Steve Monday: When will we see some fall color?

Published 3:48 pm Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The fall foliage show begins in the mountains and foothills of North Carolina and spreads east through the state, bringing an array of colors that everyone loves to see.

Thanks to our many 6,000-foot peaks (the highest in the eastern U.S.), deep valleys and varying microclimates, our Blue Ridge and Great Smoky mountains have one of the longest autumn color seasons in the country. We usually experience a five-week span of color that slowly descends from the tallest ridges to the lowest valleys and into the Piedmont.

The estimated peak color schedule is listed below to help you plan that annual fall trip to your favorite mountain location. You can also see when to expect the colors to change right here in Rowan County and the surrounding areas.

Peak foliage color timeline 2018

• Last week of September: Spotty color begins at 6,000 feet plus elevation, including Mount Mitchell and two lofty places along the Parkway, Rough Ridge at Grandfather Mountain and Graveyard Fields. Views into the valleys from this spots peak one to two weeks later.

• First week of October: Color peak above 5,000 feet elevation. The leaves in the highest mountains north of Asheville turn first, especially on the Parkway north of Craggy Gardens and Beech Mountain. South on the Parkway, head to the Waterrock Knob (my favorite) and Black Balsam areas. Hike and picnic atop both Max Patch and Roan Mountain on the Appalachian Trail.

• Second week of October: 4,000-5,000 feet elevation. Best colors really pick up steam, including the Mount Pisgah and Devil’s Courthouse areas south on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The mountains surrounding Waynesville and Cashiers peak, including Whiteside Mountain with the Shadow of the Bear. Also, see colorful highest ridges of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and drive the Cherohala Skyway. Camp at Lake Santeetlah.

• Third week of October: 3,000-4,000 feet elevation. The ultimate week for the most color including large sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway. This also includes much of Pisgah National Forest near Brevard. Drive the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway. Top hikes there include Looking Glass Rock or Cradle of Forestry. North of Asheville, the best color will be Banner Elk and hikes to Table Rock and Hawksbill Mountain at Linville Gorge. West of Asheville, head to Maggie Valley, Cherokee and Bryson City.

• Last week of October: 2,000-3,000 feet elevation. Asheville, French Broad River and Biltmore Estate show their best color, along with many small towns including Sylva and Saluda. It’s a great time for a waterfall hike in DuPont State Forest or a stroll at the N.C. Arboretum.

• First week of November: 1,000-2,000 feet elevation. Color fills Hickory Nut Gorge at Chimney Rock. See the fall reflections on Lake Lure. Also hike and camp at Lake James and South Mountains State Parks east of Asheville. The leaf progression concludes in the foothills around Marion, Rutherfordton and Tryon Foothills Wine Country. (Information from the Romantic Asheville website)

What about Rowan County?

When are the leaves going to change here?

Over the next eight weeks, we will see our average high temperatures drop from around 81 degrees to 62 degrees with the average low dropping from 60 degrees down to 38.

As those nighttime temperatures start to cool off, we will see the leaves slowly start to change color. In Rowan County, we should start to see these changes as we move through the last half of October and then peak around mid-November.

Rowan County Weather website will have a leaf color report map that will be updated county by county. The map will indicate changes in the fall colors using green for no change and red to mean peak colors. I will make updated posts weekly as we move through this year’s fall foliage season.

I hope this helps you plan the best times for viewing our beautiful fall colors.