North Carolina is one of the most beautiful states in the United States during autumn. Home to America’s favorite drive and the best mountain ranges in the southeast, North Carolina is an idyllic fall vacation for travelers seeking fall foliage views.
The state’s fall colors last all fall, starting in September, with some fall colors visible into November. Leaves turn based on their elevation in North Carolina. This post walks you through the best viewing spots and recommends when to see them.
Keep reading to learn all about the best North Carolina fall foliage viewing spots! (Note: This is a general guide based on past years–the appearance of fall colors varies from year to year due to the weather.)
End of September and Early October
High elevations (at and above 5,000 feet) are the first North Carolina fall foliage areas to show their autumn colors.
Graveyard Fields, 35 miles south of Asheville, is historically the first spot in the Blue Ridge Mountains (and all of North Carolina) to showcase vibrant fall colors. During the peak, North Carolina fall foliage viewers will see all kinds of vivid reds and oranges.
This popular hiking trail starts at Mile Post 418.8 on Blue Ridge Parkway. Hikers will enjoy scenic waterfalls alongside gorgeous foliage. This hike is an absolute must-do in the fall season.
Another early North Carolina fall foliage arriver is Rough Ridge Lookout on Grandfather Mountain. Rough Ridge is located on milepost 302.8 on Blue Ridge Parkway–about 100 northeast of Graveyard Fields.
The Tanawha Trail that leads to Rough Ridge is part of the Pisgah National Forest.
Mount Mitchell is located about 30 miles northeast of Asheville. The mountain is the highest point east of the Mississippi River, and an observation deck allows onlookers to see gorgeous mountain views on clear days. This is a beautiful spot to observe North Carolina fall foliage.
Grandfather Mountain is a breathtaking view during the first week of October. The mountain is part of the Southern Appalachian Biosphere Reserve and is estimated to be over 300 million years old, with certain rock formations dating back to 1.2 billion years!
One-third of the mountain is operated as a scenic travel attraction, and guests must pay an admission fee to enter. The other two-thirds is undeveloped and only accessible on foot. Hikers can enjoy several miles of rugged alpine trails while enjoying North Carolina fall foliage.
Beech Mountain, North Carolina, is the highest elevation of any town in the Eastern United States at 5,506 feet. Visitors can enjoy incredible scenery in fall, especially when autumn colors peak in early October.
Waterrock Knob is located at 5,280 feet in elevation and is home to Blue Ridge Parkway’s highest visitor center. Known for long-range North Carolina fall foliage views across several major mountains in the Appalachians, Waterrock Knob is a gorgeous place to visit at sunrise or sunset.
The area is located just 18 miles from the end of Blue Ridge Parkway at mile marker 451.2.
Black Balsam Knob
Arrive early to enjoy the scenic vistas of Black Balsam Knob off Black Balsam Road (Exit FS-816 from Blue Ridge Parkway) because people from all over the East Coast flock to this area to enjoy the same fall views.
Or you can hike the popular Art Loeb Trail to enjoy some of the best North Carolina fall foliage. This trail is part of the Pisgah Forest.
Max Patch is one of the most scenic spots in the Blue Ridge Mountains at nearly 5,000 feet in elevation, providing 360 views. The top of Max Patch offers amazing views of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The best time to visit Max Patch for North Carolina fall foliage is early- to mid-fall. Max Patch’s peak is accessible through a short (albeit strenuous) hike. The hike is certainly rewarding!
Roan Mountain is a five-mile ridgetop ranging from 5,500 feet at Carver’s Gap to Roan High Knob at 6,286 feet. This mountain is part of both the Pisgah and Cherokee forests. The epic Appalachian Trail crosses through the mountain, allowing hikers panoramic views.
For the best North Carolina fall foliage hiking experience, park at Carver’s Gap near the North Carolina and Tennessee state line and hike east across the road.
The Roan Mountain Day Use Area up the road closes for the season at the end of September, so it will not be accessible during peak North Carolina fall foliage. Carver’s Gap remains open year-round.
The second week in October is typically the best time to view North Carolina fall foliage at elevations between 4,000 and 5,000 feet.
This includes almost all locations along Blue Ridge Parkway, so you could simply drive down America’s favorite drive to enjoy some beautiful North Carolina fall foliage.
The third week in October is peak time for North Carolina fall foliage located at elevations from 3,000 to 4,000 feet. Most of the Pisgah National Forest is showcasing its North Carolina fall foliage around this time of the month.
Mount Pisgah is just 26 miles southwest of downtown Asheville and can be seen from downtown on a clear day. The Mount Pisgah Trailhead is located at Milepost 407.6. Gorgeous North Carolina fall foliage is visible from the sidewalk.
The Devil’s Courthouse trail is located at milepost 422.4 of the Blue Ridge Parkway. A short but strenuous hike takes hikers to its peak, which showcases wondrous panoramic North Carolina fall foliage views from the mountaintop.
Whiteside Mountain with Shadow of the Bear
The shadow of the bear can be seen from Whiteside Mountain from mid-October through early November as the sun sets behind Whiteside Mountain between Sapphire Valley and Highlands, North Carolina.
