Fall in North Carolina: 20 Great Places to See Fall Colors in Western NC

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[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.

Down at the lower elevations around Asheville, Cherokee, and Waynesville, the peak leaf-peeping season often pushes into early November.

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!

READ MORE: The Best Hiking in Asheville NC Bucket List (Top 20 Hiking Trails)

Fall Colors in Western NC Guide

  1. Graveyard Fields
  2. Grandfather Mountain State Park
  3. Beech Mountain
  4. Craggy Gardens 
  5. Clingman’s Dome
  6. Pisgah Inn 
  7. Black Balsam Knob
  8. Devil’s Courthouse
  9. The Blowing Rock
  10. Banner Elk
  11. Looking Glass Rock 
  12. Cowee Mountain Overlook
  13. Julian Price Memorial Park
  14. Linville Falls & Linville Gorge Wilderness
  15. Chimney Rock State Park
  16. Mount Mitchell
  17. Rough Ridge/Linn Cove Viaduct
  18. Thunderstruck Ridge
  19. Waterrock Knob/View Yellow Face 
  20. Chestnut Cove Overlook 

 

Fall Colors at a Waterfall in Graveyard Fields NC
Fall Colors at the Graveyard Fields Waterfall, photo via Canva

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.

READ MORE: The 20 Best Western North Carolina Waterfalls for Hiking

Fall colors in Grandfather Mountain State Park, NC
Grandfather Mountain State Park, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

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).

READ MORE: Things to Do at Grandfather Mountain State Park in Banner Elk NC

Fall Lake Reflections in Beech Mountain, NC
Fall Reflections, photo courtesy BeechMtn.com

3. Beech Mountain

The highest town east of the Mississippi, Beech Mountain is widely considered one of the best places for snow skiing in North Carolina.

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.

You’ll find theme parks, upscale restaurants, meandering greenways, and high-class hotels.

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!

READ MORE: The 20 Best Western NC Small Towns To Visit (and Live In!)

Fall Colors View from Craggy Gardens, North Carolina
Fall Colors in Craggy Gardens, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

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.

READ MORE: North Carolina Wildflowers Guide (& Where to See Them in Western NC)

Clingman's Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Clingman’s Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, photo via Canva

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.

A destination on both the Appalachian Trail and NC’s Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Clingman’s Dome is a literally the high-point of many hikers’ and leaf-peepers’ journey.

READ MORE: The Cataloochee Valley Elk in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

View Behind Pisgah Inn in Peak Fall Colors
View behind Pisgah Inn, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

6. Mt. Pisgah/Pisgah Inn

Located between Brevard and Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Pisgah Inn was established in 1919 (nearly 20 years before Parkway construction began) and rebuilt in the 1960s.

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

Black Balsam Knob Area on Blue Ridge Parkway
Black Balsam Knob Area, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

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

Devil's Courthouse Overlook on Blue Ridge Parkway in NC
Devil’s Courthouse, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

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!

READ MORE: The Mysterious Brown Mountain Lights of Morganton NC

NC Fall Leaves - Blowing Rock
The Blowing Rock, photo by 1nativeTexan is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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.

READ MORE: The 15 Best NC State Parks in the North Carolina Mountains 

Sunset From Sugar Mountain Condo in Banner Elk, North Carolina
Sunset from Sugar Mountain in Banner Elk, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

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.

You can paddle canoes and kayaks on local lakes, climb high at Emerald Outback, or simply stroll along the beautiful Banner Elk Greenway.

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

Looking Glass Rock on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina
Looking Glass Rock, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

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.

READ MORE: The 21 Best Blue Ridge Parkway Waterfalls in North Carolina

Cowee Mountains Overlook on Blue Ridge Parkway
Cowee Mountain Overlook, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

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!

READ MORE: 20 Best Blue Ridge Parkway Overlooks in NC & VA

Lake Price in Julian Price Memorial Park, North Carolina
Lake Price in Julian Price Memorial Park, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

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. 

READ MORE: The 10 Best Lakes in the North Carolina Mountains to Visit

Linville River Bend Overlook in Linville Falls Park
Linville River Bend Overlook, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

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.

READ MORE: Things to Do at the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area (Near Linville Falls NC)

Fall colors in Western North Carolina at Chimney Rock
Fall colors at Chimney Rock, photo via Canva

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!

READ MORE: Apple Picking in North Carolina: The 10 Best NC Apple Orchards to Visit

View from the Summit of Mount Mitchell NC
Autumn View from the Summit of Mount Mitchell, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

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

Rough Ridge Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC
Rough Ridge, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

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. 

READ MORE: The 20 Best Pumpkin Patches in the NC Mountains

Thunderstruck Ridge Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 454.4
Thunderstruck Ridge Overlook, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

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. 

 
Thunderstruck Ridge itself is so close to the overlook, the fall colors are really in your face, with the “golden hour” lending them the intensity of that famous AC/DC song. 

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!

READ MORE: The Best Western NC Christmas Events in Asheville, Bryson City & Beyond

View Yellow Face Overlook at Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 450.2
View Yellow Face Overlook, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

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. 

READ MORE: The Best Western NC Christmas Tree Farms in Boone, Asheville, & Beyond

Chestnut Cove Overlook Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 398.3
Chestnut Cove Overlook, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

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

Leave No Trace logo

We encourage anyone who loves the Blue Ridge region to learn about the Leave No Trace principles of responsible environmental stewardship. 

Stay on marked trails, take only pictures, pack out your trash, and be considerate of others who share the trails and parks you explore. 

Remember that waterfalls and rocky summits can be dangerous. Never try to climb waterfalls or get close to a ledge to get a selfie.

When you're exploring the wilderness, it's better to be safe than to be a statistic!

After visiting the Western North Carolina for the first time, Jonathon Engels and his wife Emma spent two years looking for a few acres of property there to establish a permaculture homestead. During that search, he explored the Blue Ridge Parkway, surrounding towns, and parks. He has taught at both Blue Ridge Community College and Surry Community College, is a member of a long-established land conservation community near the town of Dobson, volunteers at the Surry Old Time Fiddlers Convention, and continues to explore the Blue Ridge, a place he now lovingly calls home.

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