Fall Foliage 2016 Forecast and Guide

Updated: 11/10/2016 – 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.  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 bottom in early November.

>>> Be sure and check out our 25 Best Places to see Fall Color. <<<

Fall Foliage

Fall Foliage 2016 Forecast and Guide

This 2016 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.

Table of Contents:

  1. Fall Foliage 2016 Forecast and Guide
  2. 2016 Updates
  3. Fall Foliage Maps
  4. Nation Wide Fall Map 2016
  5. Western North Carolina Fall Foliage Map 2016
  6. Virginia 2016 Fall Foliage Map
  7. Blue Ridge Mountains Fall Foliage 2016 Forecast and Guide
  9. Tips for Fall Foliage Viewing and Photography:
  10. Things to do in the Blue Ridge during the Fall
  11. Fall Foliage Photo Gallery:

Fall Foliage

2016 Updates

November 10, 2016 Update – Sad to say this, but this will be our last update for the Fall 2016 season.   We’ve been amazed at how long the colors have hung around this year.  While the majority of the leaves are gone and on the ground, some trees still have late fall colors on them, especially at lower elevations.

This photo captures the last of the Fall Color at our home, located near Maggie Valley NC at 4,000 foot in elevation.

Fall Color 2016

Unfortunately, we have a number of forest fires in Western NC, resulting in very smoky conditions.   One of the key place to visit right now for Fall color is Lake Lure in Chimney Rock, but the Lake Lure area has a pretty significant fire right now, and is evacuating.  Chimney Rock Park itself has been closed a few days due to the fires.  Additionally, the Blue Ridge Parkway has had closures as well due to fires.  So please check with your destinations before traveling to be sure they are open, and be prepared for lots of smoke in the area.

While Fall Color this year has not been as pretty as it has in prior years, it was still beautiful, and due to the unique weather conditions, much longer than usual.  Primary colors this year where yellow and gold, due to drought conditions.  There were some reds and bright oranges, but they were rare.

Hope you had a chance to visit and see the colors this year.  I know many businesses in the area reported record years, so sounds like many of you did!   We also hope you found our guide and forecast helpful.  Until next year!

November 1, 2016 Update – Colors at higher elevations above 3,000 feet are well past peak at this point.  This includes areas like The Blue Ridge Parkway, Mt. Mitchell, Grandfather Mountain, and many areas with in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  We are seeing many trees turning late though, so there are still spots of beautiful color in these areas.

Areas in the 2,000 – 3,000 foot range are just past peak, but still have lots of color on them.   We were out in Big Creek, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park over the weekend, and it was gorgeous:

Big Creek Fall Color

Lower Elevations, below 2,000 feet are now going to be at peak.  Still plenty of color around to see, more so than in recent years.  We expect things will wrap up for the most part after this weekend, with the majority of the leaves on the ground, with the exception of late turning trees.

So it’s not over just yet, you can still visit and see some beautiful colors!

October 26, 2016 Update – Colors are beginning to disappear at higher elevations.  Elevations about 4,000 feet are losing color, and colors at Elevations above 5,000 feet are gone in many cases.  Elevations in the 2,500 –  3,500 foot are at or just past peak right now, and elevations below 3,000 feet will be peaking very soon.

You can see what areas are at what elevations by using our maps and detailed information below.

Colors continue to be mainly yellows and golds, with some red and orange sprinkled in.  Not near as much reds and oranges this years as in the past, most likely due to the drought conditions.  Still lots of pretty color to be seen, even though it is disappearing pretty quickly now.

Here’s a current photo of Fall Color in Maggie Valley, NC – elevation 3,000 feet – Photo by Scott Neilson.


October 21, 2016 Update – We spent a great deal of time on the Parkway over the past few days, and even drove up to Linn Cove Viaduct.   Colors at higher elevations in the 5,000 – 6,000 foot range are pretty much gone.  Leaves have fallen or have blown off now.   Colors in the 4,000 – 5,000 foot range are pretty, but past peak and in some cases gone.

