Best leaf colors now closer to sea level

You won't have to travel as far from Charlotte to see the best leaf colors in the Carolinas this weekend.

The change of seasons and some windy weather has stripped the leaves from trees above 3,500 feet, and experts say the best colors are now in parts of the Piedmont and the foothills.

In some parts of the Piedmont, the change of leaves has reached 50 percent of peak.

Howard Neufeld, an Appalachian State University professor who reports on leaf-viewing, says many of the trees in the Boone and Blowing Rock area are now bare. He says people looking for some spectacular views this weekend can find them in places like Wilkesboro and Morganton.

In the Piedmont, Dick Thomas of the Piedmont Environmental Center in High Point recommends Pilot Mountain State Park and Hanging Rock State Park north of Winston-Salem, or the Uwharrie National Forest east of Charlotte in Montgomery and Stanly counties.

Once again, the weather should be great for looking at the colors this weekend. Rain is expected to end Saturday morning, and meteorologists say sunshine should return by midday. Sunny skies also are forecast for Sunday.

Officials on the Blue Ridge Parkway are advising motorists that some sections of the road at the highest elevations might be closed Saturday, should several inches of snow fall as has been predicted by some meteorologists.

Here is a wrap-up of conditions in the region:

Charlotte and the Piedmont: Colors in the Hickory area are about 50 percent of peak but should be changing quickly, after this weekend's colder weather. In the Charlotte area, colors are about 40 percent changed.

You'll see plenty of orange (sassafras); yellow (tulip poplars); purple (sweetgums); and reds (maples and sourwoods). Peak conditions likely will be reached in about 7 to 10 days.

Foothills: Peak colors are being reported near Morganton and Wilkesboro. In the Hendersonville area, colors also are peaking. Leaves have changed about 75 percent near Lake Lure and Chimney Rock, with peak conditions expected in the early to middle part of next week.

Asheville area: Leaves are at their peak in Asheville and around Biltmore. Best colors are between 1,500 and 2,500 feet.

Northern North Carolina: Colors are peaking at Pilot Mountain State Park and Hanging Rock State Park, north of Winston-Salem. The peak will come next week at lower elevations of those parks.

Uwharrie National Forest: Colors are at 50 percent of peak. Take N.C. 49 east to the national forest area for a good look.

Western N.C. mountains: While trees are bare at the higher elevations, Neufeld says you'll find vivid colors along U.S. 64 between Highlands and Cashiers. He suggests Gorges State Park as a good spot to visit.

In Great Smoky Mountain National Park, colors are excellent below 2,750 feet.

South Carolina: Colors are near their peak in the foothills area, north of Gaffney and Spartanburg.

Tennessee: The eastern part of the state, between 2,000 and 3,000 feet, is near peak.

Virginia: Colors are 75 percent in the New River Valley and 50 percent in the Piedmont. The Shenandoah Valley is very colorful now. Areas in southwest Virginia are past peak, for the most part.