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Fall Foliage 2020 Forecast and Guide

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Tens of thousands of people visit the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and North Georgia each year to see the beautiful Fall foliage and Fall colors.  The Blue Ridge Mountains offer one of the most colorful and longest running fall leaf seasons in the world.

One of the many reasons for this is due to the varied elevations, which show prime fall colors for more than a month.  Fall colors begin at the highest elevations in early October, and work their way down to the lower elevations in early November.

To skip over our current updates and jump straight to our 2020 forecast, click here!

Fall Color at Linn Cove Viaduct

25 Best Places to see Fall Color

See our top picks to see Fall Colors in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Fall Foliage 2020 Forecast and Guide

Fall Graveyard Fields

Fall Color at Lower Falls, Graveyard Fields off the Blue Ridge Parkway

This 2020 Fall Foliage guide for the Blue Ridge Mountains will:

  • Tell you when the peak times are for various elevations and locations
  • Provide weekly updates for you on the current status of the leaf color
  • Links to lots of photos from prior years, with links to great places to see the fall colors
  • Share tips for fall foliage watching that will help you have the best experience and get the best beautiful photos.  One of the most import?  Book your reservations early.  Hotels, motels, and cabins are filling up fast and many are already fully booked.

Top 22 Best Stops for Fall Colors on The Blue Ridge Parkway

Check out our top 22 picks for the THE best stops along the Blue Ridge Parkway to see Fall Colors in 2020

Maybe you're wondering what makes us an authority?  Well, we live here, and specifically in Maggie Valley NC.  As Fall 2020 approaches, we'll be out and about taking photos and reporting on current conditions.

We also stay in touch with regional experts to get the latest information on current conditions and Fall predictions.  

You'll find our dates and photos to be some of the most accurate available, and we always provide frequent updates WITH photos.

Fall Colors Blue Ridge Mountains

2020 Fall Color Updates

Here are our weekly Fall Color Updates:

Fall Color Update for 9-20-2020

Primary Color: GREEN

Looking down on Graveyard Fields from Black Balsam Road

A cold front moved into the Blue Ridge Mountains over the weekend.  In fact, it's in the low 40s here in Maggie Valley NC this morning.  This cold front is much needed, and we really kick start the Fall colors.  If the cold temperatures continue as expected, Fall 2020 should be stunning, and far better than the past few years.   We should see far more vibrant reds and oranges than we did previously.

At this point, Fall Colors appear to be on track with our current dates.

We travelled up on the Blue Ridge Parkway between Waynesville NC and Milepost 417 yesterday to see how Fall color progression was coming along.  Fall color progression has started!   

Areas of the Parkway above 5,500 feet have started to turn.   We saw lots of light greens, some yellows, and even some more vibrant colors from the trees that turn early, which included reds and oranges. 

The Graveyard Fields and Black Balsam areas (MP418) are the first to turn each year, and generally peak the first week in October.   We definitely appear to be on track for this.   We also drove down Highway 215, and saw a similar color progression beginning, with a good amount of yellow beginning to show already.

So the show is beginning!   Here are some photos we took yesterday (9/20), so you can see what the colors really look like right now in the Graveyard Fields/Black Balsam area (click on an image to see it full size):

Fall Color Update for 9-14-2020

Primary Color: GREEN

The past two weeks have seen cooler temperatures, especially in the evenings, combined with rain.  The past few days have warmed up some, which is not what we want.  If the cool temperatures resume, we should see a very vibrant Fall season that is on schedule (see our schedule below).   However, it temperatures continue to be warm, combined with the rain we've had, we'll see a delayed Fall schedule, with duller colors, especially reds.

At this point, based on what we know, and the weather forecast, we are expecting a vibrant Fall color season that will be on time!  

We were up on some of the highest elevations on the Blue Ridge Parkway this past weekend, and the  color changes are starting above around 4,700 feet.  Very subtle yet, but it is beginning.  Road side trees, in particular maples, are turning, and trees along the road are beginning to become a lighter green.  So things are starting!  The photo above is from the top of Waterrock Knob at 6,100 feet - As you can see, lots of green!

This is a photo of Purchase Mountain, near Maggie Valley NC - Also still very green.  Photo taken this morning.

This is a cell phone photo from our front deck, at 4700 feet, near Maggie Valley NC - Again, GREEN mostly everywhere!

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Blue Ridge Mountains Fall Foliage 2020 Forecast

Fall Colors Soco Falls

One of the most common questions we get asked in our Facebook Group this time of year is: When is the best time to visit to see the the fall foliage ??

The problem is that leaf color varies year to year, elevation to elevation and even by the direction the mountain side is facing.  To complicate matters even more, the intensity of the color is determined by a number of very complex factors including:

  • The type of plant
  • Amount of rainfall
  • Temperatures

Leaves begin changing color at higher elevations, and the color change works its way down in elevation.   This is something you'll want to factor in, when on the Parkway, as you'll generally be viewing elevations below you.

The good news is that all of these variations don't really throw off the normal schedule a great deal.  