The 3,000 – 4,000 foot elevations are at peak or just beyond peak right now, as is the 2,000 – 3,000 foot elevations up in the Grandfather Mountain area.  Lots of pretty color at these elevations right now.  Now is the time to get out and see all of the color, it is going fast.

Here are a few photos I took yesterday driving from Cherokee to Maggie Valley, NC:

Fall Color Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway Fall Color

Blue Ridge Parkway Fall Color

We also drove up to Linn Cove Viaduct yesterday afternoon, and the colors there, due to lower elevation where just stunning!

Linn Cove Viaduct, Blue Ridge Parkway

Linn Cove Viaduct

October 17, 2016 – Rapid Progression – We were out hiking over the weekend and traveling along the Parkway at both higher and lower elevations.   The color change has progressed rapidly over the past week in the 3,000 – 5,000 foot elevations.

On the Parkway, at areas above 5,000 feet, peak is over, and many of the leaves have fallen.  I would say that in the 4,000 – 5,000 feet range is at peak if not a little past – but still tons of great color to see.  Graveyard Fields is also past peak.

The 3,000 – 4,000 foot range is at peak this week, and even now is showing absolutely stunning color.   Many experts feared that he color wouldn’t be as pretty this year, but from what we’re seeing, color is at or above normal.  The reds and yellows are are just vibrant.  Here is a photo taken from a Blue Ridge Parkway overlook at around 5,000 feet, looking down into the 3,000 – 4,000 foot elevations.

Fall Color Blue Ridge Parkway

2,000 – 3,000 foot elevations are still showing some green, but with lots of vibrant color mixed in.  Here is a photo from Deep Creek in Bryson City, NC which is at elevation 2,000 feet:

Fall Color at Deep Creek

So, now is the time to get out and see all the wonderful colors.  Absolutely beautiful this year!   For lots of photos taken by us and many other photographers of the current Fall Colors, follow us on Facebook and join our Blue Ridge Mountain Life Facebook Group!

October 11, 2016DATE CHANGES – Colors continue to progress from higher to lower elevations.   The key color is still green but you can definitely see the shades of green becoming significantly lighter.  Color seems to be progressing a little slower than anticipated, but over the past week with cooler temperatures has proceeded rapidly.

Until this week, most experts thought we were a few days ahead, however it would seem after slow progression last week and early this week, it now appears we’re about 5 days behind the normal fall schedule.   This means that the average peak times will be AFTER October 15th for the 3000 – 4000 foot elevations.

I realize this is a late and big update, but none of the experts at the Universities we follow expected such a rapid slow down in progression over the past 1-2 weeks.  As a result, we’re adjusting our forecast dates below back about 5 days.

There is beautiful color out now, especially at elevations above 4,500 feet.  We were in Big Creek this past weekend, which has an elevation of around 4,000 feet and I saw this beautiful scene:

2016 Fall Color, Big Creek

This is the very first time, in 3 years of doing this Fall Colors Forecast we’ve had to adjust our dates this much, and this late.  Just goes to show you how difficult nature can be to predict!   But don’t worry, even now there is lots of color to be seen, you just need to travel a little higher up than usual.

October 4, 2016 – Colors at higher elevations in the Blue Ridge are really beginning to show.  We were up on the Parkway this weekend, traveling through the “highest point area”, over to Graveyard Fields in North Carolina, and saw some beautiful color.  Lots of yellows, and oranges.

Areas like Craggy Gardens near Asheville, higher elevation areas like Clingman’s Dome and Newfound Gap in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Grandfather Mountain and Mount Mitchell should be peaking within the next 5 days.

Graveyard Fields, one of the first areas on the parkway to peak, should peak this coming weekend.   Although, I think colors are going to be really muted from previous years, which is unfortunate.

It appears Fall colors are lagging behind just a bit from prior years.  This again is due to a combination of the drought conditions and warmer temperatures we’ve had here in the Blue Ridge Mountains.   However, we’re not seeing a big enough difference to justify changing our Forecast date ranges.

Colors at high elevations between 5,000 and 6,000 feet will occur within the next 1-2 weeks, and areas between 4,000 and 5,000 feet will peak in the next 2 – 3 weeks.

