The Best Places to see the Leaves Change in Asheville in the Fall
I’ve always loved autumn anywhere in the world, but after I moved to Asheville, my love for that time of the year deepened. In some other places, fall is just a spark before a long winter. But Asheville’s fall colors – which include leaves but also flowers – last a long time, gifting us with a five or six-week-long festival of color!
This gives us plenty of time to witness the magical process of trees shedding their leaves. As Hermann Hesse put it, “That is the way leaves fall around a tree in autumn, a tree unaware of the rain running down its sides, of the sun or the frost, and of life gradually retreating inward. The tree does not die. It waits.”
The best time to visit Asheville for fall foliage is in October. Although leaves at higher elevations might start to change during the last week of September and fall colors can be enjoyed until early November, October will guarantee you the red, yellow, and golden foliage you are looking to see (and tons of beautiful flowers!).
You can enjoy the changing leaves anywhere in and around Asheville during the fall just by strolling around downtown, hiking (there are so many family-friendly hikes around Asheville!), or taking one of the many scenic drives around Asheville. Of course, you can also experience the famous Asheville fall foliage at the spectacular Biltmore Estate.
The elevation is the most critical factor in the timing of the color change. Please remember that foliage always begins to change at higher elevations and works its way down the mountain. Also, the weather can affect the beginning and the duration of the North Carolina fall foliage season.
Admiring foliage is one of the best things to do in Asheville in the fall, but this popular time also features fun festivals and events. On top of that, because Asheville’s food scene is based on the farm-to-table movement and October is harvest time, the local restaurants’ menus are filled with all the fall’s favorite foods (and beers!).
Finally, if you need another reason to come to Asheville in the fall, the weather is perfect for being outdoors. The average temperature is 68°F/46°F (colder at higher elevations), allowing for long days of outdoor fun. The chilly evenings are perfect for warming up with a cup of cider by the fire (or bonfire!).
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Where to See the Fall Colors in Asheville
1. Take the Blue Ridge Parkway to Mount Mitchell and Enjoy the Colorful Vistas
The most scenic drive near Asheville, the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the best places to admire the spectacular North Carolina fall foliage. There are hiking trails and picnic areas, or you can enjoy a relaxing ride without having any other agenda. The 35-mile drive from Asheville to Mount Mitchell is fabulous all year round but spectacular in the fall!
Mount Mitchell State Park is the highest point east of the Mississippi River, located in the Black Mountain range of the Blue Ridge Mountains at 6,684 feet. Although you will see plenty of fall colors during your drive, near the park entrance, and from the summit, please keep in mind that the forest on the top of Mount Mitchell is mostly evergreen.
The great thing about Mount Mitchell is that it’s free and provides easy access for everyone. You can drive almost to the summit, and the observation deck offers incredible 360-degree views, making it one of the best places to see the fall colors near Asheville. In addition, there are hiking trails, educational activities for kids, a small museum, a gift shop, and a restaurant.
Another great option to check out the gorgeous North Carolina fall foliage is to take the Mount Mitchell Scenic Drive Byway, a 52-mile scenic drive that starts at the park’s main parking lot and ends in Burnsville!
2. Drive Along the Blue Ridge Parkway for Unbeatable Leaf Peeping
The Blue Ridge Parkway is the best spot to see the Asheville fall foliage. Its overlooks offer long, wide, and open views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and you don’t even have to leave the car to enjoy them – although sometimes a short walk might be necessary. Of course, the experience will be enhanced during sunrise or sunset.
The Rough Ridge Overlook (milepost 302.8) near Linville gives breathtaking views and is even more beautiful when the sun goes down. You can see the Linn Cove Viaduct, Grandfather Mountain, and the forests below. There are three viewpoints on its one-mile-long trail.
