For Fall Color, This is the Weekend

In my 30 falls in the Southeast, I’m pretty sure this is the best yet for fall color.

No surprise, considering that, save for a tropical storm, the conditions have been ideal for the past month for great color: cool nights, warm days, and lots and lots of sun. 

Those conditions are paying off with brilliant bursts of lemon-yellow oaks, watermelon pastel sourwoods, and the occasional blaze-orange maples. And because the conditions started early, the color is peaking early — and will be over before you know it.

Today, we offer quick looks at 6 spots that should be at their peak this weekend, as well as eight of our favorite sources for keeping tabs on current color conditions.

  1. Tanawha Trail / Mountains-to-Sea Trail at Holloway Mountain Road

Blowing Rock

Yes, the Blue Ridge Parkway, which offers the main access to the Tanawha/MST, is notorious for fall color traffic jams, but you can avoid the caravan chaos altogether by picking up the trail as it crosses Holloway Mountain Road. Just west of Price Lake, you can pick up the gravel Holloway Mountain Road off US 221 just west of Price Lake. From the trailhead, hike west, through a mix of meadows rimmed by colorful edge forest and mature hardwoods.

More info here.

2. Mayo River State Park, Deshazo Mill Access

Stoneville, NC

This little-known access offers but a mile of trail (provided you continue hiking a short distance into Virginia), but man, what a mile, especially this time of year. An impressive waterfall (pictured above) at the start feeds a mountain-like creek, which empties into the Mayo River — all of which is currently lit in luminescent yellows by a mature oak-hickory forest.

More info here.

3. Cataloochee Valley, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Waynesville, NC

The Cataloochee Valley is home to a reintroduced elk population, the remnants of the once-thriving Cataloochee community, and a great network of trails, some of which re surprisingly accessible. One of the latter is the Cataloochee Horse Trail, which threads a gap and takes you to the Little Cataloochee and Pretty Hollow Gap trails. The reason the area isn’t overrun? The road to get there is mostly gravel and skirts a cliff or two.

More info here.

4. Deep Creek Area, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Bryson City

First, steer clear of Deep Creek itself, which is easy to get to and easy to hike. Rather, hop on Lakeview Drive, which will take you to both the Noland Creek and Lakeview trailheads. Noland Creek Trail spends its first few miles slowly gaining elevation along its namesake creek, offering a range of color options; Lakeview Trail follows the color along Fontana Lake and includes passage through the popular Tunnel-to-Nowhere.

More info here.

5. Occoneechee State Park

Clarksville, VA

Located on the John H. Kerr Reservoir (a k a Buggs Island Lake), this 2,700-acre lake provides access both to good lakeside color and the emerging show of piedmont hardwoods. Most of the traffic to this park is lake related (the 48,000-acre lake is popular with boaters), meaning the trails should be relatively peaceful.

More info here.

6. Twin Lakes State Park

Green Bay, VA

As is the case at Occoneechee State Park, Twin Lakes benefits from water colors, though in this case in a significantly more intimate serving. We especially like the 1.1-mile Goodwin Lake Trail, which traces its namesake providing non-step water’s edge fall color. 

More info here.

Fall color reports

Fall color is big business (ecotourism-wise), so it’s little wonder a lot of folks track fall color — and report their latest findings on these websites:

North Carolina 


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