Fall color? Here’s how to find the latest outbreaks

When it comes to fall color, we take the changing of the leaves pretty seriously.

How seriously?

Virginia has a fall foliage hotline — 800.424.5683 — that you can call for the latest breaking fall color news. Operators standing by; in our book, that’s pretty serious. But also understandable.

Fall color can break out overnight. Generally, the chromatic change begins at the highest elevations and cascades downhill. In North Carolina, that means you might head first to Mount Mitchell (6,684 feet) or Clingman’s Dome (41 feet shorter, at 6,643 feet), and in Virginia, to Mount Rogers (5,729 feet). More northerly locations, with generally cooler temperatures, can also see earlier color. The various microclimates that exist in the rugged Southern Appalachians can also affect when fall color will appear.

The main factor to track, though, is the weather, because without the right weather, good color isn’t happening no matter how high you are. On that front, things are looking pretty good for a colorful autumn in the mid-Atlantic.

After a disappointing fall 2018 — thanks in part to the drenching rains of Hurricane Florence — fall color forecasters say conditions leading into this fall have been much more favorable. Western Carolina University Professor of Biology Professor Beverly Collins, for one, says that based on summer weather patterns — wet early on, then drying out in late July — and a promising fall forecast on par with normal weather patterns, the prospects are good. Typically, warm, dry days and cool nights — with minimal rain — bodes well for bright colors. And that’s been the case the past couple of weeks. Which means now is about the time for avid leaf peepers to start monitoring fall foliage. Here’s how, depending upon where you live:


As we mentioned, Virginia has its fall foliage hotline. Then, beginning Thursday you can set your leaf peeper cam to one of several webcams in Shenandoah National Park to get realtime views of the action. The park will also keep you abreast of color developments on its various social media outlets, which you can find here.

The Virginia Department of Forestry is also on top of things, with a weekly fall foliage report that began Sept. 10. Its fall foliage home page points you to great places to catch fall color, descriptions of which leaves turn which colors, why they turn color in the first place — just about everything you need to know. Find it here.

The Virginia Department of Forestry adds that, typically, the color changes in the mountains from Oct. 10-20, in central Virginia Oct. 15-25 and in eastern Virginia Oct. 20-31.

North Carolina

In North Carolina, ExploreAsheville.com reports it will launch its weekly Fall Foliage Report this week. It keeps tabs on the latest color displays, which can help you determine where your color-seeking hikes should be focused. They also have an interactive fall color map that shows you in four-day increments where you should be able to find the best color (and also spots where there’s “minimal change,” “partial change” and “some color left”). It also suggests particularly good viewing locations and when to hit them.

Another key player in North Carolina: RomanticAsheville.com. This site has already begun tracking color and reports, “With temperatures above normal in September and a lack of rainfall, we could see peak times delayed by 2-3 days … .” They advise getting the latest reports from their Facebook and Instagram accounts. Find it all here.

For general tracking purposes, between now and mid-October, expect the best color around 6,000 feet and above, dropping to the 5,000-foot level between the 16th and 20th, to 4,000 feet between the 21st and 25th, to 3,000 feet by the end of October, then popping at the 3,000- to 4,000-foot level into the first week of November before migrating into the Piedmont.

When the time comes to find fall color — when the hotline says it’s go time — we’ve got a 10 favorite places of our own you should check out; find them here.

Here’s hoping you have a color-filled fall!

Join us on a color-filledl trip

Here are a few places we’re headed this fall that have the potential for great color. Click on the link for more information:

GetBackpacking! Wild, Wonderful Wilson Creek, Oct. 4-6. Although the prognosticators say color won’t hit here at the 3,000-foot level until later in the month, our experience is that the Wilson Creek area at the base of Grandfather Mountain is an early achiever. Plus, a stellar view from Saturday evening’s campsite, which includes 5,945-foot Grandfather Mountain, all but guarantees we’ll see some color. Details here.

GetHiking! Classic Weekend on the New River (North Carolina), Oct. 11-13. Color along the New River on a 5-mile paddle trip and atop the peaks of Mount Jefferson and Elk Knob should be stellar. Details here.

GetHiking! Midweek Assault on Mount Mitchell, Oct. 22-24. With a 5.5-mile hike that gains 3,700 vertical feet, you’ll experiences all phases of the color change. Details here.

GetHiking! A Veterans Day Overnight at Falls Lake, Nov. 9-10. We’ll hike some on this trip, we’ll paddle some, we’ll simply enjoy what likely will be the last chance to camp out until spring for many of us — all amid the burst of fall color that will be rimming Falls Lake. Details here.

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