes of vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges announce the arrival of the autumn season and cooler temperatures in the area. It is the perfect time of the year to wander the roads and highways of the mountains in search of the beauty of fall. Grab a camera, pack a picnic, and head out on some of the following great adventures:
Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a jewel in the mountains that offers prime leaf looking opportunities. The Parkway’s website features a “Fall Color” section that includes helpful information and links to fall leaf forecast reports. With the changing elevations and north-south orientation, drivers on the Parkway in mid to late October will likely catch at least some sections at or very near their peak color.
The Asheville Convention and Visitor’s Bureau website has an abundance of information on scenic drives, as well as a weekly fall forecast and color report and a time lapse video of the progression of fall color. With the range in elevations in the area, Asheville has a long foliage season, and this site breaks out the season into segments of early, mid, and late fall.
Kimberly Avenue/North Asheville
Located just north of downtown Asheville, Kimberly Avenue will be canopied by the orange tint of sugar maples. A drive offers views of the historic Grove Park Inn perched on the hill above the street. From downtown Asheville, take the Charlotte Street exit off I-240 and proceed north on Charlotte. Turn left onto Edwin Place and follow through the light as it turns into Kimberly Avenue. Follow Kimberly to Beaverdam Road. Turn right and drive through the scenic Beaverdam Valley before circling back to Asheville.
Reems Creek Valley
Follow US Highway 19/23 north to the New Stock Road exit. Turn right at the light and left at the next light, onto US 25. Follow this highway less than one mile to Reems Creek Road and turn right. Drive five miles to Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace State Historic Site, site of a working 1830s-era farm once owned by North Carolina’s Civil War governor, Zebulon Vance. From Vance Birthplace, turn left and travel half a mile to Ox Creek Road, winding through the picturesque community to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Turn south on the Parkway. You may want to shop for mountain handicrafts at the Folk Art Center and drive a little further south to the North Carolina Arboretum before returning to Asheville.
North Carolina Arboretum
Surrounded by the Pisgah National Forest, the North Carolina Arboretum is nestled amidst one of the most beautiful natural settings in the United States and is a great place to see Mother Nature’s fall color finale. The Arboretum is located south of Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 393, or take I-26, Exit 33 (formerly Exit 2) and proceed two miles south on Highway 191/Brevard Road.
Exit 64 off of Interstate 40 will lead you to Black Mountain. Follow the signs to Lake Tomahawk, a 4.5 acre lake surrounded by a .55 mile walking path. It offers views of the Seven Sisters mountain range. Or head to close-by Montreat, the home of Lake Susan, for additional fall color. Finally, take NC Highway 9 for a relaxing drive from Black Mountain to Lake Lure.
The Blowing Rock
The attraction for which the town is named, The Blowing Rock, offers sweeping views of the Pisgah National Forest and nearby ridges and peaks like Grandfather Mountain. The Blowing Rock is located at 432 Rock Road. From Valley Boulevard/Hwy 321 in Blowing Rock, turn onto Rock Road, across from the historic Green Park Inn.
Bass Lake/Moses Cone Memorial Park
Moses Cone Memorial Park is a large historic area on the Blue Ridge Parkway with 26 miles of carriage trails. The trails are well maintained and provide a large network to enjoy fall color. In particular, the Bass Lake Loop is a popular spot for the serene views of the lake and the Cone Mansion. The estate house and main parking area is accessible via the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 294. To access Bass Lake: from Main Street Blowing Rock, turn down Hwy 221 and travel for a half mile to the Bass Lake Parking area on the right.
A large, calm lake on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Price Lake often reflects the colors of the trees surrounding it, creating a beautiful scene with Grandfather Mountain in the background. The trail around the lake is a great leg-stretcher, too! Price Lake is located at Milepost 296. From Blowing Rock, access the Blue Ridge Parkway off 221, one mile from Main Street. Turn to go South on the Blue Ridge Parkway and travel two miles. The lake will be on the left.
Tanawha Trail at Rough Ridge Overlook
The Tanawha Trail is a long and varied trail off the Blue Ridge Parkway. A popular access point is at Rough Ridge Overlook, Milepost 302.8. This access point offers a spectacular view after about a 10 minute hike. From Blowing Rock, access the Blue Ridge Parkway off 221, one mile from Main Street. Turn to go south on the Blue Ridge Parkway and travel eight miles. The overlook and parking area will be on the right with a sign that reads “Rough Ridge Overlook.”