The Devil’s Courthouse Overlook (milepost 422) is another perfect spot to see the Asheville fall colors. The hike to the top is one mile long and totally worth it! You can see the sunrise and the sunset from Mills River Overlook (milepost 404.5) and from The Waterrock Knob Overlook (5,820 feet). Cowee Mountain Overlook (430.7) sits 5,950 feet above sea level, and you’ll love the unobstructed 180-degree views.
3. Road Trip to Grandfather Mountain: One of the First Places the Leaves Start to Change
This is another scenic Blue Ridge Parkway drive that is incredible in the fall. You’ll pass the Linn Cove Viaduct, an engineering gem and the last section of the parkway to be completed. The foliage begins to change at higher elevations, and the first fall colors appear in Grandfather Mountain State Park (5,946 feet) in mid to late September.
This 300-million-year-old mountain is home to many rare, endangered, and threatened species. Because it features more than a dozen ecological zones, the fall foliage is very diverse. You’ll also love the rock formations and the hiking trails.
The privately-owned Grandfather Mountain Nature Park is near the state park. After paying an entrance fee, visitors can drive through the park to enjoy beautiful vistas and the famous Mile High Swinging Bridge connecting two peaks one mile above sea level (imagine the fall foliage views!). In addition, there are wildlife exhibits, a discovery center, hiking trails, and educational activities for kids.
4. Tackle the Easy Black Balsam Hike on Art Loeb Trail and Take in the Vistas
Hiking is one of the best things to do in Asheville in the fall. Black Balsam Knob (6,214 feet) in the Pisgah National Forest is one of Ashevillians’ favorite trails. It’s also very popular with visitors in the summer and fall. Your adventure will begin with the beautiful 26-mile drive from Asheville along the Blue Ridge Parkway, from where you’ll enjoy Asheville’s fall colors.
This 2-mile round-trip hike is relatively easy. It features a balsam fir forest, an open grassy meadow, wildflowers among rocks, blueberry picking in the late summer, and spectacular 360-degree views from the tree-less bald top. The vistas are amazing all year round but full of color in the fall. Families love this kid-friendly hike!
If you take the Art Loeb Trail for another 1.5 miles, you’ll get to Tennant Mountain, and you can continue on the Art Loeb Trail until it encounters the Ivestor Gap Trail, which will loop back to Black Balsam Knob Road (a 5-mile total hike). Also, camping is permitted anywhere as long as you are 1,000 feet away from the trail.
5. Enjoy the Fall Foliage While Visiting a Farm or an Apple Orchard
The fall colors are everywhere in and around Asheville. You can enjoy them while hiking, taking a scenic drive, or doing outdoor activities that the entire family will love.
Locals adore visiting the Hickory Nut Gap farm in the fall. There is a corn maze, hayrides, a pumpkin patch, horse rides, lots of apples, excellent snacks (I love the apple cider popsicles), and goats!
When it comes to the best places for apple picking in Asheville, Sky Top Orchard is a favorite destination. Plus, don’t miss the delicious made-while-you-watch apple cider donuts, one of the best donuts in Asheville).
Or head to Altapass Orchard on the Blue Ridge Parkway and get some heirloom apples and beautiful vistas! Hendersonville is one of the best apple-growing areas, hosting the annual NC Apple Festival on Labor Day weekend.
There are many fantastic fall festivals in Asheville. Eliada’s Fall Festival has the best corn maze, and Leaf Global Arts’ three-day festival by a lake features artists from around the world (it’s very popular among locals, so get your tickets in advance).
If your family loves adrenaline, the Adventure Center of Asheville features zipline canopy adventures, treetops explorations, and KidZip, America’s first zipline adventure designed for kids under 10.
6. Picnic with 360-degree Views at Craggy Gardens Pinnacle
Imagine hiking for only 20 minutes and accessing the most beautiful Asheville fall foliage views. Craggy Gardens Pinnacle Trail is an easy hike with fun features that the entire family will cherish. It’s a short 24-mile drive from downtown Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The Craggy Gardens Pinnacle Trail begins at the upper level of the Craggy Dome Parking Overlook, just north of the tunnel you can view from the Visitor Center. This is a great sunset spot in Asheville, and the good news is that you can also watch it from the parking lot.
