[Updated September 18, 2021]
Fall in the North Carolina mountains is particularly special because the autumn leaves are around for an extended amount of time.
The vibrant fall colors almost seem to develop in shifts, gradually working their way down the sides of the Blue Ridge Mountains as seasonal temperatures begin to drop.
Changes at the higher altitudes (see: Mount Mitchell, Clingmans Dome, Richland Balsam) usually start in mid- to late-September.
In North Carolina, fall is a true season, sprawling over 3 months. The mountains of Western NC arguably offer some of the very best places to see fall colors in the United States.
Whether it’s hiking in Pisgah National Forest, driving the Blue Ridge Parkway, or simply enjoying dinner/drinks with a stunning view, there are a bounty of options for enjoying fall foliage in North Carolina.
So check out our picks for the 25 best places to see fall colors in Western NC, including many breathtaking photos taken on a Blue Ridge Parkway road trip last October!
Fall Colors in Western NC Guide
- Graveyard Fields
- Grandfather Mountain State Park
- Beech Mountain
- Craggy Gardens
- Clingman’s Dome
- Pisgah Inn
- Black Balsam Knob
- Devil’s Courthouse
- The Blowing Rock
- Banner Elk
- Looking Glass Rock
- Cowee Mountain Overlook
- Julian Price Memorial Park
- Linville Falls & Linville Gorge Wilderness
- Chimney Rock State Park
- Mount Mitchell
- Rough Ridge/Linn Cove Viaduct
Waterrock Knob/View Yellow Face
Chestnut Cove Overlook
1. Graveyard Fields
The Blue Ridge Parkway fall colors have already got a fantastic reputation, so it’s just a matter of finding the best spots along the world-renowned route to stop and take them.
Graveyard Fields, which was named for tree stumps left behind after a storm several hundred years ago because they looked like grave stones, is most definitely in the running.
Located just 30 miles southwest of Asheville along the BRP, Graveyard Fields is one of the most popular (read: often crowded) of the famous roadway’s sites.
It has an amazing hiking trail that leads trekkers to two wondrous waterfalls, past open blueberry patches, and through a picturesque high mountain valley.
This spot is also highly regarded for its vivid NC fall foliage, which frames many of the stunning waterfall views.
2. Grandfather Mountain State Park
Looming large at 5,946 feet, Grandfather Mountain is an iconic landmark in Banner Elk NC. It’s also the centerpiece of one of the most wonderful state parks in North Carolina.
Boasting nearly 2,500 acres of rugged backcountry wilderness, the park has a lot of space to explore within it.
But the vast panoramas viewed from the rocky outcrops along its 12 miles of hiking trails are what Grandfather Mountain State Park is most known for.
The photo above should help you imagine their glorious splendor when draped in North Carolina’s fall colors.
In addition to the marvelous hiking trails, the nearby Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation offers a mile-high swinging bridge that can be accessed for a small fee (which goes towards the park’s conservation efforts).
3. Beech Mountain
The peak’s lofty perch also makes Beech Mountain a picturesque spot for seeing the fall colors in North Carolina.
Riddled with outdoor recreation opportunities, from tennis to trout fishing, Beech Mountain is a resort town with all the amenities you’d expect.
The Blue Ridge mountain town’s elevation– 5506 feet above sea level– supplies expansive views of the peaks and valleys below it. In short, this is a prime spot for leaf-peeping in luxury!
4. Craggy Gardens
Located just 19 miles northeast of Asheville, Craggy Gardens is another of the most treasured stops along the BRP.
It’s truly an ideal place for taking in Asheville’s fall colors, not to mention a stunning option for seeing wildflowers in late spring and summer.
Located at Milepost 364 (and several other nearby stops), Craggy Gardens is full of rocky terrain, with twisted tree trunks and low-slung hardwood canopies.
The mountain is pushing 6,000 feet in elevation, so the jaw-dropping landscape expands out for miles in every direction.
The prize-winning roost from which to enjoy the best fall colors of the Blue Ridge Parkway is the summit of Craggy Pinnacle, with its staggering 360º views.
5. Clingman’s Dome
North Carolina’s Mount Mitchell is the highest point east of the Rockies, and Clingman’s Dome along the TN border is the second highest.
Technically speaking, its highest point is in Tennessee, but of course views aren’t technical!
Located at 6,643 feet above sea level, Clingman’s Dome is the ultimate highlight of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
There’s an amazing scenic drive up to approximately 300 feet below the summit. Then, at the very top, there’s a 45-foot tower from which to view all the awesomeness below.
6. Mt. Pisgah/Pisgah Inn
Located way up high atop Mt. Pisgah, the inn is home to some of the BRP’s most iconic views.
This is a great option for those who are unable (or simply unwilling) to tackle big Blue Ridge Parkway hiking trails, but still want to check out the fall colors in NC.
