Unbe-"leaf"-able Asheville in Autumn
710 words (4 min read)
You may have heard that Asheville is a top location for seeing the beauty of nature’s change from summer to fall - after all, we did earn the #5 spot in U.S. News and World Report’s rankings of Best Fall Vacations (as well as #10 on Travel + Leisure’s list of “20 Ideas for the Perfect Romantic Fall Getaway”). Much of our city’s popularity in the fall is due to the vibrant colored leaves that replace the green ones along the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Folks who wait until autumn to visit our towns and mountains are affectionately called “Leaf Peepers,” and we’re happy to host them at The Residences at Biltmore. In case you missed it, Forbes just named our hotel one of its "8 Best Hotels in Asheville," so rest assured you'll have a memorable stay whether you're here to peep leaves or spend time at Biltmore Estate. To make your visit more colorful, we have a list of things to do this month, as well as a guide to when and where to find the brightest leaves.
The best we can do is predict when colors are going to start popping, but we do know from years of observations that it’s mostly green all the way through the middle of October. Elevations higher than 6,000 feet are more likely to see some color early because of how much cooler the air is at that height, but the amount of rain and heat in the weeks prior are also important factors.
Beginning of October
By the time September ends and October’s first week arrives, the trees in the highest altitudes have already started seeing some changes. That means cooler destinations like Mount Mitchell and Grandfather Mountain are already colorful, as are Graveyard Fields, a popular hiking destination on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Don’t let the creepy name scare you - it’s actually quite lovely and filled with wildflowers and waterfalls.
A Bear of a Time
Next to change are the mountainous areas at about 5,000 feet. In addition to the reds, oranges, and yellows in the trees, the whole family will delight at the sight of the “Shadow of the Bear,” in the Nantahala National Forest. For a few weeks out of the year, the sun shines on the Whiteside Mountain just right, forming a shadow that looks like a gigantic bear hugging the mountainside.
To the Looking Glass
Around the third week in October, Pisgah National Forest starts to build up a lot of color. Home to the Cradle of Forestry, the first forestry school in America, the Cradle is a historical journey for the family. Walk along the Forest Festival Trail and climb aboard a logging train, visit the Forest Discovery Center with its real (stationary) fire-fighting helicopter simulator, learn about native species’ of animals, trees, and plants, and see exhibits about life in the mountains.
Another must-see in the area is Looking Glass Rock. Although its flat face is only recommended for professional mountain climbers, there is a hiking trail to the top that is reachable via the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway.
The last week of October is generally when the leaves change and are at their most delightful in the city of Asheville. Biltmore Estate is a popular destination during this time because of its impressive array of deep colored flowers in the gardens, and the NC Arboretum is another must-see this week.
But even just driving around town is a delight for the senses, as the streets and neighborhoods are flush with trees the color of autumn. Some of the most unexpected places to find fall colors are on winding mountain highways around the city, such as the drive through I-240 East that runs parallel to Tunnel Road. Locals call it “The Cut” because to construct the highway, the mountain had to essentially be cut in half.
We'll still have some colors on the trees in November - especially after a particularly hot summer and early fall, so there is plenty of time to visit Asheville and see all the lovely landscapes before the holiday season.