Fall Colors in North Carolina, and in particular Western North Carolina, is one of the most colorful and longest running fall seasons in the world! From the end of September all through November, the Blue Ridge Mountains are alive with color. The forests and fields of North Carolina burst into a kaleidoscope of reds, oranges, and yellows – from maples, oaks, poplars and hickories.
But with so many options, where are the best places in to see fall colors in North Carolina? Honestly, the options are nearly endless, as Western North Carolina is full of places to visit that are surrounded by beautiful fall foliage.
But as locals living here in Waynesville NC, we have a few places that we consider better than average. Spots that are ideal for photography, or just sitting and enjoying them.
These spots deliver not only beautiful views, historic buildings, waterfalls, and lakes, but they deliver them wrapped in stunning fall colors.
Here are our top picks for the very best places to see fall color in North Carolina, and they are all in the mountains (to be fair, we might be a little partial).
Fall Colors in North Carolina - The Best Places
Our list is in no particular order and all of these are some of the very best places to see fall colors in North Carolina.
Just pay attention to the peak times that we note on each one. Fall Color begins in early October, and progresses down in elevation through October and into early November.
Higher elevation locations peak early in October, while lower elevations peak later. Be sure to check out full fall foliage forecast and guide for details, and peak times by elevation and location.
See our 2023 Fall Color Forecast and Guide to learn the peak times at various locations and elevations!
Biltmore is beautiful year round, but exceptionally so in the Fall, surrounded by fall colors. The house alone, surrounded by trees and distant mountains sprinkled with fall color, is simply gorgeous. But to see the full splendor of Biltmore in the Fall, and appreciate its true beauty, you'll need to explore the gardens.
The gardens offer many walking and hiking trails, surrounded by beautiful shrubs and trees. The garden area around bass lake is exceptionally gorgeous surrounded by fall color.
The walled garden is constantly being refreshed with seasonal flowers, and during the fall you'll find vibrant orange Mums and purple Salvia that are stunning to see and make for excellent photos.
Of course you the single price of admissions provides a house tour and access to other Biltmore areas such an Antler village and the winery.
All of this combines to make Biltmore a historic and beautiful place to see fall colors in North Carolina.
Learn more About Biltmore.
Blue Ridge Parkway
One of the very best ways to see beautiful and stunning fall colors in North Carolina throughout the entire month of October is by traveling along the Blue Ridge Parkway. With colors peaking at various times in October, based on elevation, the parkway is perfect. You can basically find peak fall colors on the Parkway throughout October!
Even better, many portions of the Blue Ridge Parkway offer high elevation and long distance views where you can see stunning long distance views of the mountains covered in brilliant fall colors.
While the entire parkway is perfect for seeing the fall colors in October, there are a number of areas along the parkway that are exceptional locations for seeing fall colors.
Learn more in our 22+ Best Stops on the Blue Ridge Parkway for Fall Colors guide.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park annually hosts more than 10 million people, and many of those visit during the fall to see the gorgeous fall color display. Some of the top spots to see Fall Colors in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park include:
- Newfound Gap - Highest point along Newfound Gap Road. Provides access to the Appalachian Trail and incredible scenic views of the park.
- Clingmans Dome - The highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at 6,643' in elevation. The parking area provides incredible long distance views of the fall foliage. But for even better views, hike up the steep but short 1/4 mile trail to the Observation tower for very long range and 360 degree views.
- Alum Cave Trail - The quintessential Smoky Mountain hike, this trail offers stunning fall foliage and various terrian. You can do the shorter hike to the old mining cave, or do a much longer more strenuous hike up to the famous LeConte Lodge.
- Cades Cove - The most visited place in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Cades Cove provides a gorgeous loop road to drive on, visitor's center, hiking trails, waterfalls, historic structures, and tons of wildlife.
- Cataloochee Valley - One our personal favorite places in the Smokies, and home to the re-introduced Elk. Cataloochee valley delivers exceptional fall scenery, wildlife, hiking trails, and historic structures.
