When Will the Leaves Be at Peak Color This Fall Along the Parkway?
While it would be nice if we could forecast the moment Autumn foliage will dazzle us with peak vibrancy as reliably as we track the ocean’s tides, just when and why the leaves change colors is a complex array of factors far less predictable.
Temperatures, rain, wind and shorter days all cascade together to bring us a colorful autumn – and any variation in these affects the timing and results of leaf color.
Fall 2018 – A Slow Start
Locals and experts along the Parkway agree: 2018’s extended warmer temperatures delayed the start of leaves changing in our area. Recent cooler nights have started a surge of transitioning color, and as always, trees in the higher elevations change first with those below turning a little later.
The best advice for a Fall drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway is to traverse a fair amount of miles – the more changes in elevation your trip takes you through, the more color you are likely to see.
Essential Info for Traveling the Parkway in October
As a general rule, official NPS Parkway Facilities close at the end of October each year. This includes many visitor centers, restrooms, and all NPS-maintained campgrounds on the Parkway. This year, the season for the Parkway ends on October 28. If you’re not sure whether your destination is an official Parkway facility (versus an independently-owned and operated business), you can view the Parkway Facilities Schedule here.
- Extended Seasonal Hours: In some years, a few official Parkway Visitor Centers may have an extended season into November: Craggy Gardens Visitor Center and Waterrock Knob Visitor Center sometimes remain open through mid November. The Parkway Craft Center and Flat Top Manor at Moses Cone Memorial Park also may be open into November.
- Year-Round Facilities: The The Museum of NC Minerals, Folk Art Center, and Asheville’s Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center are normally open year-round. Check the NPS Operating Hours and Seasons list to confirm the current hours and schedule.
- Reservations for Lodging: Reservations for hotels, bed & breakfasts, cabins, camping or any variety of overnight accommodations are a must. The entire vicinity of surrounding communities books up this time of year – and some months in advance. In October, plan your trip by finding a place to stay first – then create your itinerary accordingly.
- View Parkway Area Lodging
Where Are the Best Places to See Fall Color Along the Parkway?
Take a Look
We recommend seeing for yourself. Check the regional updates happening regularly at this time of year, as well as some of the many web cams showing real-time foliage views.
Social media accounts for area towns and communities are also a great resource, with many sharing weekly and even daily fall color photos.
- Virginia weekly Fall color report
- The Fall Color Guy – Professor of biology at Appalachian State University, he is widely recognized as the area authority on autumn’s changing hues along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. Read the weekly update or find him on Facebook for photos and seasonal predictions.
Visit the Parkway before your actual visit and see what’s in store for you with a look at any of the webcams or images linked on our Parkway Weather page! These are real-time views of the surroundings and give you a great sense of how Fall is progressing where you’re going.
Popular attraction at any time of year – but especially in autumn – Grandfather Mountain offers mile-high views of mountains and valleys as far as the eye can see.
For even more views of the canopy, check out this Map of Web Cams with a bird’s eye view of the changing scenery in towns all along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Some High Points
The Mill Mountain Star, also known as the Roanoke Star, offers a great view of Roanoke, VA below. It’s accessed from Blue Ridge Parkway MP 120 onto Mill Mountain Parkway to Mill Mountain Park. (But you can get there even when the Parkway is closed.)
Accessible from a spur road at Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 355.4 in North Carolina, Mt. Mitchell is the highest peak in the eastern U.S. with an elevation of 6,684 feet. During busy seasons, Mt. Mitchell State Park closes when it reaches capacity during the day, so it is best to visit before 11am or after 3pm.
For a spectacular Fall hike, McAfee Knob on the Appalachian Trail near Roanoke, Virginia offers a 270 degree panorama of Catawba Valley.
Some Truly Exceptional Ways to Experience Fall in the Mountains
An unbeatable way to see Fall color is by train! Catch a ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in Bryson City, NC. Located in the Great Smoky Mountains region, the depot is near Cherokee, NC and the southernmost end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Besides a leisurely train ride, other popular autumn pastimes in Swain County are mountain biking the Tsali trails and boating on Fontana Lake.
Another fun way for families to see the changing leaves in the Great Smokies region is with a ride on the Aerial Tramway at Ober Gatlinburg. Glide above the mountains and see the trees from a whole new vantage point.
The charming town of Blowing Rock in North Carolina’s Highlands Region of the Parkway is a favorite among travelers – and a great resource to color change in the area, actively sharing daily updates and photos on their social media.