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
Typical Peak Foliage Color Timeline - Don't focus on exact dates since nobody can predict mother nature.
September last week: Spotty color begins at 5,000+ feet in the highest mountains plus on high rocky ridges including the Cherohala Skyway, Great Smoky Mountain National Park at Clingmans Dome, and parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Rough Ridge and Graveyard Fields.
October First Week: Colors continue to transform above 5,000 feet elevation, and hints of color below 5000 feet.
October Second Week: 4,000-5,000 feet elevation. Best colors really pick up steam on the Cherohala Skyway and Blue Ridge Parkway. Also, see the colorful highest ridges of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
October Third Week: 3,000-4,000 feet elevation. The ultimate week for the most color includes large sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Foothills Parkway, Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and lower elevations of the Cherohala Skyway.
October Fourth Week: 2,000-3,000 feet elevation. Color continues on the Foothills Parkway and lower elevations of the Cherohala Skyway. Plenty of color remains in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the lower elevations.
November First Week: 1,000-2,000 feet elevation. Foothills Parkway and lower elevations of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.