- Big Creek - Another of our favorites, Big Creek is gorgeous year-round, but especially in the fall. There is a picnic area, camping, hiking, waterfalls, and one of the most popular swimming holes in the entire Blue Ridge Mountains, Midnight Hole.
- Deep Creek - Locate just outside of Bryson City NC, Deep Creek is famous for summer tubing. But it also delivers exceptional fall colors late in October, along with 3 different waterfalls on a loop hike. There is also a large picnic area and campground.
Learn more in our Great Smoky Mountains National Park guide.
Max Patch is a remote bald at an elevation of 4,629 feet. The Appalachian trail crosses the bald at the top, and the hike up from the access road is less than a mile and a moderate hike. The reward is gorgeous 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains, including the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
During the fall, the foliage surrounding Max Patch is stunning. Max Patch has been heavily use and abused over the last few years, and it has taken a toll. If you decide to visit, please Leave No Trace.
Learn more about this stunning place in our Max Patch Guide!
Forest Heritage National Scenic Byway - Highway 276
The Forest Heritage Scenic byway is a gorgeous scenic drive, that will take you to various elevations, waterfalls, and scenic points of interest. The drive in the fall is stunning as you are surrounded by a rainbow of fall colors throughout nearly the entire drive.
The drive takes you from Waynesville NC, out and under the Blue Ridge Parkway, then into Pisgah National Forest to Brevard NC. From Brevard you'll head to Cashiers along a section of road surrounded by numerous waterfalls, and then back up to Waynesville.
If you like scenic drives, beautiful fall colors, and waterfalls, this should be on your short list!
Learn more in our Forest Heritage Scenic Byway Guide.
This well known and historic mountain brings back memories for many, as they visited Grandfather with their families as children, and now take their children and grandchildren. The mountain is famous for its views, hiking trails, animal habitats, and mostly for the "mile high bridge".
For those wanting to see fall color at Grandfather, the options are endless. There are a number of overlooks that offer incredible views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, hiking trails to explore full of fall colors, and even the entry drive up to the top of Grandfather is stunning during peak fall season.
Peak leaf season at Grandfather is generally the first 2 weeks of October.
Learn more in our Grandfather Mountain Guide.
Visit a North Carolina Mountain Town
North Carolina is full of wonderful small mountain towns that are full of things to do. Many have fall celebrations like fall festivals and apple festivals.
Many are near to some of the best hiking trails and waterfalls in the Blue Ridge Mountains as well. All of this offers up a chance to explore these small towns and enjoy the fall colors at the same time.
The various towns are at different elevations as well, offering you a chance to visit multiple towns throughout October, and still experience peak fall colors. For example, Beech Mountain NC is the highest elevation town in North Carolina.
Learn more about the best mountain towns in North Carolina.
Chimney Rock State Park
Chimney Rock State Park is located in Hickory Nut Gorge near the towns of Chimney Rock and Lake Lure. The rocky and step terrain of the gorge really presents an amazing kaleidoscope of colors during fall peak season.
There is no better way to see and experience this incredible display of fall colors than from the high cliffs of Chimney Rock State Park. We have been visiting Chimney Rock State Park for more than 30 years, and it delivers some of the best views available in the Blue Ridge Mountains, especially in the fall.
Peak season at Chimney Rock is usually late, due to being at a lower overall elevation compared to much of the Blue Ridge Mountains. You can expect peak colors in and around Chimney Rock State Park in late October and early November.
Learn more about Chimney Rock State Park in our guide.
Mount Mitchell State Park is located off the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 355 and near the wonderful mountain town of Burnsville NC. Mount Mitchell is the tallest mountain on the east coast at 6,684 feet.
Most of the foliage at the top of Mount Mitchell is mainly evergreen fir trees, although there are some trees that change color. What Mount Mitchell does deliver is incredible high elevation views of the surrounding mountains at lower elevations, and covered in peak fall foliage in mid to late October.
Peak fall colors at Mount Mitchell itself can be seen during the first week in October, since it is as such a high elevation.
