Best Mountain Scenic Drives for Late Fall Color

Whiteside Mountain on US Highway 64

Road trip! Here are our favorite late fall color scenic drives in the mountains of North Carolina:

The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most scenic roads in America, with spectacular scenery no matter if you drive north or south from Asheville. A short drive north or south of Asheville has peak color this week. The highest elevations are past peak. Stop at the NC Arboretum or the Folk Art Center for a woodland stroll or hike.

Forest Heritage National Scenic Byway is our second favorite scenic mountain drive with great color right now. From the Blue Ridge Parkway (south of Asheville), take the exit for US 276 Forest Heritage Scenic Byway (at milepost 412 on the Parkway) south to Brevard with Looking Glass Falls, Sliding Rock, Cradle of Forestry and the hike to Looking Glass Rock.

Drive US Highway 64 100 miles through the Blue Ridge Mountains. Peak color will be next week in the Chimney Rock and Lake Lure area. This week, best color is in the Hendersonville (stop at the apple orchards!) and Brevard area, heading toward Cashiers and Highlands.

With great color for the next two weeks, take exit 64 off I-40 at Black Mountain to follow the Black Mountain Rag, a scenic route named for an old fiddle tune about the dark green Lauada Firs that give the Black Mountains their name. Coming from Asheville, turn right off the exit ramp at Black Mountain and follow N.C. 9 south towards Bat Cave. The road winds along the Rocky Broad River, joining Hickory Nut Creek near the intersection of U.S. 64, U.S. 74 and N.C. 9 at Bat Cave. Turn left and follow N.C. 9/ U.S. 64 east to the village of Chimney Rock. At Chimney Rock Park you can drive to the top of the Chimney overlooking Hickory Nut Gorge. Continue past Chimney Rock to see beautiful Lake Lure. Turn around at Lake Lure and head back to Asheville on U.S. 74.

For more info on these fall color drives, the latest fall color reports and other things to see and do in the North Carolina Mountains, go to Travel Guide.

Fall Color Update: Photos from Blue Ridge Parkway

Rough Ridge & Grandfather Mountain

Fall Color Report: We found great color today on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Grandfather Mountain. The hike on Rough Ridge is in peak color. Nearby areas, including the Linn Cove Viaduct, are approaching peak color. Also, we found brilliant colors in Banner Elk and at Beech Mountains. See more fall color photos today from the North Carolina Mountains.

Updated Fall Foliage Report for the NC Mountains

Peak Fall Color at Graveyard Fields is usually the second week of October

October 2, 2012 Asheville Fall Color Update: Recent clouds and rain slowed the color change, so there’s only spotty color in the higher elevations. Sunny skies and cool nights return tomorrow, the perfect combination for the best colors. By this weekend, best color will be above 4,500 feet, including Beech Mountain, Craggy Gardens and the highest sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Make your reservations NOW for lodging and outdoor adventures since many are reporting the busiest fall in many years and almost booked up especially on weekends.

With the 5,000-foot elevation change within 50 miles of Asheville, the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountain ranges have one of the longest-running autumn leaf color displays in the country. No matter when you visit in the last three weeks of October, you can find great color. Peak color begins in the highest elevations and gradually moves down to the lowest elevations by early November. Since the Blue Ridge Parkway changes elevation from the ridgetops to the valleys, it’s the best place to find the best color. Other great ways to enjoy the beautiful outdoors are zip line canopy tours, whitewater rafting, hiking and waterfalls.

Here’s the forecast for when and where to find peak color:

October 4-11: Highest elevations north of Asheville above 5,000 feet show the most color, especially in the Mount Mitchell, Craggy Gardens, Grandfather Mountain, Beech Mountain areas. Other great spots include Roan Mountain and Mt LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains.

October 9-17: Color increases in elevations greater than 4,000 feet, including the Mount Pisgah, Black Balsam, Devil’s Courthouse, Waterrock Knob and Graveyard Fields, southwest of Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It will also be peak color in the Highlands area, including Whiteside Mountain and the Shadow of the Bear, with plenty of waterfalls to enjoy.

October 14-23: Many of the surrounding mountains around Asheville show plenty of color, especially in the 3,000-4,000 foot elevation range. Take the Parkway north or south from Asheville. A great hike in Pisgah National Forest would be Looking Glass Rock or Cradle of Forestry. North of Asheville, head to Linville Gorge with hikes to the top of Table Rock and Hawksbill Mountain or to Linville Falls.

October 19-28: The city of Asheville (2,000 feet elevation) shows the brightest colors, along with areas around Hendersonville and Brevard. This is the perfect time for a waterfall hike in DuPont State Forest or leisurely walk at the NC Arboretum. This is also the peak leaf color for Biltmore Estate.

October 24-November 2: The color show concludes in the Chimney Rock and Lake Lure area (elevation of 1,300 feet).

For more information, see our Asheville Fall Color Guide. And see our Asheville Vacation Guide for our 550-pages and 1,600 photos to help you plan a visit.

