It’s late September and we’re starting to see good color in the region’s higher elevations, particularly above 5000’. Mountains shielded the Asheville area from the worst of last week’s Southeastern downpour, so the trees still have plenty of leaves. The US Forest Service predicts that peak colors in areas which received plentiful rain should be most vivid and vibrant when drier cooler weather triggers foliage change. Director of Horticulture at Biltmore Parker Andes explains, “If October progresses like previous years, then we'll have a dry month with the first frost near the middle of the month. This will mean great fall color, because we still have lots of leaves on the trees.”
Goldenrods light up Grandfather Mountain,
where leaf color is just beginning to show.
Early fall wildflowers continue to bloom, creating a colorful understory beneath the forest canopy. Goldenrods, black-eyed susans and joe-pye weed dapple the roadside on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Sunflowers shine bright yellow by the Pisgah Inn, located on the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 408.6.
The profusion of brilliant red berries near the inn belong to the mountain ash, one of early fall’s most stunning tree species. Mount Pisgah offers a 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains and valleys. From an elevation of 5721’, you can see Cold Mountain and Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River at 6684’. Below Mount Mitchell you can also see Asheville, 25 miles away.
Continuing south along the Parkway, some great places to hike include Graveyard Fields (milepost 418.8), Devil’s Courthouse (milepost 422.4), and the upper Shining Rock area, accessible from the East Fork Trail (milepost 417.0). Although the full flood of fall color is still just around the corner, you will see poplars, red oaks, white oaks, and locusts begin to turn a range of red, orange and yellow at these higher elevations.
Mountain ash berries at the Pisgah Inn
Another great drive full of trails and excellent vistas is north on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Craggy Pinnacle Trail (milepost 364.2) and Mount Mitchell (milepost 355) both offer breathtaking panoramic views. Catch the rusty red of dogwoods, sumacs and sourwoods. Tulip poplars are turning yellow, and the maples species are in their earliest stages of color change.
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Recent rainfall has given new life to the waterfalls of Western North Carolina, which should continue to have strong flow for the remainder of the season. Glassmine falls, located near Craggy Gardens on the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 361.2, can be seen just a few steps from the parking area. Highway 276, which connects Brevard and Waynesville, is home to the 85-foot Looking Glass falls and Moore Cove Falls. Also located on Highway 276 is the Cradle of Forestry, the first school of Forestry in America. Education/Interpretation Program Manager at the Cradle of Forestry Cindy Carpenter remarks, “This is a nice time of year to hike. You can pass openings where plants like white snakeroot are blooming, and joe-pye-weed and ironweed are attracting butterflies. In addition to wildflowers and trees, spreads of fall ferns are always lovely, whether in the open or in the woods.”
Enjoy a scenic waterfall together.
Access Highway 276 by taking the Blue Ridge Parkway south to Wagon Road Gap (milepost 412.0). Immediately after the parking area, take a left to begin the 15-mile descent to Brevard. You may want to stop for lunch at one of the many scenic picnic spots. Continue on 276 until you reach Looking Glass Falls. The Pisgah Ranger Station, located on Highway 276, can provide more information on activities in the area. Alternatively, for an easier drive with fewer curves, take Highway 280 west toward Brevard, and turn right at Highway 276. Visit soon to catch the spiral ladies tresses orchid, still blooming on the roadsides where they can find the most light.
Thanks to the National Forest Service!