Fall Colors and Foliage Guide 2023

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 Colors and foliage. The Blue Ridge Mountains offer one of the most colorful and longest running fall color seasons in the world.

One of the many reasons for this is because of the varied elevations of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which show prime fall colors for over a month. Fall colors begin at the highest elevations in early October, and work their way down to the lower elevations until early November.

Updated: 9/20/2023

Fall Color at Linn Cove Viaduct

2023 Fall Color Forecast for the Blue Ridge Mountains

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 fall colors??

Fall color varies year to year, elevation to elevation and even by the direction the mountain side is facing. To complicate matters, the intensity of the color is determined by several very complex factors, including the type of plant, amount of rainfall, and temperatures.

Leaves change color at higher elevations first, and the color change works its way down in elevation.

Here is our current prediction for peak 2023 Fall Foliage for the Blue Ridge Mountains:

2023 Fall Forecast Graphic

September 25 - October 2

At the highest elevations, at and above 6,000 feet, spotty and muted color will appear. The views from these locations will be mostly green because of the areas viewed from here are at lower elevations.  

Areas that turn early in this date and elevation range include primarily Graveyard Fields and Rough Ridge, both located off The Blue Ridge Parkway.

Graveyard Fields is consistently one of the first areas in the entire Blue Ridge Mountains range to show fall colors. Graveyard Fields is also incredibly vibrant, because of the type of foliage that grows there. You'll often see lots of vivid reds and oranges during peak.

October 2 - 9

Peak time for areas above 5,000 feet. This would include Clingmans Dome, Grandfather Mountain, Mount Mitchell, Waterrock KnobGraveyard fields (the first location on the Parkway to turn), and Beech Mountain NC.

Also included are the higher elevations of The Blue Ridge Parkway (between Asheville NC and Cherokee) and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

October 9 - 16

Peak time for elevations from 4,000 - 5,000 feet.   This would include almost all Blue Ridge Parkway locations and most of the higher elevation areas of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as well.

Also included is  Linn Cove Viaduct, which is gorgeous in the Fall.

October 16 - 23

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, and Cataloochee Valley.  Towns included are: Boone NCBanner Elk NC, Blowing Rock NC,  Maggie Valley NC, Waynesville NC

Also included is the upper elevations of Skyline Drive in the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains.

October 23 - 30

Peak time for elevations from 2,000 feet - 3,000 feet.  This would include: The cities of Asheville NC,  Brevard NC, Bryson City NC, Cherokee, Hendersonville NC, and many others.  

Places of interest include Dupont State Forest and Biltmore Estate, Russell Brasstown Scenic Byway, and Cades Cove.  

October 30 - November 6

Peak time for remaining elevations, including Gatlinburg, TN, Chimney Rock State Park, Lake Lure NC, Helen GA, Ellijay GA, Blue Ridge GA and other remaining lower elevation mountains.   

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

23 Best Places to see Fall Color

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

Top Tours to See Fall Colors

Taking one of the many Blue Ridge Parkway Tours during the Fall Color season is a great way to not only have a unique experience, but to see the beautiful Fall colors as well.  There are a variety of tours available, from guided motor coach tours and walking tours to scenic drives and bike rides. 

Here are our top picks for Blue Ridge Parkway Tours:

Fall Waterrock Knob Blue Ridge Parkway

Waterfalls and Blue Ridge Parkway Tour with Expert 

Overall Rating: 5/5

With your guide at the helm, you and your small group will hike to gorgeous waterfalls, up to panoramic mountain views, and through the technicolor meadows, hills, and valleys that make Asheville and the Pisgah National Forest so beloved.

Fall Linn Cove Viaduct

Scenic Driving Tour of the Blue Ridge Mountains

Overall Rating: 5/5

Check out the Blue Ridge Parkway without having to keep your eyes on the road with this chauffeur-driven tour. Your naturalist driver will do the driving, pointing out special sights and teaching you about the natural history of the area along the way.