Do you need some ideas for a picnic? Grab a fancy picnic basket full of local goodies from The Rhu, or get sandwiches and cookies at Well Bred Bakery or City Bakery. Another great place to get local snacks is at the North Asheville Farmer’s Market (open year-round).
7. Admire Urban Fall Foliage Beauty in the Heart of Asheville
You can’t escape Asheville’s fall colors while here. Our city is always beautiful and charming (yes, even in the winter, there is a lot to enjoy), but fall is the most colorful season.
Asheville’s parks offer infinite possibilities to enjoy the changing leaves. Carrier Park is by the French Broad River and has lots of fun playing options for kids of all ages and adults.
Also, Asheville offers 10 miles of beautiful greenways connecting different places and parks around the city. These trails are accessible and perfect for people-watching and seeing Asheville’s fall colors.
The Botanical Gardens at Asheville in North Asheville is a favorite location for fall photo sessions, weddings, and picnics. You’ll love the easy, kid-friendly hiking trail and the variety of flora right in the middle of town.
The historic neighborhood of Montford is beautiful in the fall. You can walk around the historical Riverside Cemetery, go to Montford Park, or take the kids to the Tempie Avery Montford Center’s playground. The Hazel Robinson Amphitheatre is next door, and you can enjoy free performances by the Montford Players under the stars.
Also, you can take one of the many city tours to experience Asheville’s fall foliage from an E-bike, a pubcycle, or a paddle board! Wall Street (by the Grove Arcade) features wonderful ginkgo trees!
8. Take a Laid-Back Stroll around the North Carolina Arboretum
The NC Arboretum is one of the most beautiful Asheville public spaces and one of the best places to see Asheville’s fall colors in an easy, relaxing way (although it’s worth a visit every season).
Entry is free, but there is a parking fee. Members don’t pay the parking fee, and local library card holders can get free passes (ask your librarians!). Also, on the first Tuesday of every month, the Arboretum offers a 50% discount on private vehicle parking.
The arboretum features 10 miles of well-maintained, accessible, kid-friendly trails, exhibitions, educational programs, and many colors year-round! The peak fall foliage is during the last weeks of October and sometimes can last until early November.
You’ll love the tiny red and yellow leaves of the bonsai trees, the fall flowers (because fall color is not only about the leaves!), the maple trees, and hiking. Plus, the little ones will love the G-scale model train.
There is a gift shop and a bistro open from March to December. Picnicking is allowed on the grounds, and you can also get picnic goodies on-site.
9. See the Fall Colors at the Biltmore Estate
George Vanderbilt’s 8,000-acre Biltmore Estate is a must-visit all year long. Still, the gardens and grounds are astonishing in October and are one of the best places to see the fall colors in Asheville. The changing leaves and the autumn flowers create magnificent views and thousands of photo opportunities.
Fall at Biltmore goes from October 1 to November 1. You can access the Biltmore House and its grounds with your general ticket, but if you don’t feel like being inside because the weather is perfect to be outdoors, you can buy a ticket to access only the gardens.
You can experience the fall colors by strolling around the gardens and walking some of the 22 miles of hiking trails going through forests and meadows. The guided rooftop tour will give you incredible views of those Asheville fall colors. If you prefer to stay active, take the guided bike tour along the French Broad River!
10. Drive or Hike through Pisgah National Forest Near Brevard
The 500,000 acres of Pisgah National Forest offer some of the best places to see the North Carolina fall colors. The 76-mile Forest Heritage Scenic Byway is a wonderful scenic drive around Asheville, a loop that will take you to some of the best spots to see the changing leaves, including the cool town of Brevard.
The famous Looking Glass Falls is visible from the parking area, and you can get closer to the water after a short walk. Imagine the photos you will take of the cascades surrounded by fall foliage!
