2017 Fall Foliage in Western North Carolina

Friday, October 6, 2017
Fall Foliage Photography

This summer’s thundershowers have created an abundance of full healthy leaves and Asheville should see a spectacular fall leaf season. Higher elevations are expected to begin their fall foliage transformation next weekend.

If the fall leaf season seems to be delayed this year, it’s because the past two weeks’ warm weather has slowed the color transition. The Asheville area is currently expected to reach peak color during the third week of October. Higher elevations, including, Boone, will begin transitioning next week.

Why do the leaves change color?

When temperatures cool in autumn, chlorophyll starts to degrade allowing the hidden pigments of deciduous trees to provide a rich, colorful display. This rich display often starts at the highest elevation in late September and early October, gradually progressing to the lowest elevation by late October and early November. Peak season occurs around mid-October.

At high-elevation, above 4500 feet, red, crimson and orange colors are displayed among the sugar maples and mountain maples, yellow hues are displayed with beech and yellow birch, and red displayed with serviceberry, red oak and high-bush blueberry leaves as well as mountain ash berries. Fall flowering species at these elevations include yellows from skunk goldenrod and roan goldenrod, blues from wavy-leaved aster and eastern agueweed, and white wood aster. Red spruce, Fraser fir and Catawba rhododendron provide a backdrop of green evergreen foliage within many of the high-elevation areas.

When will the leaves be at their peak fall color on the Blue Ridge Parkway?

During the month of October, usually mid to late month, but it depends on your elevation. Leaves will begin changing first on the highest peaks and conclude in the lower elevations.

There is no simple formula for predicting fall color. The Parkway includes east and west facing slopes, and varies in elevation from just under 650 feet at James River in Virginia, to over 6,000 feet south of Mt. Pisgah in North Carolina.

Many visitors have been frustrated trying to go to one spot on one day in October, hoping to find the leaves in full color. A far better plan is to drive some distance on the Parkway, changing elevations and north-south orientation. Any one who does this around mid to late October will likely catch at least some sections at or very near their peak color.

Why does fall color vary year to year?

The intensity of fall color and time of peak color vary and are determined by complex environmental factors, as well as the genetic makeup of the plants themselves. The “best” fall color for an area occurs during the shortening days of autumn when days are bright, sunny and cool, when nights are cool but not below freezing, and when there has been ideal rainfall. Adequate rainfall also keeps the leaves on the trees longer and enhances the color. Wet, cloudy, warm weather or exceptionally low temperatures in early fall tend to mute the much anticipated autumnal display.

Call the Blue Ridge Parkway Information Line to hear the latest seasonal report: (828) 298-0398, press option 3.

(“Fall Foliage Photography” by http://www.flickr.com/photos/forestwander-nature-pictureshttp://www.flickr.com/photos/forestwander-nature-pictures/6086519585. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)