Updated 8/3/2016 – Fall foliage in the Blue Ridge Mountains is one of the most beautiful fall displays in the world. The Blue Ridge of North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and Georgia are often on the top of “best places to see fall colors” lists, like this one on Mashable. For peak leaf times, visit our Fall Foliage Forecast & Guide.
But, the mountain range is huge, with tons of various options to visit and see. What are the best places to visit to see the fall foliage in the Blue Ridge?
Here are our 25 picks for the best places to see fall foliage and fall colors in the Blue Ridge Mountains:
1 – Take a drive on The Blue Ridge Parkway
In our opinion, the very best place to see Fall Foliage in The Blue Ridge Mountains is along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Parkway provides breathtaking scenic vistas where you can literally see for more than 50 miles on a clear day. The Parkway also varies in elevation, guaranteeing that if you travel it in October, you will see Fall foliage, and at different colors based on elevation
2 – Take a drive through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Highway 441
One of the most stunning and beautiful drives in the Blue Ridge is along highway 441 between Cherokee NC, and Gatlinburg, TN. Whether you start from Gatlinburg or Cherokee, Highway 441 will weave and wind it’s way up to Newfound Gap, at an elevation of 5049 feet. Along the way, you’ll pass numerous scenic overlooks that offer wonderful views of the color. The best time of the year for these views is the last two weeks in October.
While you’re traveling, be sure and stop by Newfound Gap and take a walk along the famous Appalachian Trail. Also, take the time to drive out to Clingmans Dome and hike up to the observation tower, where you will see fall views like you’ve never seen before. You might even see a bear are two. We often do.
3 – Visit Cades Cove in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
There is something magical about Cades Cove, in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Cades Cove attracts people from all of the world to savor it’s history, historic buildings, varied wildlife, forests, trails, and mountain vistas. Cades Cove offers numerous fall photo opportunities and amazing array of color. Visit during the last two weeks in October for the brightest an most beautiful colors.
See our Great Smoky Mountains National Park Guide for more information on Cades Cove and other areas of the park.
4 – Visit Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC
When many people think of Asheville, NC, visions of Biltmore House often come to mind. Biltmore House is the “vacation estate” for George Vanderbilt. Asheville and Biltmore became on of George’s obsessions and became more of his permanent home than a vacation estate. If you’ve never seen the grand Biltmore Estate, fall is the perfect time to visit. The house is simply gorgeous surrounded by vibrant fall colors and the scenic views from Biltmore house are beautiful. While you’re there, stop off at the Biltmore Winery for a sample of some wonderful tasting wines.
More information and discounted ticket prices are available on the Biltmore Website. Find other things to do, and book your Asheville Vacation using our Asheville Vacation Planner. While you’re there, make sure you stop by and visit the Grovepark Inn too.
5 – Go Zip Lining
What better way to see all of the vibrant Blue Ridge Mountain Fall colors than to be up the trees with them? Ziplining is a really fun experience, and offers a unique way of seeing trees, wildlife, and scenic views. There are numerous zip lines in the area, but our personal favorite is Navitat, located north of Asheville. They now have two different zip line tours and information and reservations are available on their website.
We’ve personally been to Navitat a few times. You can read about one of our adventures here on our website.
6 – Visit one of the many waterfalls, surrounded by fall color
The Blue Ridge Mountains are full of waterfalls. Frankly it’s hard to do much of anything without coming across one while driving to your destination, or experiencing one while at your destination. This is particularly true of Western NC, where there are literally thousands of waterfalls, and hundreds in excess of 10 feet.
Waterfalls are beautiful to behold any time of the year, but they are particularly beautiful when surrounded by vivid fall colors. There is just something magical about the combination of white water falling over rock, mixed in with colorful leaves that have already fallen, and surrounded by trees full of color leaves waiting to fall.
Not sure where to go? Try one of our favorite NC waterfalls this fall. All of them are gorgeous and offer amazing fall views. Looking Glass Falls, Soco Falls and Upper and Lower Falls at Graveyard fields are all particularly beautiful in the Fall.
7 – Ride the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad (GSMR), located in Bryson City, NC offers a fun and unique way of enjoying the Fall colors of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Best Part? The GSMR offers a number of different “excursion” which wind along side rivers, mountains and over bridges. The GSMR also offers a number of “special” trains like the Peanut’s Pumpkin Patch Express, Halloween Dinner Train, and at Christmas, the wonderful Polar Express.
We’ve ridden the train a few times, and had a wonderful time. The staff there is top notch and the whole experience is great. While in Bryson City NC, there is also plenty to do, including visiting Deep Creek, where the fall colors should really provide some excellent photo opportunities.
8/3/2016 Update – They now have the old steam engine restored and in operation!
Read more about The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad and book your reservations on their website.
