Although there is not usually a significant change in the color of the leaves around here until late October or early November, the best time to catch the annual fall show in North Carolina is often around early- to mid-October. This is the time to drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway to see the fall mountain landscape and brilliant fall colors.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469-mile recreational motor road that follows the Appalachian Mountain chain. It connects the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, while protecting the cultural and natural features of the region. A scenic drive with elevations that range from less than 650 feet to nearly 6,050 feet, the parkway provides stunning scenery and an up-close look at the natural and cultural history of the mountains.
The highlight of the drive is the many scenic overlooks along the side of the parkway. Each stop provides an eagle’s vantage point of the surrounding mountains and countryside below. The world is at your feet. When you think you have seen the best view yet, another scenic overlook waits just around the curve to impress you even more. And of course, the higher up into the mountains you go, the more astonishing the fall colors. Touches of red, yellow, orange, purple, brown and green decorate the world around you. These splashes of color sprout from various trees including oaks, birch, beech, maples, sassafras, tulip poplar, dogwood and sourwood.
There are three notable stops along the Blue Ridge Parkway in northwestern North Carolina I recommend visiting — Mount Mitchell, Grandfather Mountain and Linville Falls. In the Black Mountains, Mount Mitchell is not only the highest point in North Carolina but the highest east of the Mississippi River with an elevation of 6,684 feet. It is not uncommon for the temperature here to stay in the 30s or 40s even in October. Brrrr! Bring a coat and purchase the hot chocolate for a more pleasurable walk to the summit.
Grandfather Mountain, the highest mountain in the Blue Ridge Mountain range, has an elevation of 5,964 feet. This private peak features a great view from a mile-high swinging bridge, a nature museum and seven environmental habitat areas for native wildlife, including black bears, eagles, otters, deer and cougars.
Linville Falls is a popular waterfall in the Blue Ridge Mountains because of its accessibility from the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is a spectacular three-tiered waterfall plunging into Linville Gorge, the “Grand Canyon of the Southern Appalachians.” Short walking trails to various viewpoints give folks the opportunity to take a break, get out of the car and experience the falls up close.
While driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway north of Boone, N.C., you’ll notice Christmas trees growing in the distance. There are an estimated 2,000 Christmas tree growers in western North Carolina, growing over 30,000 acres of Christmas trees. Many of the Fraser Firs sold in this area each December originate in North Carolina. A trip to the mountains during the month of December gives you an opportunity to bring home a special treat — a fresh-cut mountain Christmas tree.
A drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway is well worth the trip. Fall and spring are probably the most scenic, but the mountain views are great almost anytime. To fully enjoy the beauty of the area, dedicate several days, possibly a week, and maintain a slow pace. There is nothing like the peace and beauty found in the mountains.
Shane Harris is an extension agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. For help on other home and garden questions, contact your local county Extension Office or visit www.aces.edu.