Fall Color Blue Ridge Parkway

Scenic Blue Ridge Parkway Self-Guided Driving Audio Tour

Overall Rating: 5/5

Enjoy both the freedom of independent travel and the structure of a guided tour with a self-guided driving tour of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Download the app and get started from Cherokee, Asheville, Roanoke, or Afton.

What makes us an authority on Fall Colors?

Maybe you're wondering what makes us an authority? Well, we live here, and specifically in Waynesville NC. We've been doing this forecast for 10 years, and we're out in the fall colors each year updating our followers and this guide on color status and taking photos. We have a history of over 15 years of photos to know when various areas change colors.

As Fall 2023 approaches, we'll be out and about taking photos and reporting on current conditions and updating you in real time. If the color season changes, we'll update our forecast and let you know.

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

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 2022

2023 Weekly Fall Color Updates

One of the key features of our 2023 Fall Forecast & Guide is that each year, we provide weekly updates on Fall Color here in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We use this information to make tweaks and adjustments to our 2022 Forecast to help insure you see peak colors when you visit.

Fall Color Update #4 - Week: 10/1 - 10/7

Primary Color above 6,000 feet: At or near peak.

Primary Color Below 5,000 Feet: GREEN - BUT, with about 25-50% of fall colors mixed in.

Is Fall Color On Schedule? YES - Fall colors are on schedule and tracking to our forecast right now, and we do not expect that to change at this point. There is some colder weather in the forecast in the next week or two, but we do not expect this to change the overall schedule.

Updates for this week:

The fall colors at the highest elevations here in the Blue Ridge Mountains really started kicking in over the past week. Areas above 6,000 feet should peak this week and early next week, along with Graveyard Fields. Remember, peak is subjective, and is different for everyone. What this means is when we say peak colors, we mean the colors should be stunning for the next 1-2 weeks.

Thanks to me pulling my back this weekend, we weren't able to get out as planned, but thankfully our friend Mandy at Making Memories Photography visited Graveyard Fields yesterday on Sunday, 10/1, and captured the current colors.

Based on these photos and feedback from her, we estimate color progression at Graveyard Fields on the Blue Ridge Parkway to be about 50-75%.

As we've mentioned, Graveyard Fields is one of the very first areas to peak in the Blue Ridge Mountains because of the elevation and type of foliage.

We expect Graveyard Fields to peak later this week and early next week.

The weekends of 10/7 an 10/14 should be absolutely gorgeous in these areas, and surrounding areas on the Parkway.

Also peaking later this week and next week will be Grandfather Mountain, Beech Mountain, Mount Mitchell, and the highest elevations of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, like Clingman's Dome.

Mountain Ashe is also in full bloom right now in the high elevations, and the brilliant red colored berries are stunning, especially against those blue skies we all know and love.

Fall is here folks, and the beautiful colors are definitely beginning to show! Get out there!

Here is a full gallery of all of Mandy's Photo's from yesterday around Graveyard Fields on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Be sure to head over to her page, Making Memories Photography and give her a like!

Fall Color Update #3 - Week 9/24 - 9/30

Beech Mountain

Current Color Forecast: On schedule with vivid colors coming

Primary Color: GREEN with reds, yellow and oranges beginning to appear at the highest elevations.

We visited Beech Mountain this past weekend for Land of Oz, and spent a lot of time not only visiting Land of Oz, but hiking as well.  Beech Mountain is the highest elevation town in North Carolina at 5,506 feet.   Peak times are forecast for the first week in October.

While the primary color is still green, beautiful color is beginning to show as the mountains begin to transition towards peak colors.

We definitely saw much lighter shades of greens, lots of muted yellows, some oranges an even reds.

We are also hearing that Graveyard Fields is progressing, and while the primary color is still green, oranges and reds are beginning to show.

Overall, colors are progressing in the highest elevation areas, as they should be, and we are right on track for peak colors in the highest elevations within the next week or two.

