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.
25 Best Places to see Fall Color
See our top picks to see Fall Colors in the Blue Ridge Mountains
Fall Foliage 2021 Forecast and Guide
This 2021 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 2021
Maybe you're wondering what makes us an authority? Well, we live here, and specifically in Maggie Valley NC. As Fall 2021 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.
2021 Fall Color Updates
Fall Color Update Week 9/12 - 9/18
Primary color: Green
Still very much green and about 5 weeks out for peak color along the Blue Ridge Parkway from Boone NC to Cherokee NC. Leaves above 5,000 feet continue to progress, but are still very much green, just lighter shades. Temperatures continue to be within normal ranges and we are not in a drought. Temperatures during the day are mild, and with cooler temperatures in the evening. Both of which carry the promise of an exceptional leaf season. The coming weeks will be the deciding factor.
We are currently on schedule for a normal Fall leaf schedule, as you'll find below.
Here are some current photos. The first is from our front deck near Maggie Valley, at 4,000 feet in elevation, the next are from Cataloochee Valley last night, at around 2,600 feet. As you can see, still very much green. We're planning to head up on the Parkway this weekend, to give you an update on the higher elevation colors!
Fall Color Update Week 9/5 - 9/11
Welcome to our first Fall Color Update for 2021!!! Are you excited? We sure are! We will be providing these weekly through mid-November so you can stay up to date on the current colors, see photos, and we'll update you on the schedule.
Let's get started!
Primary Color: Green
We drove up on the highest elevations of Parkway, and did some hiking at Devil's Courthouse and Graveyard Fields. Both of which were incredibly busy for the labor day weekend. In the upper elevations of the parkway, we were seeing the early signs of color change. Some of the foliage was beginning to lighten, and some trees, although a very very small percentage, were turning.
Graveyard Fields, the very first area of the Parkway to turn, was beginning to show signs of color as well, as blueberry bushes were beginning to turn, along with other small shrubs that give Graveyard Fields its distinctive red look.
This is all normal, and not an indication that the Fall color season will be early. Trees in the highest elevations of the parkway will peak the first week of October, so the color change is beginning. Some trees, for many different reasons just turn early. We are still on target for the current forecast. The weather over the next 4-5 weeks will drive how vivid the colors will be AND the schedule.
At this point, we expect a very pretty Fall color season, and one that is on-time with the current forecast.
Here are a few photos we captured in Cataloochee Valley last night (9/6). You can see the primary color is green with some trees beginning to turn just a little. Oh, and the Elk are in very active Pre-Rut right now, bugling, and sparing and herding females. Official Rut will begin in about 10 days, learn more in our Elk guide.
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Blue Ridge Mountains Fall Foliage 2021 Forecast
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
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 2021 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 Falls, Dill Falls, Wildcat 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.
Here are some of our latest Fall videos from our YouTube channel:
2021 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
2021 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 2021
The following Fall Color Map is for Western North Carolina, and provided by the Biology Department at Appalachian State University:
Virginia 2021 Fall Foliage Map
The following Virginia Fall Foliage Map is from Virginia Department of Forestry:
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:
- Book reservations early. Hotels, Motels and Bed & Breakfasts will be filling up fast.
- 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.
- Bring your digital camera at all times. You never know when the perfect photo opportunity will present itself, be prepared.
- 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.
- 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.
- Polarized sun glasses and a polarizing filter for your camera enhance fall colors an reduce glare.
- Travel on the Parkway. If you are traveling the parkway, read over our Parkway Travel Tips.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
Things to do in the Blue Ridge during the Fall
- Go Hiking! Check out our Blue Ridge family favorite hiking trails, and our favorite trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are tons of other trails too.
- Visit some Waterfalls - Waterfalls and fall colors make a great combination. Here's our list of our favorite NC Waterfalls.
- Go Ziplining - Navitat in Asheville NC is just awesome.
- See the Elk - Be sure and visit Cataloochee Valley, which is not only beautiful in the Fall, but full of Elk as well.
- Visit Maggie Valley NC - Next to both the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park - It's the perfect mountain small town in Western NC.
- Visit Asheville NC, Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg TN - These towns all have tons to do and are right in the middle of all the fall color.
- 25 Best Places to see Fall Colors! - See our guide to the very best places to see gorgeous Fall Colors.
Fall Colors Photo Gallery
Just a few of our favorite Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountain Fall photos we've taken over the years.