Mount Mitchell offers incredible views, hiking trails, gorgeous evergreen forest, a gift shop, and restaurant.
Learn more about Burnsville NC and Mount Mitchell
Road to Nowhere
The Road to Nowhere, also known as Lakeshore Drive, is a road from Bryson City North Carolina in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, that leads to, well nowhere.
The history behind the road is sad, yet interesting. The road does in fact lead somewhere, just not to its original intended destination, due to politics and funding issues. But it does lead to an abandoned tunnel that you can walk through.
Lakeshore Drive itself is beautiful, and offers a drive through beutiful forest, and views of nearby Fontana Lake. In the fall, these views are exceptional.
Learn more about the Road to Nowhere in our guide.
DuPont State Forest
DuPont State Forest is located just outside of Brevard NC, and home to many waterfalls, 86 miles of hiking trails, and a lake. That park is large, with more more than 10,000 acres of protected land.
In the fall, this already beautiful state park is especially stunning, with multiple colors of leaves, and the smell of crisp fall air.
The best way to see the fall colors at DuPont State Forest is to hike, and one of our favorite trails is the waterfalls loop trail. This trail will take you to four different beautiful waterfalls, and through dense forest that is just full of brilliant color in the fall.
Learn more in our DuPont State Forest Waterfalls guide.
Fontana lake is one of the most beautiful and popular lakes in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The lake was formed by the creation of Fontana Dam.
The lake's signature dark green color, surrounded by mountains covered in a kaleidoscope of fall colors is stunning to see.
There are many different options for seeing the lake and the fall colors at Fontana Lake:
- Visit Fontana Dam
- Hike around the lake on the many different hiking trails
- Rent a boat from the Marina
- Go kayaking or canoeing
Learn more about Fontana Lake in our guide.
Another popular and gorgeous mountain lake is Lake Junaluska, just outside of Waynesville NC. This beautiful lake has numerous hiking trails, gardens, recreational facilities and restaurants.
During the fall, the trees and mountains surrounding the lake are covered in a array of red, orange and yellow colors that make this beautiful lake just stunning.
The lake has some absolutely fantastic photo spots all along the trail that goes around the lake, and at inspiration point, and at the cross that sits above the lake on a hill.
Lake Junaluska is one of our favorite places to visit for fall photos, and peak time is around the 3rd week in October.
Learn more about Lake Junaluska in our guide.
Elk Knob State Park
Elk Knob State Park is located just a short drive from downtown Boone NC. The Park provides a number of different hiking trails, with the most popular being the Elk Park Summit trail.
The summit trail takes you to the top of Elk Knob at 5,520 feet for amazing long distance views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. During the fall, these mountains covered in an array of fall colors is beautiful.
There are other hiking trails in Elk Knob state park, including easy nature trails that take you through beautiful forest and a campground as well.
Learn more about Elk Knob State Park.
Pisgah National Forest Ranger District
Pisgah National Forest is broken up into different districts, and the Ranger district is the district around Waynesville, Brevard and Asheville and contains some of the most recognizable locations in the Blue Ridge Mountains, like:
- Looking Glass Falls
- Looking Glass Rock
- Graveyard Fields and Black Balsam
- Cradle of Forestry
- Sliding Rock
- and many more.
While the entire Pisgah National Forest is simply beautiful, we've found the Ranger district to be the one with the most waterfalls and most gorgeous fall scenes.
Learn more about Pisgah National Forest in our complete guide.
Final Thoughts on Fall Colors in North Carolina
Fall in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina is an amazing time of year. From the colorful autumn foliage to the abundance of outdoor activities, there's something about this time of year that just feels magical.
Of course these are just a few of our personal picks for the top spots, and top spots for fall colors in north carolina can be a bit subjective. The North Carolina mountains are full of amazing places to see and visit throughout the year, and the crisp fall air and trees glowing in reds, oranges and yellows just make them even better.
Whether you're looking for a peaceful escape to enjoy nature and the fall colors or an adventure-filled weekend getaway, the mountains of Western North Carolina mountains have it all.