Here is a photo, taken today (10/4/2016) from our front deck, at 4,000 feet near Maggie Valley NC.  This will give you an idea of the current status of the color change.  Still lots of green right now between 4,000 – 5,000 feet, and below.

10-4-2016 Fall Foliage Update

Here is a photo I took at Skinny Dip Falls, which is at about 4,500 feet.  You can see the bright yellows really beginning to show.

Fall at Skinny Dip Falls

I’ll post a photo from our view later today so you can compare it to the photo below from previous updates for a color comparison.

Also, a Virginia Forecast Map has been added to the Maps section below.

September 22, 2016 – Today is officially the first day of Fall!  He hate to rush the seasons, but have to say we can’t wait for the full fall colors to begin to show.

Currently the key color is still GREEN, and will be for the next 2 weeks or so, then higher elevations above 4,000 feet will start to really show some color and peak about a week or so later.

We are seeing some yellows, and small amounts of red beginning to show on the mountains.  You can also definitely see the greens beginning to fade all around, and turn to lighter shades as the leaves begin to turn.  Here is a current photo from our front deck of the colors.  We’re at just shy of 4,000 feet in Elevation in Western NC, near Maggie Valley.

Fall Color Report 9-22-2016

We’ll post this same view at least once a week through the remainder of the Fall season, so you can watch the leaves progress.   You can see the light splotches of green, and even a little red at the top of the small peak in the foreground.

Our current forecast stands.  The NC Climate Office is predicting that above normal temperatures and lower than normal precipitation will continue for the remainder of the year for the Blue Ridge Mountain areas.  The impact this will have is still yet to be determined, but it should extend the Fall season by a few days, and also delay the the schedule by a few days (we’ve already adjusted for this).   It will additional cause less vibrant red colors.

September 14, 2016 – We’re definitely beginning to see some changing colors both in more metro and residential areas, but also in more remote areas as well.   We drove through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park this past weekend, and while green is still the predominant color, we also saw more yellows and reds than we’re used to seeing this early.  We were pretty surprised see so much yellow in a few places along I-40 as we returned to North Carolina from Tennessee.

Most experts agree that the high temperatures and drought conditions are causing leaves to die, turn and fall off early right now.   Unfortunately we thought the draught conditions were over, but with no rain for almost 2 weeks, they have returned.

While it is still a bit early to fully predict, the warm temperatures and lack of rain are causing early turning.   For October this will mean a longer leaf season overall, but less colorful due to leaves falling early, and various trees losing their leaves over a longer period of time.  Due to lack of rain, colors will be muted.

We have made some adjustments to the forecast a little due to our expectation the cycle is starting early.  Nothing major, but we need move up the start dates for the various elevations.  Unfortunately we just don’t think is going to be a stellar year for seeing beautiful color.   But there is still some time left, so keep your fingers crossed for rain and cooler temperatures!

We also added a new forecast map below, that will allow you to see fall color predictions for the whole US, including all the Blue Ridge Areas.

September 6, 2016 – Colors in the Blue Ridge are still predominately green, and will be for the next 4-5 weeks.  There is some early color beginning to show from Sugar Maples and Sourwoods (both turning red), and birch trees are turning yellow and losing their leaves.  We’re also seeing berry bushes turning along with Poison Ivy as well.

Our current forecast is holding for now; however, temperatures here in the Blue Ridge have been higher than usually for the past couple weeks.  Temperatures over the next 2-3 weeks will determine whether or not we’ll have a mediocre year or really good year for Fall colors.  Warmer temperatures will delay the colors, and make them less impressive.  Cooler temperatures of course will bring on schedule colors, and brighter more vivid ones too.

At this point, the jury is still out on how temperatures will fare over the next few weeks.  If you’re making travel plans, just stick with our current leaf schedule.  We’ll update you as we learn more for the area scientists and experts, all working hard to make accurate predictions.

