The natural progression of North Carolina’s leaf color change is moving inexorably downhill.
Leaf-watchers say trees at the highest elevations of the state’s mountains are bare, and the color show is past peak conditions in parts of the high country.
But there is plenty of color to see, and it’s centered this weekend around the 3,000-foot elevation. That means parts of the North Carolina foothills – and even sections of South Carolina’s upstate – will produce plenty of beauty this weekend.
Observers say it’s still a bit too early for peak colors in Asheville, and the Piedmont remains probably two weeks away. But areas such as Lake James, South Mountains State Park and Chimney Rock are producing vivid colors.
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The weather is expected to be spectacular this weekend, with plenty of sunshine Saturday and Sunday and mild temperatures. Thursday morning’s frost and freezing temperatures in the foothills and mountains should hasten the changing of colors in those areas, experts say.
Here is the Observer’s fifth weekly leaf report of the season:
Northwest N.C. mountains: It’s time for winter at places like Mount Mitchell and higher elevations of Grandfather Mountain, but excellent colors are reported at Erwin’s View Overlook near Linville Falls and at lower elevations (2,500 to 3,000 feet) near the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Park Ranger Jamie Cameron at Lake James State Park said conditions are peaking, with the lakeside a tapestry of yellow (hickory), red (sweetgums) and purple (sourwoods).
Asheville and western N.C. mountains: The best colors are in the higher elevations near Asheville. In the city, colors are 25 to 35 percent changed.
To the west, check out Pisgah National Forest near Looking Glass Rock, where peak conditions are reported. Gorges State Park in Transylvania County is reporting vivid oranges and reds this weekend.
Southern N.C. foothills: The drive from Asheville, Hendersonville or Black Mountain to the Chimney Rock area is beautiful, with near-peak conditions in higher areas of Hickory Nut Gorge. Shannon Quinn-Tucker at Chimney Rock State Park said lower elevations are still about a week or so away from peak conditions.
Northern N.C. foothills: South Mountains State Park in Burke County might be the place to check this weekend, with color change at 50 to 70 percent. The poplars and maples are producing the best colors. Park ranger Amanda Lasley said there will be Leaf Lookers Tree ID hikes at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday.
Peak conditions are reported at Brown Mountain Overlook and along the roads between Marion and Lake Lure.
Piedmont: About 50 percent color change is reported at Pilot Mountain State Park, and the road to the summit is awash in reds, oranges and yellows. But the rest of the Piedmont is still 10 to 14 days away from good color conditions.
South Carolina: For the first time this season, color is being reported in the Palmetto State. The best conditions are at Caesar’s Head Overlook and Kings Mountain State Park, but observers say peak colors won’t be visible for another five to seven days.