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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 11-02-2020

Primary Colors: Most color is gone

While there are still spots of color below 2,000 feet in elevation, the majority of Fall colors here in the Blue Ridge Mountains are gone, due to the recent storms with heavy wind and rain.   

This will be out last update for the year 2020, and while it didn't turn out to be as stunning as the initial colors indicated, it was still a very pretty Fall Color season.    If you found us this year, we appreciate you following along with us.  If you're returning from a prior year, we are to have with you us again, and hope you check in with us in August of next year as we publish our 2021 Forecast and Guide.

We still have a number of Fall videos to publish on our YouTube Channel, so be sure to follow us there for most Fall 2020 content over the next week or two.

As I write this, it's 24 degrees here in Maggie Valley North Carolina, and possible snow in the forecast this week, Old Man Winter is arriving.   Stay tuned as we have lots of Winter content planned for you!

Thanks again for following along!   

- Larry and Jenn

Fall Color Update for 10-26-2020

Primary Colors: Yellows and Gold with some reds and oranges

Elevations above 5,000 feet have primarily lost the much of their foliage, and is well past peek.

Elevations from 3,000 - 4,000 feet are past peak, and again losing foliage and color.   There are still some  nice color to see, but it is going quickly, and mostly yellows, golds, and browns.     

Elevations from 2,000 - 3,000 are also mostly past peak, but still lots of color to see, as you can see in the photos from our visit to Cataloochee Valley below.   Peak for this elevation was this past week.

Peak for elevations below 2,000 feet will be this week.  This includes Asheville early this week, and lower elevations such as Chimney Rock, Lake Lure, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge later this week.  Don't forget, that when you're in upper elevations, such as Blue Ridge Parkway overlooks, you can still see good color, since you are looking down into lower elevations.  You just won't see colors at the overlooks themselves.

Overall, leaves are past peak in the higher elevation areas.  This will include most of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Fall Colors in the Blue Ridge Mountains are beginning to wrap up folks.

Again, here are some photos from the Oconoluftee Visitor center and Cataloochee Valley, both in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, taken yesterday (10/25):

Fall Color Update for 10-19-2020

Primary Colors: Yellows and Gold with some reds and oranges

Well, unfortunately, it seems the vivid colors we saw early on and expected have fizzled out.   We aren't exactly sure why, but speculate it was due to the very cold temperatures and frost we had a week or so ago.   Leaves above 4,000 feet are now mostly gone.  In the 3,000 - 3500 foot elevation range, it's past peak.  There is still some color, but it's fading quickly.  This week is peak for the 2,000 - 3,000 foot range, and that should last through the coming weekend, but after that you will need to visit lower elevations for color.

If you are coming to see Fall color, this is the week you want to come.  Just a heads up, it is VERY busy this year, with lots of people traveling into the area to see the colors.  You'll want to bring lots of patience with you.

Here are some photos we've take recently during our visit to Elkmont:

 Here are two videos we've done, showing Fall colors over the past week:

Fall Color Update for 10-13-2020

Primary Colors: GREEN below 4,000 feet, Yellows, oranges and reds above 4,000 feet

You might have noticed, we're a day late on our Fall Color Update, but for good reason!   We headed out yesterday and drove up Highway 221 in North Carolina to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and then up to Linn Cove Viaduct.  Our plan was to hike to the top of Rough Ridge, and get some photos for you, but it was too foggy.  Instead we just hung around on the Parkway and captured some photos, including the sunset, which was beautiful.

Folks, NOW is the time for this area, it is at peak, and is absolutely stunning this year.  One of the best color years in a very long time.   Do what you need to do to see the leaves this year.  You will not be disappointed.

In general, areas in and around the Parkway above 4,000 feet are at peak.   Others areas in the 4,000+ elevation range are close to peak, and will peak later this week.  Color has progressed pretty quickly this year, and is incredibly vibrant, so get out there!

Here are some photos from our travels on the parkway yesterday:

Get out there, see the gorgeous colors, take photos and share them in our Blue Ridge Mountain Life Facebook group!  We would love to see your photos!

Fall Color Update for 10-5-2020

Primary Color: GREEN

Ourselves and some photographer friends spent the weekend out on the Parkway, scoping out Fall colors.   They are definitely beginning to show at all elevations, but the primary color is still most green.   Areas above 5,000 feet have the most color, with lots of yellows and spots of reds and oranges.   

In areas were we would expect to see very vivid color at this time of year, we're not.   In fact colors along the Parkway, and in particular at Graveyard fields are very muted, and not near as vivid as we had hoped.  Colors also seem be a little late, which is surprising given the cool weather temperatures we've had.  We're not changing our current forecast, but is something we will be keep a close eye on.

Here are some photos from around Graveyard fields, taken by us yesterday:

Further north on the Parkway, Mandy Gallimore of Making Memories Photography, captured these photos from Craggy Gardens and Mount Mitchell:

Colors are coming folks!   We would suspect Graveyard Fields would peak this weekend, but may be muted compared to prior years.   The Grandfather areas, near Linn Cove Viaduct and Rough Ridge should peak this week into the weekend as well, unless progression continues to slowdown this week.   On Highway 215, near the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina is a really great place to see color right now.

Fall Color Update for 9-28-2020

Primary Color: GREEN - While the primary Color for the majority of the Blue Ridge is still green, there is definitely color at elevations above 5,000 feet.  Probably 15-20% at this point.

We drove down Highway 215 in North Carolina, and up on the Parkway around Graveyard Fields, and down to Waynesville NC yesterday, and there is lots of color at elevations above 5,000 feet.   We saw yellows, oranges and brilliant reds showing.  Graveyard Fields (MP418) should be peaking later this week, and into the weekend.

Fall Colors this year seem to be on track with our normal forecast (see below), and very vibrant and vivid.  We expect this year to be an exceptional Fall color year, based on what we are seeing already.

Here are some photos, taken yesterday (Sunday, 9/27).  I was not able to get photos from Graveyard fields.  Literally as we pulled up, and huge fog bank rolled in and hide the view.

So Fall colors are here folks!   The show is beginning, and it should be absolutely fantastic this year!

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