Speaking of warm temperatures, it’s still so warm, we took our kids swimming out in Big Creek, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park this past weekend.  Here’s a photo of our son considering whether to jump into the cold water or not.  He ended up jumping 😉

Big Creek

August 29, 2016 – Some good news to report: we’ve had lots of rain here in the Blue Ridge over the past few weeks, enough to resolve the majority of the drought concerns.  As a result, we expect the leaf color season to be on a normal schedule (see below for specific dates).

We continue to see some trees turning color early, sugar maples in particular.   While in town this weekend, we saw a few sugar maples that were more than 50% turned, and while out hiking in Elkmont yesterday, we saw some yellows and oranges in the woods along the trail.  My apologies, I took a few photos, but due to the lighting, they didn’t turn out.

BUT, 99% of the trees are still very green, and each year certain trees, and types of trees always turn early, so this is expected.

The mountains have been unseasonably warm this year, and that trend is continuing into late August and early September (based on the forecast).  If this continues, it could impact the color, and schedule.  But it’s a little too early to tell.  We’ll know more in the next couple of weeks.

August 11, 2016 – The Blue Ridge Mountains are generally in a moderate to severe drought right now.  Southern areas are worse than northern areas.  If these conditions continue, we’ll see trees lose their leaves early and Fall colors will be shorter than usual, particularly in southern locations.  The good news is that droughts increase red colors, so if conditions continue, we’ll see far more red color this year.

Don’t be surprised though if you see some Sugar Maples beginning to turn soon, as heat and drought conditions often cause them to turn early.

We’re about 50 days or so out from seeing any really great color and 50 days is a lot of time for weather conditions to change, thus impacting the forecast.    I would continue to plan for normal times, as described below, as it’s really too early to make any adjustments.

We’ll keep you posted as we closer to peak season.  Please be sure and follow our Facebook page as well, for current photos and updates.

Fall Foliage Maps

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

Nation Wide Fall Map 2016

The following interactive map from https://smokymountains.com/fall-foliage-map/ allows you to view Fall Foliage for the whole US, by date.

Western North Carolina Fall Foliage Map 2016

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

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

Virginia 2016 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)

Blue Ridge Mountains Fall Foliage 2016 Forecast and Guide

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

The answer?  It depends…

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 it’s way down in elevation.

The good news is that all of these variations don’t really through off the normal schedule a great deal.  Here is the Fall Color forecast for the North Carolina Blue Ridge, by week, starting in October:

September 5th – October 10th: Peak time for areas above 5,000 feet.  This would include: Clingmans Dome, Grandfather Mountain, Mount Mitchell and Graveyard fields (the first location on the Parkway to turn) and higher elevations of The Blue Ridge Parkway.

October 10 – 21: Peak time for most areas.  This would include almost all Blue Ridge Parkway locations.  This is peak time for the majority of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Fall Colors as well.

This is a great time to see visit places like:  Porters Creek TrailAlum Cave Trail, Deepcreek, Big CreekCataloochee ValleyHen Wallow Falls and Flat Creek Trail.  Many of our Top 10 Family Friendly hiking trails are included in this elevation as well, along with our favorite trails in the Smokies.  Included in this elevation are the Boone and Blowing Rock areas.

October 17 – 26: Peak time for lower elevations.  This would include places like: Pisgah National Forest which includes Sliding Rock and Looking Glass Falls, Dill Falls, Wildcat Falls, and many other waterfalls.  Other ares include Linville Gorge and Nantahala Gorge.

October 23 – 31: Peak time for elevations below 2,000 feet.  This would include: The cities of Asheville,  Brevard, Waynesville, Cherokee, Maggie Valley and many others.  Places of interest include Dupont State Forest and Biltmore Estate.

October 28 – November 8: Peak time for remaining elevations, including Gatlinburg, TN, Chimney Rock NC, Lake Lure and remaining lower elevation mountains.

Also, visit all of our Photo Galleries, which contains lots of Fall color photos from many other Blue Ridge Mountain Photographers.


Tips for Fall Foliage Viewing and Photography:

Mingo Falls Featured

Mingo Falls in Cherokee NC

  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 Foliage

Things to do in the Blue Ridge during the Fall