First colors arrive in N.C. mountains’ highest peaks

Temperatures dropped into the upper 30s earlier this week in the higher elevations of North Carolina’s mountains, providing a signal that the leaf-viewing season will soon be underway.

As you might imagine, you’ll have to go to the state’s highest elevations to see autumn color this early. With a forecast of nice weather this weekend, some Carolinas residents likely will be heading for the hills.

Experts say the peak leaf-viewing season will be around Oct. 5-15 in the higher mountain elevations; Oct. 12-26 in the lower mountain areas; and from Oct. 20 to Nov. 10 in the foothills and Piedmont.

Howie Neufeld, the Appalachian State University biology professor who has become the guru of leaf colors in the Carolinas, said he has backed off an earlier belief that the peak season might arrive a bit early this year.

“Based on my drives around the High Country,” he said earlier this week, “I think we’ll be on a near-normal schedule for the most part.”

In his leaf report earlier this week, Neufeld suggested the best colors in the closing days of September can be found on the slope of Grandfather Mountain, in the Mount Mitchell area, and in the higher mountains near Asheville.

Neufeld noted that red maple trees are colorful already in Boone, but he said that could be the result of town officials planting a northern species of red maples that changes color earlier than the Southern variety.

Otherwise, there are only a few reports of leaf color this weekend, but several parks have special programs planned for families Saturday and Sunday.

Here is the Observer’s first weekly leaf report of the season:

Northwest N.C. mountains: A variety of colors have been reported above 4,500 or 5,000 feet, especially around Grandfather Mountain and Mount Mitchell. Some of the dogwoods and goldenrod are providing color at New River State Park in Ashe County. The park’s Wendy Mahaffey said a “Take A Child Outside” walk, for youths 5 and older, is planned for 10 a.m. Saturday, and a nature hike is set for 2 p.m. Sunday.

Asheville and western N.C. mountains: Not much color has been reported so far in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but some color is being noted in areas above 4,000 feet north of Asheville. The Romantic Asheville website is reporting that colors seem to be a bit early this year.

Southern N.C. foothills: Only a little color has been reported around Chimney Rock and Hendersonville.

Northern N.C. foothills: A few maples and tulip poplars have color at South Mountains State Park in Burke County, according to ranger Amanda Lasley. The park will have a Nature Day program from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, featuring the color of fall wildflowers.

Piedmont: Little or no color is being reported, although park ranger Jessica Williams at Kerr Lake State Recreation Area north of Raleigh said a few sweetgums are turning red. Little or no color is reported at popular sites such as Lake Norman, Morrow Mountain State Park and the Uwharrie National Forest.

South Carolina: Little or no color reported this week.

Weather forecast: Mostly sunny with seasonal temperatures Saturday. Increasing clouds Sunday, but northern areas will remain mostly sunny, with seasonal temperatures.