Though numerous trails are available nearby, the Pisgah Inn is a fantastic place to just sit back in a deck chair and soak it all in, with no sweat required.
There’s a restaurant, gift shop (including traditional Blue Ridge foodstuffs), and overnight accommodation for those looking to linger a little longer. There’s also outdoor seating at the restaurant, as well as an observation deck and picnic greens.
READ MORE: The 25 Best Things to Do in Asheville NC
7. Black Balsam Knob
The 28.5-mile Art Loeb Trail is widely considered one of the best Pisgah National Forest hiking trails.
Black Balsam Knob is its loftiest point, and offers the best views of North Carolina’s fall foliage along the trail (and arguably in all of Pisgah Forest).
Fortunately, visitors don’t have to hike the entire Art Loeb Trail in order to appreciate the scenery from Black Balsam Knob.
To reach this section by car, road trippers can simply turn off of the Blue Ridge Parkway onto Black Balsam Road (FS 816).
This is a very popular spot, so it’s best to arrive early or be prepared for crowds vying to get the same scenic vistas. Also, thunderstorms here are notorious for making a quick impression!
READ MORE: Pisgah National Forest: A Beginner’s Guide
8. Devil’s Courthouse
Located relatively close to Graveyard Fields and Black Balsam Knob, the Devil’s Courthouse is another one of the more iconic natural attractions near Asheville.
At Milepost 422.4 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Devil’s Courthouse is a location filled with local folklore, as well as a fantastic lookout for NC fall foliage.
There is a half-mile hike up to a rocky viewing platform that boosts observations of four different states: North Carolina, western South Carolina, eastern Tennessee, and North Georgia.
It’s a lofty location so nice, even Peregrine Falcons have chosen to nest there!
9. The Blowing Rock
“The Blowing Rock,” which is dramatically poised above the Blue Ridge mountain town that bears its name, is one of the oldest and most revered tourist attractions in North Carolina.
It’s located at 4,000 feet above sea level, overhanging the Johns River Gorge 3,000 feet below.
So the Blowing Rock yields jaw-dropping views of Mount Mitchell, Grandfather Mountain, Table Rock, and Hawksbill Mountain (not to mention all of the fall colors in between).
Unlike most of the state parks and national parks along the BRP, taking in views from “The Blowing Rock” costs a nominal fee.
But the town of Blowing Rock is free to visit, and there are lots of attractions in and around it.
10. Banner Elk NC
Banner Elk is one of the many great small mountain towns in North Carolina’s High Country. It’s also one of the best destinations to visit if you want to see fall colors in NC.
The leaf color around Banner Elk (3,700 feet) typically peaks in the latter half of October, and there are many close options for viewing them.
Located between Beech Mountain and the Linville Gorge Wilderness, Banner Elk also makes for a convenient home base for leaf-watching along the BRP from late September into mid-November.
READ MORE: The 10 Best Things to Do in Banner Elk NC
11. Looking Glass Rock
An ancient pluton formed by hardened magma underneath the earth’s surface, Looking Glass Rock gets its name from the rock face’s glossy reflection after a rain.
However, it is also possible to hike 2.7 miles to the top of Looking Glass Rock for a phenomenal view of the forest (Pisgah National Forest, to be specific) from which it ascends.
The Looking Glass Rock Trailhead is located near Brevard. It can be accessed from US-276, which is the main thoroughfare through the southern section of Pisgah Forest.
It’s also worth stopping by for a glimpse of Looking Glass Falls, which is one of the most accessible roadside waterfalls of note in the forest.
12. Cowee Mountain Overlook
Widely considered amongst the best Blue Ridge Parkway overlooks, the Cowee Mountain Overlook offers up many layers of mountain ridges in its wide, deep panorama.
Located at BRP milepost 430.7, this amazing overlook is southwest of Asheville and sits at over 5,900 feet in elevation.
Facing westward into the southern Appalachians, the Cowee Mountain Overlook is well-regarded as a great place for getting photos of sunsets.
So visitors should expect plenty of tripods and onlookers trying to get the perfect shot. Hey, it didn’t make this list for nothing!
13. Julian Price Memorial Park
If you love water as much as we do, Julian Price Memorial Park offers a magnificent mountain lake and numerous streams lined with colorful hardwood trees.
The backdrop of majestic mountain peaks towering over them makes for some seriously stunning photos!
Located at Milepost 297, the memorial park is part of the larger Blue Ridge Parkway system, and has a very easy 3-mile trail that loops around the lake.
This place is incredibly special to locals and travelers alike for its immediate proximity to the beauty and grandeur of the Blue Ridge Parkway in autumn.
The equally gorgeous Moses H Cone Memorial Park is also nearby, and well worth a visit.
