Fall Foliage 2021 Forecast and Guide

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 2021 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 2021 Forecast and Guide

Fall Graveyard Fields

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

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.

Fall Colors Blue Ridge Mountains

2021 Fall Color Updates

Fall Color Update Week: 11/7 - 11/13

Hard to believe, but this will be our last Fall 2021 update.   This has been a a very vivid, but unusual color year.  Color just seemed to pop up all over the mountains at various elevations, and at various times.   It is now mid November, and we have beautiful colors on trees around our home at 4,000 feet in Maggie Valley NC, which has never happened this late.  The trees would normally be bare by now.

Lots of color in  the lower elevations, including Lake Lure Area and North Georgia.  We visited Helen GA this past weekend, and you can see the photos below.

Thanks for following us this year!  We hope you got to see some beautiful colors and seems here in the Blue Ridge Mountains!  We'll see you next year!

Fall Color Update Week: 10/31 - 11/6

Fall Colors here in most parts of Western NC are past peak.  While there is still color, it is quickly progressing to darker shades, and leaves are falling.  Lower Elevations, below 3,000 feet will be peak now or later in the week, depending on the location.   Locations in the lower elevations of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, around Lake Lure in NC, and in lower elevations of Northwest GA will still have good color.

Here is a video we took driving though Maggie Valley NC over the weekend. 

We will be heading to Northwest GA this weekend to see how the color is.  It may be somewhat past peak, but we're still hopeful it will be pretty.   Next week will be our last Fall Color update for 2021.

Fall Color Update Week: 10/24 - 10/30

Fall Colors continue to progress, and have really kicked into high gear over the past 5 days or so.  The cooler temperatures are helping.   Really nice color can be seen at most elevations, with elevations from 3,000 - 4,000 peaking now and over the next few days.

This years color change has been very difficult to predict and difficult to describe, as different areas, and even different mountain peaks have been progressing at different rates.    You can see this in the photos below.

Regardless, this week should be the optimal week for elevations from 2,500 - 4000 feet.   Again, color progression seems to be about 5-7 days behind normal schedules.  Clear skies and wind over the past week have blown some of the leaves down, especially at higher elevations.

Still lots of fantastic color to see this week, and for the next 2-3 weeks.  So now is the time to get out there!   Please be sure to share your photos in our Facebook Group.

Here are some current Fall photos from Hawksbill, by Making Memories Photography, from Max Patch, by our friend Taralyn, and from the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC by Thomas Mabry of Honey Badger Images.

Fall Color Update Week: 10/17 - 10/23

Fall Colors here in the Blue Ridge Mountains continue to be about 5-7 days off schedule.  The cooler temperatures that have moved in, have restarted the progression of color though.

Areas along the Blue Ridge Parkway in the 4,000 - 5,000 foot elevations are peaking now.  This would include Linn Cove Viaduct, Linville Falls, and surrounding areas.

Areas in the 3,000 4,000 foot range, like Pisgah National Forest between the Parkway and Brevard, will peak early next week.  This applies to Cataloochee Valley as well.

Overall, still lots of green, and far more than we would normally have at this time of year.   Lots of pretty color though, you just have to go looking for it.   Very vivid reds and oranges this year as well.

Here are a few shots from Cataloochee Valley taken on Monday:

Fall Color Update Week: 10/10 - 10/16

Well, this past week or two has really demonstrated how difficult it can be predicting leaf color.   We have had lots of rain here in the Blue Ridge Mountains, along with significantly warmer than normal temperatures this week.   A a result, the Fall color progression has significantly slowed, and is honestly not much further along than it was the week before.

The bottom line is that Fall colors are currently about 5 - 7 days off schedule, and late.   We also expect that due to the large amounts of rain, that the colors will be more muted than we previously predicted.    

Here is a photo, taken just a few days ago from Buzzard's Roost, overlooking I-40 through the gorge between TN and NC.  As you can see, colors are still very green.  Normally there would be more color progression here.

The good news is there is a cold front expected this weekend, and temperatures will drop significantly and accelerate the color change again.  But we will most likely remain about a week behind schedule for the remainder of the season.

Fall Color Update 10/4: Graveyard Fields is peaking

We visited Graveyard fields on the Blue Ridge Parkway last night, and it is very close to peak.  We would expect it to peak by the end of the week.   Areas around Graveyard fields are also peaking, and there is some wonderful color out there in that area, and in areas above 5,000 feet.  Here's a video:

Fall Color Update Week: 10/3 - 10/9

Linn Cove Viaduct

Primary Color Upper Elevations: Reds, Oranges, yellows with some green

Primary Color Lower Elevations: Green, with some spots of color

Since our update last week, the color change here in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and especially at areas above 5,000 feet in Western NC and Eastern TN have really kicked into high gear!   We left for Pensacola Florida last Thursday and returned on Sunday to a significant change in color at higher elevations.

The next few days will be peak at Graveyard Fields, and this week will be peak for areas on the Parkway near Linville Gorge, Grandfather mountain, and highest elevations in the Smokies (areas above 5,000 feet).   

Weather, and in particular temperature hasn't been ideal for optimal color, but thus far, it's looking to be a VERY pretty color year, with lots of vivid reds, yellows, and oranges.   We expect this trend to continue.

Areas below 5,000 feet in elevation continue to be mainly green, and will begin to more rapidly change over in the 1-2 weeks.  But even at these lower elevations, there is color to be seen.  Lots of rain in the forecast for this week, but leaf viewing in the rain really makes the colors pop, and makes for great photos.

Since we were in Florida this weekend, we weren't able to get out and see the colors ourselves, but our friend and photographer Mandy from Make Memories Photography (please give her page a like!) took these photos from around Grandfather Mountain and Linn Cove Viaduct AND Graveyard fields.

Fall Color Update Week 9/26 - 10/2

Primary Color: Green, with color at the highest elevations.   Lower elevations are fading to lighter greens as the leaves begin to change.

Color is definitely beginning to appear in the highest elevations, and is expected given peak for areas above 5,000 feet in Elevation will be next week.  We visited Graveyard Fields earlier this week, and did a video showing the current colors as of 9/24.    

Colors below 5,000 feet are still very much green, but the green is beginning to lighten as the trees begin to change.   We are still on target for our current forecast, which you can see below.  Leaf color is expected to be very good this year, and based on what we're seeing already, we agree.   As we head into October this week, the colors will begin to really pop.

Just remember, color begins at the highest elevations, and progresses down through October.  Here is our video:

Fall Color Update Week 9/19 - 9/25

Primary color: Green

The Primary color still continues to be very much green.  At higher elevations, the shades of green are significantly lighter, and the color change process is definitely progressing.   Colors in the highest elevations on the Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains are the furthest along, as we expect and see each year.  Remember, color progression starts at the highest elevations, and works its way down through October and early November.

We had a cold snap this weekend here in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with lows in the 40s most of the week.  This should really kick the color progression into high gear.  Some Sugar Maples maples, and some other trees are turning early, as they always do each year.

At this point, we feel our current forecast is still on track and accurate.   Here are some photos taken around Waynesville NC yesterday to give you some perspective.

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

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 2021 Fall Color Forecast for the Blue Ridge Mountains, by week, starting in late September:

Important Schedule Update

Due to significantly warmer temperatures in early October, Fall colors beginning the week of 10/10 are officially delayed about 5 days from the schedule below.  Please adjust the dates accordingly.

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.

Fall Videos

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:

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

Virginia 2021 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

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

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