The fall colors are in full swing and if you live in North Carolina, you know what that means… road trips! North Carolina is home to some of the best places in the country when it comes to leaf peeping, especially in the western portion of the state. Whether it’s in the rolling mountains of the Smokies or the towering peaks along the Parkway, there is a nearly unlimited selection to choose from. We are here to help! Let’s discover 12 incredible places to see fall foliage in North Carolina. You aren’t too late.
The Most Scenic Natural Locations to See Fall Foliage
Western North Carolina is the obvious winner when it comes to leaf peeping, but there are so many options. Here are our picks for the best natural locations to see fall foliage. We’ll cover the most scenic fall cities after that!
The Blue Ridge Parkway
Look, it’s not really a list about fall in North Carolina without at least mentioning the Blue Ridge Parkway. This beautiful and scenic stretch begins in Virginia and travels all the way through Georgia through some of the most beautiful stretches of land in the United States. During the fall, this highway is easily among the most beautiful places in the world and attracts millions of people each year. If you’ve never driven along the Parkway in the fall, stopped at the attractions along the roadside, and finished with a weekend in Asheville, you need to add it to your bucket list. You won’t regret it.
Mount Mitchell State Park and Clingmans Dome
Mount Mitchell is the highest peak in the eastern United States, while Clingmans Dome is probably the best observation deck in the entire state. They aren’t the same place, but in our opinion, they have a similar draw. Mount Mitchell, located in Mount Mitchell State Park, is absolutely breathtaking and allows some of the furthest views anywhere in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Clingmans Dome is an observation deck located on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. If you are looking for a paved road with easily accessible views, either one is a truly wonderful option. Pick whichever is closest, or just travel to both!
Panthertown Valley is a hidden gem among the mountains of North Carolina. This high-elevation valley is extremely large and home to a plethora of backcountry hiking and camping trails (no bathrooms or cabins). Located within the Valley is a rock feature known as “The Wall,” a massive granite feature that is so breathtaking it’s hard to think it’s in North Carolina (think a rock version of The Wall in Game of Thrones). Hiking and camping anywhere within Panthertown is a great way to get an up close and personal view of the beautiful fall foliage. Use the trailhead near Cold Mountain Gap or Salt Rock Gap to access the park, but beware of bears!
Grandfather Mountain is probably the most famous mountain in the Blue Ridge Mountains, but that doesn’t mean it is any less beautiful! Although it can get a bit touristy, there is no shame in walking the famous bridge and hiking to the peak. There really is something special about Grandfather Mountain, and it’s easily worth a visit if you’ve never been. The fall colors only make the experience even better. be aware that you will need to grab a ticket and reservation in order to experience some of the attractions, including the Swinging Bridge, Wilson Center for Nature Discovery, and hiking trails.
Pisgah National Forest
The Pisgah National Forest is another wonderful spot to view some of the best fall foliage in North Carolina. Pisgah is such a great region because of its size, over 500,000 acres, and its hardwood forests. The area is one of the first pieces of land bought in 1911 that led to some of the first nationally recognized forests in the United States (which subsequently led to the protection of the forest). Additionally, it’s home to the Cradle of Forestry in America and the first school of forestry in the country. Traveling anywhere within this range is sure to result in some spectacular views. If you plan on camping in Pisgah, make sure you reserve a spot well ahead of time as peak season in the region is often booked as people flock to the area to see the leaves.
Max Patch is a geological phenomenon known as a “bald”. A bald is a mountain peak that has little to no tree cover, providing excellent views all around. There is still some debate as to what causes these balds, with some claiming they are the ancient farms of Native Americans! The jury is still out on what causes them, but nobody argues that they make for a wonderful foliage viewing spot. Pack a blanket and some food and picnic on Max Patch for a truly one-of-a-kind North Carolina experience.
Chimney Rock is a well-known structure located in Chimney Rock State Park. As its name suggests, the large stone structure resembles a chimney when seen from the ground. The greater region around the park is accessible, beautiful, and a little further east than many of the other spots. If you want a spot closer to Charlotte or the surrounding area, you can shave a little less than an hour off a trip west by stopping at Chimney Rock instead of anything along the Blue Ridge proper. Parking is available, and tickets are required to enter the park.
Linville Gorge (Table Rock Mountain)
A personal favorite, Table Rock Mountain, located along the Linville Gorge, offers some of the most spectacular views in western North Carolina. This jutting mountain ends with a large flat portion, allowing anyone to hike to the top and look around at some truly majestic views. During the fall, Table Rock is a great place to see the surrounding region and the vibrant colors of fall. The actual hike to Table Rock from the parking lot isn’t all that long, but the drive up the gravel road is scenic all by itself.
The Most Scenic North Carolina Cities in the Fall
If you aren’t much of a hiker, heading into town may be a better option overall. Food, a bed, and beautiful leaves? Sign me up! Here are some of the best cities and towns to see the fall foliage in North Carolina.
Boone is one of the most popular towns in the mountains because of the college, Appalachian State University, that is housed within. If you want a lively strip with shopping, food, and entertainment, Boone provides it all. It’s right near the Parkway, and the famous suspension bridge near Grandfather Mountain is also nearby. Since it’s located in the mountains of North Carolina, its fall foliage is some of the best in the state.
Asheville is easily the largest and most notable mountain city in North Carolina. This hipster city is located deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains and is one of the most beautiful places in the area to set up camp. Asheville has food and fine dining, entertainment, and literally anything else you could need. If you’ve never been to western North Carolina, Asheville is a must-see. Nearby hiking trails offer spectacular views of the fall foliage, and the Biltmore Estate nearby is an absolute MUST for everyone.
Bryson City is a small town located in the Great Smokies. While the town isn’t that large, there is a unique feature that makes Bryson City a great spot for leaf peepers: the train. The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad begins in Bryson city and travels through the nearby park, offering spectacular views in comfort and style. Food, views, and company from a steam or diesel train? There isn’t anything better.
Blowing Rock — Boone — Banner Elk
Each town probably deserves its own bullet, but they all have some similarities between them. These three towns are located around Beech and Sugar Mountain, the two best ski resorts in the state. Additionally, they are in close proximity to Grandfather Mountain and offer a slower pace of life when compared to Boone. If you’ve been to Boone and want to travel somewhere a bit smaller and more niche, one of these three towns is a wonderful option to see leaves.
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The photo featured at the top of this post is © Malachi Jacobs/Shutterstock.com
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