Here are a few of our photos from our visit to Beech Mountain.  As you can see, still mainly green, with hints of yellows beginning to show. 

Fall Color Update #2 - Week 9/17 - 9/23

Current Color Forecast: On schedule and we expect to see a very vibrant fall with reds, oranges, and yellows

Primary Color: GREEN

Fall Colors are progressing! It definitely feels like Fall here in Western NC.  Morning temperatures have been in the high 40s and low 50s and that recognizable fall crispness in the air and fall smells are clear.

We visited Graveyard Fields and areas around Graveyard Fields yesterday to check on fall color progression. There is big progress since our update from last week, and we're definitely seeing lots of early fall color.

We specifically visited the Blue Ridge Parkway in and around Graveyard Fields, including Black Balsam, and Looking Glass Rock overlook. We then headed north on Highway 215 here in North Carolina, between the parkway and Canton NC.

As we have mentioned, this area is the very first area of the Blue Ridge Mountains to have peak colors during the first week in October.

While the primary colors are still green, we definitely saw lots of lighter shades of green, some yellows, and even a little red here and there.

One of the primary colors at Graveyard Fields that makes it so stunning are the vibrant reds from the many blueberry bushes. While most of them were in the early stages of turning, some were already very red. We could definitely see the early stages of Graveyard Fields signature red color.   

Based on comparisons to prior years' photos from the same locations, we continue to track to our current peak forecast and best that we can tell, colors will be very vibrant. We've had some rain, temperatures are nice and cool, the perfect combination for beautiful fall colors!

10 more days until the peak show begins!

Fall Color Update #1 - Week: 9/10 - 9/16

Current Color Forecast: On schedule and we expect to see a very vibrant fall with reds, oranges, and yellows

Primary Color: GREEN

Signs of Fall 2023 are definitely here, and trees are beginning to show signs of changing color, particularly at the highest elevations. Other signs include prevalent Golden Rod blooms, Mountain Ash, Locust Trees and Buckeye trees beginning to brown, and some sugar maples and other urban trees beginning to change color.

Elk Rut season is starting in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Bull Elk are herding females, they are bugling, and beginning to spar for females and territory.

All of this is in line with what we would expect to see during this week, and is in line with similar changes we've seen over the years for this week.

We have had lots of rain recently, and temperatures are dropping, with cool mornings and warm afternoons. All of this, if it continues, should combine to create a gorgeous fall color season!    

We visited Graveyard Fields yesterday (9/11) to check on the status of the color change, as this is the very first area in the highest elevations to change color each year. Color is progressing, with a very notable lightening of the tree colors from green to light greens and yellows!   

Here are some current photos of Graveyard Fields, at MP418.5 on the Blue Ridge Parkway at 5,020 feet.

11 Top Waterfalls to Visit for Fall Colors

See our top picks for the best Fall waterfalls in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Fall Videos

Here are some of our latest Fall videos from our YouTube channel:

2022 Fall Elk Rut Season

One highlight 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. See our Elk Guide for all the details, including photos and videos!

2023 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 2023

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 2023 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 2023 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. 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 because of 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!  
  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 and reduce glare.
  7. Travel on the ParkwayIf 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 base on weather 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

Just a few of our favorite Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountain Fall photos we've taken over the years.

About the author

Larry Deane is co-owner of Blue Ridge Mountain Life. He has spent more than 20 years exploring the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and has a deep passion for nature, history, storytelling, and adventure. Along with his wife Jenn, they combined these passions to create Blue Ridge Mountain Life, a travel guide to these stunning mountains they are fortunate to call home.

Larry has more than 20 years of experience as a writer and journalist, and has established himself as a leading voice and expert for Blue Ridge Mountains. He is also an avid hiker, photographer, and videographer. He loves sharing his mountain adventures and knowledge with more than 500,000 people per month on Blue Ridge Mountain Life.

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