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Rains no match for Blue Ridge Parkway’s leaves

The iconic Linn Cove Viaduct winds through a High Country autumn. With many leaves having already changed on Grandfather Mountain, experts are expecting this weekend to offer leaf-lookers some prime viewing.
The iconic Linn Cove Viaduct winds through a High Country autumn. With many leaves having already changed on Grandfather Mountain, experts are expecting this weekend to offer leaf-lookers some prime viewing. Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation

Most leaves along the Blue Ridge Parkway survived the recent strong storms that struck the mountains and the rest of the Carolinas, and visitors are in for some spectacular colors in the Boone and Blowing Rock areas now.

Some leaves fell off birch and yellow poplar trees, “but most held onto their leaves,” Howie Neufeld, plant physiologist for Appalachian State University, said of the parkway’s more than 100 species of trees.

If the storms had come this week, he said, far more leaves would have fallen because of their age.

This has been the peak week for colors from Blowing Rock to Grandfather Mountain, mainly elevations of 3,000 to 4,500 feet, Neufeld said. The farther south you drive, the longer the leaves will take to peak.

Colors in Great Smoky Mountains National Park will take at least another week to peak, while Chimney Rock and Asheville should start coloring the last week of October, Neufeld said.

To avoid the crowds of fellow leaf admirers, Neufeld suggests viewing the colors on weekdays, or earlier in the morning on weekends.

Neufeld recommends these spots, most of them on the parkway:

▪  Rough Ridge Overlook, at parkway mile post 302.8, north of Linville and south of Blowing Rock. Enjoy a hike along a trail from the parking area.

▪  Linn Cove Viaduct, at mile post 304 on the parkway. Walking trails start at the visitor center at the south end of the viaduct, travel beneath and beside the viaduct and connect with the parkway’s trail network.

▪  Thunder Hill Overlook, at parkway mile post 290.4 north of Blowing Rock. The overlook offers an expansive view from 3,795 feet.

▪  Elk Knob State Park, 10 miles north of Boone in Watauga County. The park opened in 2003 featuring one of the highest peaks in North Carolina’s high country at 5,520 feet. The park, one of the newest in the state, is on Meat Camp Road off N.C. 194.

▪  Craggy Gardens, at mile post 364 about 20 miles north of Asheville on the parkway. Stay in the parking area or hike one of the trails to soak in views of the Blue Ridge leading west into Tennessee or east toward central North Carolina.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak

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