Here is the 2020 Fall Color Forecast for the Blue Ridge Mountains, by week, starting in late September:

September 27 - October 7

At the highest elevations, close to 6,000 feet there is some color, but it's often very spotty and muted.  The views from these locations will be mostly green, since the areas viewed are lower elevations.  Areas that turn early in this date and elevation range include Graveyard Fields and Rough Ridge.

October 1 - 10

Peak time for areas above 5,000 feet.  This would include: Clingmans Dome, Grandfather Mountain, Mount Mitchell, Waterrock Knob and Graveyard fields (the first location on the Parkway to turn) and higher elevations of The Blue Ridge Parkway (between Asheville and Cherokee) and Great Smoky Mountains National Park

October 10 - 20

Peak time for elevations from 4,000 - 5,000 feet.   This would include almost all Blue Ridge Parkway locations and the majority of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as well.  Included in this elevation are the Boone and Blowing Rock areas.

October 18 - 26

Peak time for lower elevations, from 3,000 - 4,000 feet.  This would include places like: Pisgah National Forest which includes Sliding Rock and Looking Glass FallsDill FallsWildcat Falls, and many other waterfalls.  Other ares include Linville Gorge, Nantahala Gorge, Maggie Valley, and Cataloochee Valley.

October 24 - 31

Peak time for elevations from 2,000 feet - 3,000 feet.  This would include: The cities of Asheville,  Brevard, Waynesville, Cherokee,  and many others.  Places of interest include Dupont State Forest and Biltmore Estate, and Cades Cove.

October 26 - November 8

Peak time for remaining elevations, including Gatlinburg, TN, Chimney Rock NC, Lake Lure and remaining lower elevation mountains.  This includes Chimney Rock as well, a great place to see Fall color.

Please note, these timeframes are estimates based on prior years and current weather and soil conditions.   Actual peak times may vary some from this forecast.

2020 Fall Elk Rut Season

One of the highlights of Fall for us is Elk Rut Season, where Bulls put on a show, and often battle with other bulls over female Elk and territory.   The "show" includes bugling, sparring with other Elk, and herding their "harems" or groups of cows.

Elk Rut Season begins in mid-September, and ends in mid to late October of 2020.   See our Elk Guide for all the details

Fall Photo Galleries

We have a number of Fall Themed Photo Galleries, full of photos from us and many other photographers

Fall Colors on the Blue Ridge Parkway, outside of Cherokee NC

2020 Fall Foliage Maps

The following maps will help you determine the best Fall Foliage times for various areas in the Blue Ridge Mountains.s

Western North Carolina Fall Foliage Map 2020

The following Fall Color Map is for Western North Carolina, and provided by the Biology Department at Appalachian State University:

From: https://biology.appstate.edu/fall-color-report/fall-color-map-north-carolina

Virginia 2020 Fall Foliage Map

The following Virginia Fall Foliage Map is from Virginia Department of Forestry:

Virginia Fall Foliage Map

Virginia Peak Periods:

  • October 10 - 20 (Left Side of Map)
  • October 15 - 25 (Center of Map)
  • October 20-31 (Right Side of Map)

Tips for Fall Foliage Viewing and Photography:

Fall Foliage Blue Ridge Mountains
  1. Book reservations early.   Hotels, Motels and Bed & Breakfasts will be filling up fast.
  2. Be patient.  There are lots of people here during the fall, and having a little patience will go a long way to making your visit far more enjoyable.
  3. Bring your digital camera at all times.  You never know when the perfect photo opportunity will present itself, be prepared.
  4. Be prepared for weather changes.  Weather in the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains changes quickly, so don't be upset if you can't get any photos due to the fog or rain.  Just hang out for a bit and be patient.  Chances are it will blow by and the sun may even come out.  We've found that some of our best photos are just after a storm.  Oh, and if you're coming in late October/Early November, you might just get some snow too!  Be sure and make some snow cream.
  5. Stay on the roads.  We see lots of people stuck trying to venture down some narrow mountain road, or trying to drive through grass they think is dry in order to get that "unique" photo.  Unless you have 4-wheel drive, stay on paved or well maintained roads.
  6. Polarized sun glasses and a polarizing filter for your camera enhance fall colors an reduce glare.
  7. Travel on the Parkway.  If you are traveling the parkway, read over our Parkway Travel Tips.
  8. Wear layers of clothing or bring a few extra jackets or sweaters.  Temperatures here in the Blue Ridge can vary greatly base on weather conditions and altitude.
  9. Mornings and evenings are the best times for photos.  Mid day sunlight is often too harsh.  The benefit of getting out early or very late is that you'll avoid most of the crowd too and get great photos too!
  10. Avoid thick clouds and fog in your photos.  If the sky is very cloudy and/or foggy, try to keep the fog and clouds out of your photos.  The white of the clouds and fog is overwhelming, and will just make your photo look smaller.  As an example, see the waterfall photo below.  Graveyard fields was completely clouded over that day, so when I framed the picture, I kept the sky out as much as possible.
  11. Make sure you have plenty of gas.  Some areas, especially on the parkway and in the national parks, are a long way from the nearest gas station.
Fall Color Graveyard Fields

Fall Color Graveyard Fields

Things to do in the Blue Ridge during the Fall

Fall Colors Photo Gallery