Sliding Rock is another highlight of this area. The 60-foot natural water slide that ends in an 8-foot-deep pool is a very popular spot in the summer. The good thing about October is that the days are still warm, so you can play in the water!
Take some time to visit the Cradle of Forestry, the first forestry school in the USA, and enjoy its trails and educational opportunities.
11. See the Waterfalls Framed by Fall Foliage
Graveyard Fields Loop Trail is a beloved family-friendly waterfall hike near Asheville. The diverse foliage becomes a beautiful fall landscape with yellow, golden, and red tones. You can access the second/lower falls after a super easy 0.3-mile hike, and the upper falls are 1.6 miles from the trailhead.
The 0.7-mile Moore Cove Falls is another easy hike in the Pisgah National Forest and off the Blue Ridge Parkway. You’ll love to walk behind the 50-foot plunge waterfall! There is a viewing platform perfect for photos.
Dry Falls is a 75-foot waterfall in the Cullasaja Gorge. There is an accessible walkway that offers views and perfect photo opportunities. A trail also allows you to walk behind the waterfall and remain dry (hence the name).
Hooker Falls, Triple Falls, and High Falls in Transylvania County (“The Land of the Waterfalls.”) are connected and offer a fantastic adventure for the entire family. Triple Falls was featured in The Hunger Games and The Last of the Mohicans.
The Catawba Falls Trail is a 4-mile round-trip hike that gives beautiful views of 100 feet of cascading waterfalls. Skinny Dip Falls is an easy 0.75-mile hike and a favorite swimming hole for families during the summer but beautiful year-round.
12. Spot Bulging Elk in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park
Great Smoky Mountain National Park is free and another beautiful place to take in the North Carolina fall foliage. Plus, the elk are very busy that time of the year!
Newfound Gap Road (US Highway 441) is a scenic 33-mile drive that connects Cherokee, NC, to Gatlinburg, TN. It goes through the national park, and the views from the overlook of Newfound Gap and Clingman’s Dome (6,643 feet) are incredible.
The reintroduction of elk into Great Smoky Mountains National Park began in 2001, and the best place to see elk today is in the Cataloochee area in the southeastern section of the park.
During the rut in fall, the male elk bugle attracts females and challenges other bulls, and it’s a fascinating time to visit. Elk bugling can be observed from early September through October before sunrise and after sunset, but they sometimes bugle during the night or before a storm. Imagine a photo of a dramatic cloudy sky, fall foliage, and elk!
13. Explore Chimney Rock and Lake Lure in Late October or Early November
You can access the Chimney Rock State Park‘s 535-million-year-old monolith via the elevator or by walking the 500-step Outcroppings Trail. At the top, you’ll be gifted with 75 miles of panoramic views of the Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure, which is astonishing in the fall.
The 0.7-mile Hickory Nut Falls Trail leads to the base of the 404-foot-tall waterfall. This is the highest waterfall in any North Carolina State Park and was featured in the film The Last of the Mohicans.
Lake Lure is an artificial yet beautiful lake located 27 miles from downtown Asheville. The reflections of the changing leaves in the water will make for some of the most poetic photos you have ever taken.
Oh, and this is where part of Dirty Dancing was filmed! There is even an annual Dirty Dancing Festival. Because of the elevation, Lake Lure is a great place to see the Asheville fall colors in late October or early November.
14. Have the Perfect Fall Picnic at Max Patch
Max Patch is a “bald,” treeless hilltop. An easy 1.5-mile loop trail will take the entire family to the grassy summit, a perfect spot to enjoy a laid-back picnic with 360-degree views of Mount Mitchell and the Great Smoky Mountains.
Max Patch is a very popular trail, and it’s part of every “best hiking in Asheville” list, but it’s been closed in the past due to campers leaving tons of litter and people in general not taking care of the place.
Since then, some activities have been restricted, which means no big groups, no camping, no fires, and no horseback riding. Dogs are allowed on leashes. And please remember to always follow the Leave No Trace Seven Principles while outdoors.