8 – Go hiking on one of the many trails with scenic views
Frankly, pretty much any trail you take in The Blue Ridge Mountains will offer fantastic views, but there are a few trails that offer exceptional views. These include:
- Black Balsam, off The Blue Ridge Parkway
- Rough Ridge near Grandfather Mountain
- Craggy Gardens, near Asheville
- Alum Bluff Trail to LeConte, in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Any of the trails in Cataloochee Valley or Cades Cove in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Appalachian Trail anywhere in GA, NC or Virginia
- Pisgah National Forest
Read up on our Favorite Hiking Trails in the Blue Ridge or our favorite hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, all of which would provide outstanding fall foliage views and scenery. You can read about all the trails we’ve visited on our hiking page.
9 – Visit Grandfather Mountain
Grandfather Mountain is one probably the most famous mountains in The Blue Ridge, and definitely the most famous in North Carolina. Located near the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Linville NC, Grandfather Mountain is also one of the tallest mountains in NC. Because of it’s height, Grandfather is one of the first peaks to begin showing fall colors.
Grandfather mountain is famous for it’s “Mile High Bridge”, zoo, and numerous trails and camping areas around the mountain. We’ve camped there many times as a family.
Read more about Grandfather Mountain on their website.
10 – Take a horseback ride
There are numerous locations in the Blue Ridge Mountains to go horseback riding. Horseback riding is a popular activity for visitors coming to The Blue Ridge both in the Fall an summer.b
Romantic Asheville has a great guide for horseback riding in the Asheville area.
11 – Take a hot air ballon ride
What better way to see the fall leaves than from the air? How about in a hot air balloon? That’s right, you take a hot air balloon and sore gracefully over the brilliant fall colors of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Here are just a few places in that offer hot air balloon rides:
- Asheville Hot Air Balloons in Asheville, NC
- Blue Ridge Balloon in Charlottesville, VA
- Valley Ballooning in The Shenendoah Valley, VA
- Blue Ridge Hot Air Balloons, Front Royal, VA
12 – Drive on Skyline Drive in VA
The Skyline Drive in Virginia is a wonderful place to view the fall colors and enjoy a nice drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Skyline drive weaves it’s way through some of the higher elevations of Shenandoah National Park. It runs 105 miles From Rock Fish Gap, where it joins The Blue Ridge Parkway to Front Royal, VA. Driving the full distance of Skyline drive takes about 3 hours, give or take depending on how often you stop at one of the 75 different overlooks.
Peak leaf time for Skyline drive is the last two weeks in October.
13 – Visit Max Patch Mountain
Max Patch, located west of Asheville near Tennessee is one of our favorite family hiking locations, and is a great place to visit and hike during the fall, due to the outstanding high elevation scenic views. Max Patch offers multiple trails, and the Appalachian Trail runs through as well. Elevation on the higher trail reaches 4600 feet.
Max Patch is a hidden gem, not often known by most tourists, which makes it less congested and great for taking photos. Get more information and directions to Max Patch in our Max Patch Guide.
14 – Visit Asheville NC
Asheville, NC, the city the mountains. Asheville, NC is the largest city in Western NC and the 11th largest in NC. Asheville serves as the main gateway to Western NC and provides a very diverse and culture rich city life, that is close to many of the most popular destinations in Western NC, including The Blue Ridge Parkway.
Asheville is a great place to stay if you are visiting Western NC for the fall leaf season AND you want to stay in a more modern area with standard city life. Asheville is full of nice hotels, top rated restaurants, and plenty of evening activities such as clubs and bars. Asheville, NC is also home to a number of excellent breweries if you enjoy micro-brewed beer. Asheville is also home to the Biltmore Estate, #4 on this list.
If you are looking for more rustic and “mountain like” accommodations, other smaller towns surrounding Asheville would be better suited.
Learn more about About Asheville, NC on Ashville’s tourism website.
15 – Chimney Rock NC
One of my favorite places to visit in Western NC, is Chimney Rock State Park, located in near Lake Lure NC. Chimney Rock State Park houses some great trails, beautiful waterfalls, and one of the most gorgeous views in Western NC from atop it’s famed “chimney rock”. My wife and I spent many weekends at Chimney rock while we were dating and after we were married.
Fall foliage at Chimney rock are breathtaking, especially along the Hickory Nut Falls Trail to the base of Hickory Nut Falls.
Learn more about Chimney Rock Park on their website.
16 – Visit Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge TN
Gatlinburg Tennesee is one of the most famous mountain resort cities in the world. Gatlinburg is an incredibly popular vacation spot due to it bordering The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and almost serving as a main entrance. Many of the most beautiful areas of the National Park are accessible from Gatlinburg and just a few minutes away. Gatlinburg is a neat town, filled with history, and surrounded by the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. For fall leaf viewers, it’s hard to find a better place to visit.
17 – Visit Charlottesville, VA / Shenandoah National Park
Located just a 22 miles from the intersection of The Blue Ridge Parkway of NC and the Skyline Drive of VA, Charlottesville is a true a city in the mountains and a popular destination for hikers interested in hiking trails in The Shenandoah National Park. Charlottesville is also home to the University of Virigina, and as a result, the city offers a number of nice evening restaurants, bars and clubs.
While in Charlottesville, you can also visit Monticllo, the home of Thomas Jefferson.
