Officials in North Carolinas mountains are expecting the first big tourist weekend of the season by those in search of vivid fall leaf colors.
But visitors will need to be at the higher altitudes to see the prettiest colors, according to reports late this week.
According to several reports from the high country, leaf colors are reaching a peak at 3,500 feet or higher. The best locations this week are at higher spots on the Blue Ridge Parkway and near Mount Mitchell. But there are other good spots, too.
Howie Neufeld, an Appalachian State University biology professor who writes weekly reports on high country leaf colors, says he expects near-peak conditions this weekend at some of the higher elevations.
Rainy weather earlier in the week delayed the changeover in color, but clear and dry conditions Thursday and Friday are expected to improve the colors. Much colder air is forecast to arrive late in the weekend, which means leaf-viewing will be even better next week.
Here is a summary of leaf-viewing prospects for this weekend:
Birch, white beech, sassafras and scarlet oaks have vivid colors. Trees in the immediate Boone area are just beginning the changeover, but those colors should be much better next week.
Neufeld suggests traveling on N.C. 194, from U.S. 221 southward, in Ashe County. He says that will help visitors avoid much heavier traffic on the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway.
Mount Mitchell and Roan Mountain have bright colors this weekend, especially above 4,000 feet. The same is true for higher elevations on the Parkway, such as Graveyard Fields. U.S. 70 in McDowell County and the Harper Creek area in Avery County also are reporting good colors.
Park officials suggest traveling on U.S. 64 through Clay and Macon counties. Visitors will see yellows (tulip poplar and black birch); red (hickory, sourwood and dogwood); and scarlet (blackgum). Also recommended: the area near Waterrock Knob, on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Waynesville; and Newfound Gap Road in the Great Smokies National Park.
The best colors are above 4,500 feet this weekend but are spreading quickly to lower elevations.
Little or no leaf color change is being reported.
There are scattered reports of color change, but most trees remain green -- even at altitudes of 2,000 to 3,000 feet. That is expected to change next week.