Scenic Fall Drives in the North Carolina Mountains

Blue Ridge Parkway near Waterrock Knob in NC

Take a scenic drive to enjoy the fall foliage colors in the mountains of North Carolina near Asheville. The most spectacular scenic drive is the Blue Ridge Parkway. A short drive north from Asheville (24 miles from downtown) takes you up about 3,000 feet in elevation to Craggy Gardens with wonderful mountain views. There is a large picnic area and a short hike to the top of Craggy Pinnacle. Continue north on the Parkway for nine miles and turn left onto N.C. 128 to Mount Mitchell State Park. The highest mountain east of the Mississippi River provides sweeping views.

Drive south on the Blue Ridge Parkway and return to Asheville via the Forest Heritage National Scenic Byway.  From the Parkway, take the exit for US 276 Forest Heritage Scenic Byway (at milepost 412 on the Parkway) to Brevard and stop at Looking Glass Falls and Cradle of Forestry, or hike to to the top of Looking Glass Rock. Once in Brevard, follow NC 280 back to Asheville. See our Forest Heritage Scenic Byway Guide.

Drive along the winding US Highway 64 for 100 miles through the Blue Ridge Mountains, including charming towns like Lake Lure, Chimney Rock, Cashiers and Highlands, and by plenty of beautiful scenery and waterfalls along the way. See our Highway 64 Guide.

Starting at the top of Mt. Mitchell, drive 52 miles among the peaks and valleys of Yancey and Madison counties, through the Toe River Valley and through Burnsville on the Mt. Mitchell Scenic Byway Guide.  In addition to expansive views, Mt Mitchell features an observation tower, hiking trails, picnic areas, a natural history museum and a restaurant.

See our NC Mountain Fall Foliage Forecast and Guide for more scenic drives and places to see.

See the Best Fall Stops on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville

Linn Cove Viaduct, Blue Ridge Parkway

There is much to see along the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of America’s most scenic drives, during the fall foliage color show. Here are our “Top 12 Free Parkway Places to Explore” in the Asheville area (all free to visit), beginning north and traveling south:

•     Milepost 304 – Linn Cove Viaduct: After driving across the famous bridge at Grandfather Mountain, stop at the Visitor Center to read about the construction and hike underneath it.

•     Milepost 316 – Linville Falls: See the most photographed waterfall in North Carolina via two trails in the Linville Gorge.

•     Milepost 328 – The Orchard at Altapass: Apple orchard turned Appalachian Cultural Center celebrates the music, crafts, food and beauty of the mountains.

•     Milepost 339 – Crabtree Falls: Take a 2.5-mile hike to the beautiful 70-foot waterfall.

•     Milepost 355 – Mt. Mitchell: Drive to the summit of the highest peak east of the Rockies, and walk a short trail to the observation deck for panoramic mountain scenery.

•     Milepost 364 – Craggy Gardens: See spectacular mountain views from 5,500 feet. Enjoy the crisp air, picnic amidst rhododendron and hike to the top of Craggy Pinnacle.

•     Milepost 382 – Folk Art Center: Enjoy the finest regional traditional and contemporary art with the gallery, craft shop, demonstrations, exhibits and events.

•     Milepost 384 – Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center: Learn about the entire 469 miles and history of the Parkway with interactive exhibits.

•     Milepost 408 – Mount Pisgah: Have lunch with a view from 5,000 feet at Pisgah Inn, the only restaurant on this section of the Parkway. Hike to the top of Mt. Pisgah.

•     Milepost 417 – Skinny Dip Falls: Soak in the views at the Looking Glass Rock Overlook and hike 1/2 mile to Skinny Dip Falls, a beautiful waterfall setting.

•     Milepost 419 – Graveyard Fields: This mile-high valley features hiking trails, wildflowers and waterfalls, surrounded by Blue Ridge Mountains.

•     Milepost 451 – Waterrock Knob: Stop here for lofty views and hike to the summit.

For more stops along the Blue Ridge Parkway, see the comprehensive Parkway Guide that covers the 170-mile section near Asheville at

Rhododendron Starting to Bloom at Craggy Gardens: Peak in Early June

The Catawba Rhododendron are showing their first blooms today at Craggy Gardens on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville. This area is famous for the impressive amount of native blooming rhododendron. Peak for the blooms this year will be a couple of weeks early: the first week of June.  Read more about Craggy Gardens at

Asheville Fall Color Report and Photos

Fall Color Oct 27 on Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville

Fall color continues to fill the valleys in the Asheville, North Carolina, area of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Color is showing the most at the lower mountain elevations (1,500-2,500 feet). Color in highest elevations (above 3,000 ft) is past peak. Peak color concludes this week at Biltmore and city of Asheville, with Chimney Rock and Lake Lure by next week. The most colorful section of the Parkway right now is the stretch around the city of Asheville and about five miles north of Folk Art Center or south of NC Arboretum, since it is the lowest elevation on the Parkway in our area. Brevard and Hendersonville areas have great color. Hike to waterfalls in DuPont Forest.

Snow is a good bit in the highest elevations tonight, especially at spots like Grandfather Mtn, Craggy Gardens, Mt Pisgah and Mt  Mitchell along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The very top of Mt. Mitchell could get several inches of snow. The Parkway may be closed in highest sections on Saturday if significant snow falls. (Call 828-298-0398 for closures.) For most of the mountains, it will be a beautiful sunny fall weekend to enjoy the leaves. More Asheville fall color updates and photos at

Fall color at Biltmore House, Asheville, Oct 26, 2011

Lake Lure, NC, Fall Color October 26, 2011