Bryson City/Swain County
There are many trails along the shores of Fontana Lake, land owned by either the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) or the U.S. Forest Service. The 42-mile, multi-use trail system at Tsali Recreation Area is famous among mountain bikers, and is consistently rated one of the top 10 riding destinations in the United States.
US Hwy 129, named the #3 best road in America to ride by The American Motorcyclist Association (2011). The area is world-famous among motorcyclists and sports car drivers, for its 11-mile section with 318 continuous curves. To reach this area from Bryson City, drive West on US 19/74, then follow NC 28N to the Deal’s Gap, intersection with US 129, which is the start of The Dragon.
Nantahala River Gorge
Driving west from Bryson City on US 19/74 takes you through the Nantahala Gorge, home to premier whitewater rafting and kayaking. This is a beautiful drive right next to the water with plenty of pull-offs and picnic spots. There are a number of whitewater rafting and kayak outfitters, three ziplines, and several restaurants in the gorge.
The Cherohala Skyway
The spectacular 51-mile skyway connects Hwy.143 in Robbinsville to Hwy.165 in Tellico Plains, Tennessee, traveling through the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests. The name comes from a combination of these two forests.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Newfound Gap Road (which is US 441 between Cherokee and Gatlinburg) and the road to Clingmans Dome (which is a spur off Newfound) are peak places for color.
This is the highest peak on the Blue Ridge Parkway, which Haywood County shares with Jackson County. Richland is a great hike. It doesn’t boast long range views at the top, but the parking area does have some incredible views, making it a great spot to stop and view fall colors.
Found at Milepost 451.2 on the Blue Ridge Parkways is great spot for fall viewing. The Maggie Valley entrance to the parkway is the closest access point. Its unique location winds you up to the viewing area above the actual parkway at almost 6,000 feet. The area offers incredible long range views on two sides of the parkways, giving you miles and miles of unobstructed fall views. There is a visitor center and picnic areas here, too, making it the perfect spot to stop for a scenic picnic. There is also a short hike to the summit, which offers even more breathtaking views.
Devils Courthouse (MP 422) & Graveyard Fields (MP 418)
They can be accessed by taking the Blue Ridge Parkway south from Asheville; closest access point is the Parkway entrance via Hwy 276.
The remote valley has several hiking trails and historic sites that become even more exquisite in the fall. But the best part is the chance to catch the bugling of the elk. During fall breeding season, also known as “rut,” male bull elks perform their legendary “bugle” calls to attract female cows and other bulls. The most direct route into the valley is to take Cove Creek Road. To get to the valley from interstate I-40, exit at North Carolina exit #20 and travel 0.2 miles on route 276. Turn right onto Cove Creek Road and follow the signs 11 miles into the Cataloochee Valley.
Point Lookout Trail, Old Fort
This 3.62 mile non-motorized trail is a scenic section of Old U.S. Route 70, between Old Fort and Ridgecrest. Popular with hikers and bicycle enthusiasts, the trail opens to spectacular views of the Royal Gorge. Trailhead Parking: From Asheville – I-40 East to Exit 73/Old Fort, north onto Catawba Avenue to stoplight intersecting Main Street/US Hwy. 70. Turn left, traveling west turning right onto Old Hwy. 70. Drive approximately 2.4 miles to Mill Creek Road. Old Fort picnic area is on the left, with parking available May through October. Walk/ride to end of US Hwy. 70; trailhead and U.S. Forest Service gated entrance is at road end. From Hickory – I-40 West to Exit 73/Old Fort. Follow directions above. Alternate parking is available at Kitsuma Peak, located at the top of Old Fort Mountain at I-40 Exit 66/Ridgecrest. Follow Royal Gorge Road to dead end and parking area. Kitsuma Peak Trail is an unpaved route for mountain bikers and hikers. It ends at Old Fort picnic area.
Linville Gorge and Linville Falls
Explore these trails, located directly off the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 316.3. The visitor center will provide maps and answer your questions. Stunning views surround the hiking trails and waterfall overlooks.