14. Linville Falls & Linville Gorge Wilderness
Linville Falls is one of the most celebrated waterfalls along the Blue Ridge Parkway. And Linville Gorge is so spectacular, it is often referred to as “the Grand Canyon of the East.”
The hiking trails that lead to Linville Falls have several spurs for getting different perspectives of the multi-leveled waterfall, which breaks out of the forest and plunges some 90 feet down.
Managed by Pisgah National Forest, the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area is a unique and rugged landscape within the forest. There are nearly 40 miles of trails upon which to explore it.
The Linville Falls Visitor Center is located at Milepost 316.4 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and has a quaint little trail that runs behind it.
15. Chimney Rock State Park
Pushing the limits of what we can call Western North Carolina, Chimney Rock State Park is in the North Carolina Piedmont region. Nevertheless, we’re still talking about a place less than 30 miles from Downtown Asheville.
Chimney Rock State Park has one of NC’s most iconic rock formations– the spire for which the park is named.
For a fee, visitors can climb to the top of Chimney Rock to look down on Lake Lure (the filming site for Dirty Dancing’s lake scenes) and Hickory Nut Gorge.
Aside from the spire itself, Chimney Rock State Park boats over 5,700 acres of wilderness, including the beautiful Rocky Broad River and Hickory Nut Falls.
Chimney Rock Village is a proper little mountain town with tattoo shops, greasy spoons, and an emimently walkable Main Street. In other words, this one is a great place for families!
16. Mount Mitchell
Located near the town of Burnsville at BRP Milepost 355, Mount Mitchell State Park is named for the tallest mountain this side of the Mississippi River (6,684 feet).
Mount Mitchell is a popular tourist attraction all year round, offering seven hiking trails and about 15 miles worth of pathways to enjoy. There’s also a concession stand, souvenir shop, and restaurant open during peak summer.
But it is particularly picturesque when the autumn leaves begin to turn at the upper elevations, which can be seen from the fairly short, accessible trail to the lookout at the summit.
There are also exceptional views of the lower elevations from the picnic area near the summit parking lot, which includes two picnic shelters with fireplaces, 40 tables, stone grills, and fresh drinking water.
READ MORE: The 10 Best Things to Do in Burnsville NC
17. Rough Ridge/Linn Cove Viaduct
One of the more difficult scenic viewpoints on this list to reach, the hike to Rough Ridge begins at the parking lot, which is located at BRP Milepost 302.8.
From there you’ll hike approximate 1/3-mile uphill, gaining 480 feet of elevation along the way, to a boardwalk atop the mountain that’s designed with the Leave No Trace principles in mind.
Hiking another 1/2-mile (with large boulders along the way perfect for taking breaks) will take you to the 4,773-foot Rough Ridge summit, with its breathtaking views of autumn on Grandfather Mountain, the Linn Cove Viaduct, and the North Carolina Piedmont.
For those who are unwilling (or unable) to make the climb, the scenery from the Linn Cove Viaduct below are equally gorgeous.
18. Thunderstruck Ridge
Located near Maggie Valley at BRP Milepost 454.4, the Thunderstruck Ridge Overlook offers exceptional vistas of the mountains and valleys below.
But what really makes this overlook stand out is the varying elevations of the mountains behind the ridge, which seem to stretch endlessly into the horizon.
Want crazy reds, oranges, and yellows? Check! Want an array of dynamic peaks? Check! Want that trademark misty haze that gives the Blue Ridge Mountains their name? You got it!
19. Waterrock Knob/View Yellow Face
Located in Sylva NC at BRP Milepost 451, the Waterrock Knob Visitors Center is the highest on the Blue Ridge Parkway, with an elevation of 5,820 feet.
This is a very popular overlook, and with good reason: In addition to a Ranger Station where you can get advice on local hiking trails, there’s a nearly 360º view of the surrounding mountains from the parking lot.
We got some great photos of the Parkway from there. But overall I preferred the scenery at the View Yellow Face Overlook just down the road (Milepost 450.2).
To understand why, just check out the photo above. Each of the ridges in foreground shows the NC fall colors in varying degrees of intensity, with the crest of the Blue Ridge range stretching out in the background.
20. Chestnut Cove Overlook
Located almost halfway between Asheville and Hendersonville at Milepost 398.3, Chestnut Cove is one of the more underrated Blue Ridge Parkway overlooks.
But, as you can see in the photo above, it’s a gorgeous spot when the colors of autumn leaves are illuminated with morning light.
This was one of our first stops as we made our way north from the Historic Engadine Inn to the Linville area. The morning fog hovering at low elevations made the dramatic ridge look a bit like a sleeping dragon or crocodile.
And with the lower elevation trees directly in the foreground, the contrast with the vivid mountains made it clear just how dynamic the colors of fall in North Carolina truly are. —by Jonathon Engels, with additional reporting by Bret Love; lead photo of Linn Cove Viaduct by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett