Peak colors typically occur during the last two weeks in October, but that is dependent upon fall temperatures and in particular, the first frost date. The color change begins at higher elevations where you see the earliest changes in late September, and continue all the way into mid-November at the lower elevations.
The Sourwood and Dogwood trees are the first to turn red early in the season. Next are the Tulip Poplars which turn yellow, but then quickly turn brown. Peak leaf season brings in the red, orange, and yellow of the Maples and the bright yellow of the Birches. Oaks and Sweetgums finish up the season with purple, orange, and red.
Fall wildflowers on the Cherohala Skyway provide a beautiful display of colors starting in September up to the first frost in early October.
The higher elevations such as the Cherohala Skyway, US 441 through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway will have the first colors. Take a jacket because temperatures can be 10 degrees colder at 5,000 feet. Remember that sightseeing will bring more traffic and it’s moving slower.
Falling leaves can be a problem in wet weather. Once the roads dry, the leaves usually clear fast. We have seen snow as early as Halloween but it doesn’t stick long. First snow is generally during the very end of October and first part of November, of course warmer temps follows.
Helpful links for planning your fall trip:
- Plan your Trip to the Tail of the Dragon Region
- Regional Accommodations
- Printable Touring Maps
- Romantic Asheville Fall Color Report – Blue Ridge Parkway details
- Area Web Cams
2019 Leaf color
“Strong leaf season predicted”
Smoky Mountain News, Sept 4, 2019
This autumn should yield vibrant fall colors in the mountains, according to Western Carolina University’s fall color forecaster Beverly Collins.
Collins, a professor of biology, combines her knowledge of forest ecology with weather trend observations to assess the potential for a strong leaf color season.
From spring to mid-summer the area saw unusually warm and wet conditions, but precipitation returned closer to normal in late July. The long-term forecast through October is for average precipitation and warmer-than-normal temperatures — if that holds true, the mountain region should see typically bright colors this year.
Peak color is determined by changing sunrise/sunset times as well as weather conditions, with cooler nights resulting in less chlorophyll production and therefore less green in the leaves. If the long-term forecast for warmer weather holds and those cooler nights are delayed, peak color could hold off to the last weekend of October near WCU and the region’s many valley towns in the 2,000-foot elevation range. Peak color will happen sooner at the higher elevations, where the cool nights come earlier, though the very highest peaks tend to be covered with fir and spruce trees that stay dark green all year.
“Moving down in elevation, maple, cherry and birch trees of the northern hardwood forests often turn early, with predominately reds and yellows,” Collins said. “The mixed oak-hardwood forests often turn over a more prolonged time, with the reds, oranges and yellows of maples, birches and tulip-poplar appearing earlier and the more muted yellows and reds of oaks appearing later. Sycamores, maples, walnut and birches along streams tend to turn yellow, then brown, and the leaves fall early.”
A wildcard in nature’s leaf color mix is the rogue hurricane remnants or big storms that could bring heavy rain and strong winds to the mountains and knock the leaves off the trees ahead of schedule — leaf peepers should cross their fingers and hope that doesn’t happen.