Experiencing the Fall Leaf Change in the Blue Ridge Mountains
Fall 2019 Edition
October marks the official start of Fall Color Season along the Blue Ridge Parkway. This month is one of the most popular for visits to the region. A chance to see the Appalachian views awash in reds, golds and lingering shades of green is an experience on many people’s bucket lists.
Each year, visitors wonder when to plan their trip to see the leaves at peak color – that elusive time when the colors are most vibrant – just before fading to brown and falling into winter’s bare limbs. One of nature’s mysteries research hasn’t fully explained yet, while some locals trace annual patterns over time and area experts make educated guesses, there is a lot of complexity to the variables that cause and affect the timing and vibrance of Fall’s foliage each year.
When and how much rain falls, how late in the season the sun shines with intense heat, and how cool the nights are some of the factors and their interplay is difficult to untangle for an accurate prediction of just when to see the best of what’s to come.
The good news: with elevations along the Blue Ridge Parkway ranging from 6053 feet in Jackson County, NC to 670 feet at Milepost 63.7 in Bedford, Virginia, a trip of any length will grant views of the mountains above and valleys below, where you are bound to see the changing leaves in varying stages of turning colors.
How Fall 2019 is Turning Out
According to local experts, much of the foliage is still green from the first week of October 2019 into the second week in both Virginia and North Carolina. This isn’t unusual, as it’s common for only a few species of trees to turn in earliest October. Sumac, gum and sourwood are among the earliest, with hardwoods turning in mid to late October -and as late as early November in some years and areas.
Given the extended dry period impacting both states from Summer into early Fall of 2019, a longer than usual span of high heat, and later onset of cooler night temperatures, opinions have leaned toward autumn’s colors potentially coming in later than is generally typical.
But at times like this, it’s important to remember the familiar mountain adage, “If you don’t like the weather around here, just wait 10 minutes.” Conditions can change overnight and once the cooler pattern sets in (as forecasts predict happening between the first and second weeks of October), the change has begun and will continue until the season gives way to the next.
Know Before You Go
Essential Planning Tips for a Fall Trip Along the BRP
Up to Date Road Closure Status
The Parkway is open 365 days a year – weather permitting. It’s always wise to check the Road Closure Details before getting on the road to ensure your selected route is open. Windy conditions and resulting downed limbs, unexpected road maintenance detours, and complications of mountainous terrain in sudden overnight downpours, or even an isolated snowstorm in higher elevations as temperatures cool off can all close the road unexpectedly. If a short area is closed and you’d like to continue on your way around the closure, use our Interactive Parkway Map to see all the Access Points on and off the Parkway and what highways they intersect. The stretch of road on the BRP that had been closed near Roanoke, VA is open now.
Spotty Cell Coverage
Cell reception (and WiFi or data connections) can be spotty in the mountains. Be prepared with maps in all formats. Download our free Blue Ridge Parkway Travel Planner app for access to maps even when you don’t have a cell signal.
Paper maps are good to have on hand, too. If you’re a AAA member, you can pick up our publications at your local AAA office anywhere in the country. We provide them with both our brochure-size Blue Ridge Parkway Map (popular with motorcyclists for its handy size) and our Blue Ridge Parkway Travel Planner, with milepost-by-milepost travel info and maps by region.
Plan ahead as much as possible with the resources available on our website. It’s especially important when traveling in the vicinity of the Parkway in October to have lodging reservations in advance. Hotels, cabins and B&Bs often book months in advance and this is not a time to leave this part to chance check-in when you arrive. You can use the Interactive Map’s Lodging filter to see what’s along the way of your planned route and contact innkeepers in advance to reserve.
If you’re interested in camping on the Parkway itself or stopping off at a designated picnic area (or traveling with kids or others who need ready access to restrooms), you’ll want to keep the Blue Ridge Parkway Facilities Schedule in mind. These sites are maintained by Blue Ridge Parkway – NPS and operate on a seasonal schedule. The operational season ends for most of these as Fall draws to a close, and can vary from year to year and stop to stop. Many facilities are open until November 3 this year but it’s a good idea to take a look at the 2019 BRP facility schedule. A few visitor centers are open year-round.
Even after Parkway facilities close, communities accessible just off the Parkway offer ample opportunities for pit stops, food, local brews, things to do, regional visitor centers, and everything else you need along your travels.
More Helpful Tips for Travel
For accessibility information, check out all our resources on ADA accessibility and where everyone in your group can go to enjoy your trip. For happenings and special Fall events this year, see our Parkway Events calendar.
If you’re looking for a local orchard, farm or market to visit, you’ll find them here. You can see some sample Blue Ridge Parkway Itineraries for both day trips and longer getaways for an idea of how far you can expect to go each day and what to do here.
For foliage resources, and links to Fall updates from along the regions of the Parkway, you can read more here.