As the sun goes down, a bear appears to walk the valley among the gorgeous North Carolina fall foliage. This natural occurrence attracts plenty of attention, so you want to head over early to beat the crowd.
Great Smoky National Park
High elevations above 4,000 feet at Great Smoky National Park are peaking around the second week in October, although lower elevations won’t start to peak until mid-October to early November. The park’s showy display and tree variety is a spectacular place to enjoy North Carolina fall foliage.
Sliding Rock is a 60-foot natural waterslide ending in an 8-foot pool of water. The waterslide is located in the Pisgah National Forest. This area is open 365 days but only has restroom access through late October.
Forest Heritage Scenic Byway
The Forest Heritage Scenic Byway takes you through the Pisgah National Forest on a 76-mile loop. This loop is east of Waynesville and west of Brevard. The loop is a stunning drive around the third week of October, with plenty of North Carolina fall foliage to see.
Tourists will pass popular attractions like Sliding Rock, Looking Glass Falls, and the Cradle of Forestry. The loop passes the Blue Ridge Parkway twice. The drive takes around two hours in total, but more time will be needed if you plan to stop at tourist locations along the drive.
Banner Elk is a small town located in Avery County, and few places in the state have the leaves seen here. At 3,701 feet elevation, Banner Elk is a vivid place to visit near the third or fourth week of October.
One of the most popular attractions near Banner Elk is the Mile-High Swinging Bridge on Grandfather Mountain. The bridge is located 8 miles south in Linville.
While you’re in Linville during the third week of October, travel about 13 miles south to the Linville Gorge Wilderness area.
This area is part of the Pisgah National Forest, and the gorge is formed by the Jonas Ridge and Linville Mountains. This is a lovely place to camp overnight and enjoy North Carolina fall foliage.
End of October and Early November
Areas at 2,000 to 3,000 elevation peak the last week of October. A few lower-elevation locations in North Carolina wait to show their autumn colors in early November.
The city of Asheville is an enthralling sight during the last week of October, around the time that the city reaches its peak fall foliage colors.
Enjoy the city’s famous farmers’ markets and seasonal produce, along with the area’s microbreweries. There’s no shortage of things to do in Asheville, and if you visit during the last week of October, you’ll get to do it all while taking in the glorious North Carolina fall foliage.
French Broad River
While in Asheville, head over to the French Broad River. The Asheville Riverfront is a gorgeous place to check out during the last week of October. You can walk the river overlook or book a float trip through Asheville Adventure Company.
A 17-mile byway starts north of Asheville at I-26 at Exit 19. This scenic drive passes by three riverside parks with gorgeous North Carolina fall foliage: Ledges Whitewater Park, Alexander River Park, and Walnut Island River Park.
DuPont State Forest
DuPont State Forest crosses over 10,000 acres, spanning through Henderson and Transylvania counties. The forest is a colorful place to enjoy North Carolina fall foliage while hiking, biking, or horseback riding.
The state forest is home to three beautiful waterfalls: Hooker Falls, Triple Falls, and High Falls. Take your camera and snap some beautiful North Carolina autumn photos at DuPont State Forest during the last of October or the first week in November.
Cades Cove is one of the last spots at Smoky Mountains National Park to peak in fall colors, typically peaking the last week of October into the first week of November. It’s worth the wait because there are plenty of North Carolina fall foliage shots at Cades Cove!
Chimney Rock State Park
Chimney Rock State Park, at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, has one of the longest fall color seasons in the United States. With elevations as low as 1,000 feet, the peak fall foliage season is typically near the end of the fall, in early November.
Lake James State Park
Low elevations at Lake James State Park peak in early November. The park includes two areas that access its picture-perfect lake. Enjoy plenty of hiking and biking trails, including the kid-friendly Holly Discovery Trail.
South Mountains State Park
Situated at a crossroads of the Appalachian Mountains and the Foothills, South Mountains State Park offers the ultimate backcountry North Carolina foliage experience. The park is at its most colorful from late October to early November.
The mountain sanctuary is a true gem and one of the state’s most scenic forests. It has over 40 walking trails and a waterfall that drops 60 feet. You’ll want your camera!
Tryon Foothills Wine Country
End your North Carolina fall foliage trip by relaxing at Tryon Foothills Wine Country. This countryside winery is a fertile grape producer, with the first vineyard opening in 1890. The vineyard is located at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountain range at only 1,000 feet elevation.
A Fall to Remember
You’re ready to pack your bags for the fall foliage trip of a lifetime. There’s no shortage of North Carolina fall foliage–we couldn’t possibly list them all, but this list is a great place to start.
Looking for more places on the East Coast to view fall foliage? Check out the best places in South Carolina to see autumn colors.
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Nicole Kinkade considers herself blessed to have grown up with fresh garden vegetables and fruit readily available. Both sets of grandparents were avid gardeners, and she spent many hours helping them collect the fruits of their labor.
She is passionate about healthy living and loves learning and sharing about nutrition facts. She is also always experimenting in the kitchen and finds joy in writing about what she’s been cooking.
With a Bachelor’s in Business Administration and an Associate’s in Media Communication, she is a passionate writer who loves sharing her knowledge online.
Nicole can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org