Charlottesville is a nice place to visit, and a great place to call “home” while visiting the Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive.
18 – Hike at Linville Falls
Linville Falls, located at MP 316.3 on the Blue Ridge Parkway is a gorgeous area for relaxing, hiking, enjoying the scenic views and for mainly seeing breathtaking views of Linville falls. The Linville Falls area off the parkway has 2 different hiking trails. An easy trail leading to the upper falls area, and a more difficult area leading to the larger lower falls.
The easy trail also leads to a couple of overlooks that provide some wonderful fall color opportunities in October, as seen in the above photo taken in early fall. Linville Falls is one of our top NC waterfalls to visit, and makes for an excellent day trip while traveling along the Parkway.
While you’re there, make sure you stop by Linville Caverns and visit #20 on our list, Wiseman’s View.
19 – Visit Cataloochee Valley in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
While at #19 on our list, Cataloochee Valley in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park would be at the very top of our list if we were ranking in order of awesomeness. Cataloochee Valley is one of the most amazing and beautiful places in the National Park, and offers some incredibly opportunities to see and photography fall colors. One of the really neat things about Cataloochee, in a addition to the numerous Elk, and the old historic buildings. These buildings surround by the vivid fall colors of late October should be on your “must see” list.
Cataloochee Valley has a number of hiking trails, historic buildings, waterfalls, creeks and streams. Read more about Cataloochee Valley in our Cataloochee Valley Guide.
20 – Visit Wiseman’s View in Linville Gorge
Linville Gorge is one of the more amazing and beautiful areas of North Carolina. Linville Gorge is often called “The Grand Canyon of North Carolina” and rightfully so. Linville Gorge Wilderness comprises of 11,786 acres. The Linville river is 1400 feet below the upper ridge, and gorge towers over the river for 12 miles. Linville Gorge is a popular location for serious hikers, camping and rock climbing.
One of the most popular places to view the gorge is at Wiseman’s View, a rock out-cropping overlooking the gorge. Wiseman’s View is accessed via a short and paved trail. To get to Wiseman’s View, take I-40 to Marion. Exit onto Highway 221 and go north until 221 intersects with NC 183. Turn right onto NC 183 and continue one mile to NC 105, Kistler Memorial Highway. Wiseman’s View overlook is about four miles down the road, you will see signs.
Read more about Linville Gorge and Wiseman’s view on the National Forest page.
21 – Enjoy the view at Clingmans Dome
At 6644 feet, the Observation tower at Clingmans Dome offers one of the most beautiful and scenic 360 degree views you can get on the east coast, and definitely in the most beautiful in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Smoky Mountains and the 3rd highest peak in North Carolina.
Clingmans Dome is located off of Newfound Gap Road (Highway 441), by a 7 mile access road near the Newfound Gap overlook and observation area. Accessing the Observation tower requires a short, but steep, hike up. The Appalachian trail comes through the area, and is easily accessible as well. This is a popular destination for tourists, so expect large crowds in the fall.
22 – Take a hike at Roan Mountain
Roan Mountain is a majestic mountain located in Roan Mountain State Park and peaks at 6285 feet in elevation. located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee. The area offers stunning and clear views, due to the elevation and “balds”. Balds are were the tops of the mountains have been cleared off for pasture. There are a number of trails to hike, and the Appalachian trail crosses through the area as well.
Read more about Roan Mountain, also called Roan Highlands on Wikipedia.
23 – Visit Dupont State Forest
Dupont State Forest is located near Brevard NC and is famous for it’s waterfalls and for being featured in the first Hunger Games movie. Remember the scene where Katniss is crossing the large creek? That was filmed at Triple Falls (shown above) in Dupont State Forest. The main trail is a 3 mile roundtrip hike, and is often full of people during the summer and fall.
Dupont is popular in the Fall due to the beautiful combination of waterfalls and fall colors. Peak times for fall color at Dupont is the 3rd week in October. Find out more information on Dupont State Forest on the Friends of Dupont Forest website.
24 – Visit Blue Ridge GA
Blue Ridge, GA is located in North West Georgia in Fannin County. Blue Ridge is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the state of Georgia. Blue Ridge is surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, and has Lake Blue Ridge an the Toccoa River. The combination of water and mountains is the cause of it’s popularity.
There is also a really nice scenic railroad, called the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway which operates out of the town’s historic 100-year-old depot. The downtown area also serves as host for several seasonal festivals.
25 – Visit Boone and Blowing Rock, NC
One of the most popular tourist destinations in North Carolina is Boone and Blowing Rock. The areas was also voted as one of the top 10 places to retire in 2012 by US News. In addition to the areas beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, Boone and Blowing rock are home to the Tweetsie Railroad, Appalachian State University, and home to the most popular skiing location in North Carolina, Sugar Mountain Ski Resort.
The Blue Ridge Parkway also goes through the area as well. The Boone and Blowing Rock is a wonderful destination for fall colors, with lots to do and see.
>>> Don’t forget to visit our Fall Foliage Forecast and Guide too! <<<