Western North Carolina’s autumn foliage stands to impress even the most well-traveled seekers of beauty. The leafy drama, painted in living color on the Smoky Mountains, can’t help but leave an impression. And it’s the reason visitors flock to the mountains year after year to find the most stunning overlook of the Asheville area’s peak foliage. Asheville’s foliage erupts in a riot of color in late September through November of most years, with the first slivers of gold, scarlet, and vermilion emerging earliest at the highest elevations. Plan a visit for any time during the month of October or early November, and you’ll be all but guaranteed to find peak foliage within easy driving distance of Asheville. Where to next to take in all those gorgeous colors? Whether you’d prefer to hike, drive, or stroll through colorful tree-lined avenues, you’ll find plenty of fan favorites on this list.
Easy Fall Foliage Hikes Near Asheville
If you’re up for a hike, these relatively easy trails are just a few of the top choices for leaf-peeping in the autumn months:
1. Rough Ridge on Tanawha Trail
Looking for an Instagram capture sure to spark envy in your fellow autumn lovers? You’ll find it here. Although the Rough Ridge hike spans just 1.2 miles, you’ll traverse spellbinding scenery–from rocky crags on Grandfather Mountain to rare, delicate mountain flora not often appreciated by travelers passing through. Tanawha Trail offers stunning, panoramic views of the fall colors, and it’s well-marked, maintained, and easy to find.
2. Beacon Heights Trail
Even shorter than Rough Tridge, the Beacon Heights trail spans just 0.8 miles. Easily accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Beacon Heights trail is short, sweet, and offers stunning views of Grandfather Mountain and the surrounding fall colors, from valleys to peaks. This is a beginner-friendly hike that both avid hikers and less-enthusiastic adventurers will enjoy.
3. Whiteside Mountain Trail
This is a popular trail for good reason; every turn of the trail seems to look out on another remarkable view. The Whiteside Mountain Trail travels two miles just outside Highlands, NC and takes you to the peak of the Whiteside summit, which boasts stunning views year-round–and particularly rewarding vistas thanks to the brilliant foliage during the autumn months.
Best Drives to Spot Fall Colors Near Asheville
You’ll find countless scenic autumn drives originating in Asheville–so many, in fact, that you might find yourself wishing for more time to drive more country roads. Here are a few of our favorites.
1. The Blue Ridge Parkway
The ultimate scenic drive in the Smokies, it’s easy to hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway and lose track of time. Whether you drive for half an hour or half a day, you’ll find a new scenic vista around practically every corner–along with plenty of pull-offs to stop, enjoy the view, and snap a few shots of the surrounding scenery. If you’re planning to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway late in the season, you might want to check the official Blue Ridge Parkway website to make sure snow and ice haven’t closed down sections of the drive.
2. Asheville to Chimney Rock State Park
The drive from Asheville to Chimney Rock State Park on Hwy. 74 offers a lovely, low-key drive that’s short enough to fit into half a day (it’s just about 40 minutes each way), along with plenty of potential for add-on adventures. Stop at the state park for a short hike or a picnic in the country solitude, or stop in one of the small towns along the way for lunch at a cafe or diner. To take in even more panoramic views, pack your hiking gear and enjoy the hike to the top of Chimney Rock while you’re there.
3. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Hwy. 441
It’s hard to beat the fall colors within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park during the fall months. We suggest hopping from Asheville down to Cherokee on Hwy. 19, then traveling up 441 to Gatlinburg. You’ll enjoy some of the state’s most dramatic foliage, countless scenic views, and plenty of picturesque places to stop for lunch or a cup of coffee.
Asheville Destinations With Particularly Gorgeous Autumn Views
Looking for a one-stop destination to go, stop, and take in the autumn sights and sounds? These popular Asheville locales are even better in autumn when they provide an up-close encounter with the scents, colors, and flavors of fall.
1. The Biltmore Estate
2. The North Carolina Arboretum
Arboretums are visitor-friendly, often-overlooked vacation destinations. Don’t make the mistake of overlooking the North Carolina Arboretum, particularly if you’re visiting Asheville in the fall. Here you’ll find over 10 miles of trails traversing the 434-acre public garden. The arboretum also offers Segway tours and exhibits that vary by season. For a gorgeous place to slow down, take in the sights, and get your nature on (without venturing too far out into the woods), the North Carolina Arboretum is tough to beat.
3. Walkthrough Downtown Asheville
This might go without saying, but a walk through downtown Asheville in the fall might just be the epitome of autumn in the Smokies. Enjoy gorgeous colors from the ample green areas and tree-lined streets, stop in for a PSL or cup of hot apple cider from any number of cafes and coffee shops along the way, and breathe deeply to enjoy the fresh, crisp autumn breezes. Downtown Asheville has something for everyone in terms of shopping, sights, and cuisine, so set aside some time to go exploring!
These are just a few of our top picks for leaf-peeping in Asheville during the autumn months. Take time to add a few to your upcoming trip, and you might never want to leave.