McDowell Quilt Trail
Fall leaf lookers will enjoy following this impressive trail of storytelling quilt blocks, meandering through the back roads of McDowell County. Discover the names and histories of more than 150 unique blocks by visiting their website. Maps and books describing the trail and block locations are also available at the McDowell Arts Council, 50 S. Main Street in downtown Marion.
Orchard at Altapass
This nonprofit operates a historic apple orchard, first created to feed railroad workers. Today, it is open May through October with free, live music, cultural exhibits, demonstrations, hayrides, and more. Visitors may walk through the orchard trails and pick their own apples or grab a picnic table to enjoy lunch and a piece of Miss Charlotte’s fudge. Located at Milepost 328.3 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, between Linville Falls and Little Switzerland at Milepost 334. Read about Orchard events online or call them.
The Devil’s Staircase and Lake Tahoma
Ride the Devil’s Staircase, also known as NC Hwy. 80, between Marion and Micaville. This winding road passes by beautiful Lake Tahoma, local trout farms, and artist studios. Take a break to access the Blue Ridge Parkway, just below Little Switzerland at Milepost 344.1. NC Hwy. 80 is a fall color gold mine as you wind this curvy road between U.S. Hwy. 70 and NC Hwy. 226.
Cutting a path through the Pisgah National Forest, the DiamondbackNC (NC Hwy. 226-A), is 12 miles of sweeping curves and stunning scenery with s-curves and 360 degree switchbacks surrounded by fall foliage. Read about the DiamondbackNC online. Directions: I-40/Exit 86/Marion/Hwy. 226 North. Follow NC Hwy. 226 North to intersection at NC Hwy. 226-A. Driving north to Little Switzerland, topping out at the ridge line opening to stellar mountain views, the road ends at NC Hwy. 226, just below Milepost 331 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Lake James Loop
A favorite with motorcycle and sports car enthusiasts, the Lake James Loop is a 2.75 hour, 89.7 mile loop around Lake James and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Begin the loop from the Blue Ridge Parkway at Little Switzerland/Milepost 331 or from the Linville Falls area at Milepost 317.4. Turn by turn directions are available online at www.blueridgemotorcycling.com/ride-maps/blue-ridge-parkway-lake-james-loop/.
The Lake Lure Dam
To get there (from Asheville), follow I-240 E and US-74 ALT E for about 30 miles into Lake Lure and then turn left onto Buffalo Shoals Road, and follow that until you clearly see the dam.
Chimney Rock State Park
To get there from Asheville, also follow I-240 E to US-74 ALT E into Chimney Rock (about 33 miles total).
The lake, approximately 720 acres, with about 21 miles of shoreline, sits in the heart of Hickory Nut Gorge.
Land of Waterfalls Loop
Beginning in downtown Brevard, this route takes you into Pisgah National Forest where you can get sidetracked by any number of great attractions, from Looking Glass Falls to Sliding Rock to the Cradle of Forestry. Top out on the Blue Ridge Parkway and follow it south. Numerous overlooks offer up stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the awesome rock monolith of Looking Glass Rock. Each of these overlooks is perfect for taking in the fall color. Pounding Mill Overlook, in particular, offers panoramic views.
At Devil’s Courthouse, stretch your legs on a trail that summits on a granite aerie that makes you feel like you’re standing on the very edge of the world. This spot rivals Pounding Mill Overlook for panoramic awesomeness. Come off the Blue Ridge Parkway at US-215 for a winding trip back down into the valley. This stretch also offers abundant opportunities to discover why Transylvania County is known as the Land of Waterfalls, including Courthouse, Bird Rock, Mill Shoals, and French Broad Falls. Head east on US-64, and you’ll be back in town just in time for some al fresco dining in one of Brevard’s notable restaurants or breweries.
Directions: From downtown Brevard, go south on US-64 for 3.4 miles. Turn left on US-276 and go north for 15 miles. Turn left onto the Blue Ridge Parkway and go 11 miles. Turn left onto US-215 and go 17.3 miles. Turn left on US-64 and go 8.6 miles to downtown Brevard.
www.visitwaterfalls.com | 800-648-4523
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