With plenty of sunshine and crisp temperatures, this might be the best leaf-watching weekend of the season in much of North Carolina’s mountain country, experts say.
Leaf colors already are past peak conditions in the higher elevations, above 4,000 to 4,500 feet. But observers say vivid colors are expected in areas between 3,000 and 4,500 feet, and the color show is spreading rapidly to the lower elevations.
Howie Neufeld, the Appalachian State University professor whose Facebook page is loaded with reports from experts and the public, said the best colors are now at altitudes below the Blue Ridge Parkway.
“In a drive around Boone this morning, it is apparent to me that the leaves are now past their peak in this area,” Neufeld wrote Friday morning.
Areas like Banner Elk, Linville Gorge, Stone Mountain State Park and mid levels of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park will have peak conditions this weekend. Heavy thunderstorms and rain earlier this week blew down most of the leaves at higher elevations.
And if you’re looking for another source to check on fall colors, try the Smoky Mountains.com website. Using 32,000 data points, the map is interactive and can be used to predict when leaf colors will peak in different areas.
Here is the Observer’s fourth weekly leaf report of the season:
Northwest N.C. mountains: Kellen Short reports the Banner Elk area should reach a peak this weekend, and visitors to Watauga, Ashe, Avery and Mitchell counties should find beautiful colors at the middle altitude levels.
New River State Park in Ashe County will hold a hayride at 2 p.m. Sunday, leaving from the U.S. 221 Access Center. Make reservations quickly, though, at 336-982-2587. Another note: The Table Rock road closes for the season Monday.
Asheville and western N.C. mountains: Colors around Asheville are only at 20 to 25 percent, but that will change rapidly in the next week. Nearby, visitors should check the Craggy Gardens area. Great colors can be found around 3,000 to 3,500 feet. The Romantic Asheville website reminds hikers that many of the trails are muddy this weekend, so be careful.
In the Smokies, the ride on U.S. 64 between Franklin and Highlands is colorful this weekend. Lower elevations, below 3,000 feet, are still 10 days away from peak conditions, according to park officials.
Southern N.C. foothills: The color show has arrived at the Hickory Nut Gorge and Chimney Rock State Park, especially at the higher elevations. Dogwoods (dark maroon) and sourwoods (red) are especially colorful, according to Shannon Quinn-Tucker of Chimney Rock State Park. Higher elevations around Hendersonville are near 50 percent peak, too.
Northern N.C. foothills: This will be the peak weekend at Stone Mountain State Park and Pilot Mountain State Park. Reds and yellows are especially vivid in those areas. Colors are 40 to 50 percent at South Mountains State Park, Lake James and Hanging Rock Star Park. Austin Paul, the park ranger at Hanging Rock, said yellows and reds are rapidly changing there.
Piedmont: It’s still mostly green in the Piedmont, although officials at Kerr Lake and Jordan Lake near Raleigh report colors are 20 to 30 percent in those areas. Places like Lake Norman, Crowders Mountain, Morrow Mountain and the Uwharrie National Forest are still about 10-14 days away.
South Carolina: Color changes are about 30 percent in the foothills north of Gaffney and Spartanburg, but the best colors are still 7-14 days away.
Southeast: The Department of Forestry in Virginia says southwest Virginia is “a riot of colors,” and the northern Blue Ridge is at peak conditions. Colors along the Interstate 81 corridor are still a week away. West Virginia colors are at peak conditions, but the color change is only 20 percent in eastern Tennessee.
Weather forecast: Partly cloudy to sunny conditions this weekend, with Saturday’s temperateures a bit above average but about 8-10 degrees cooler Sunday.