Five Ways to Leaf Look this Fall in Asheville, NC

A guide to Fall leaf colors including when and where to go for best fall leaf colors and views near Asheville, NC

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By Asheville Insider

There’s nothing quite like the colors of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Autumn. As far as the eye can see, the landscape is like a cozy quilt of rich warm Carolina colors against a crisp blue sky.

The biggest question is, when do leaves change color in North Carolina? North Carolina leaf changes may vary slightly every year, but you can count on the trees in the mountains being the first ones to transition in the state.

More specifically, when are leaves going to change in Asheville? Peak fall foliage in Asheville is usually around mid to late October, with the higher elevations turning red and gold first. Now that we have those answers, where are the best places to see these Asheville fall colors? If you are lucky enough to live here, or if you are planning a special trip to “leaf peep,” here are five ways to enjoy the season.

City-fied Views of Asheville Fall Colors

You don’t have to venture out of the comforts of the city to enjoy the colors of fall. The Land of the Sky was given that nickname for a reason - step out of your hotel or historic bed and breakfast and if you’re not already there, head downtown for views of the ancient hills that surround the town. 

If you happen to be staying at the historic Omni Grove Park Inn be sure to take a sidewalk stroll down Kimberly Avenue where huge red oak trees make a tunnel over the road with gorgeous displays of Asheville’s fall colors.

Grab a Sweet Potato Latte, the seasonal special for fall from coffee cafe Trade and Lore on Wall Street, and walk the hills of the historic district. Because of the frequent (read: wear comfortable shoes) ups and downs, every step has a different view. Shop the unique local offerings block after block, and reward yourself with lunch or a cocktail on one of the many rooftop bars or restaurants.  If you’re on Wall Street you’ll be surrounded by beautiful golden Ginkgo trees. Catch them while you can because Gingkos are known for shedding their leaves all at once in a single day!

Asheville is also home to over 900 acres of city parks and facilities maintained by the Parks and Recreation department. Walk along the French Broad River, or Zillicoah, as the Cherokee called it, all the way from New Belgium Brewery in the River Arts District to locals’ secret French Broad Outfitters at Hominy Creek, an outfitter that has a container bar, live music and picnic tables in the creek. While you are walking between French Broad River Park and Hominy Creek, the views you see on the opposite bank are those of the Biltmore Estate. Better yet, rent one of those kayaks or canoes and paddle one of the oldest rivers in the world for a viewpoint only shared with the waterfowl - and other rafters, of course.

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Leaves in the Lap of Luxury At Biltmore

Speaking of Biltmore Estate, did you know that after the death of George Vanderbilt, his widow Edith sold the federal government the land that is now Pisgah National Forest, for a nominal price? You can of course still enjoy almost 8000 acres of what the family still owns, by buying a pass to the Estate. The house is considered the crown jewel, but pay attention to that land. With twenty-two miles of trails and a beautiful drive that curves uphill and then back down to the French Broad River and around fields of sunflowers and cattle fields, Biltmore Estate is an ideal place to enjoy Asheville's fall colors.

A Picnic on the Parkway

The scenic Blue Ridge Parkway runs through Asheville - you can hop on at the Folk Art Center and head north toward Craggy Gardens and drive in the shadows of Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi, with an elevation of 6,684 feet. The leaves tend to peak closer to the beginning of October up here - bring a sweater, as it is often ten to sometimes twenty degrees cooler.

You can also get on the Parkway off of Hendersonville Road in Asheville. Grab a picnic from a local market or deli in Biltmore Village and some wine from Appalachian Vintner and then head south toward the Smokies. Drive the entire way from here to the southern terminus of “America’s Favorite Drive” and you’ll end up at the beginning of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Cherokee. Visit the native village and spot some elk walking through the streets.

But even if you drive just a few miles, you will find an overlook or picnic area or hiking trail to stop and enjoy the Carolina colors. You don’t even have to get out of your vehicle - put on hometown heroes GRAMMY-award winning bluegrass Americana band Steep Canyon Rangers, and drive until sunset. Get that camera ready!

Arbor Education

Another place where the Blue Ridge Parkway intersects Asheville is Brevard Road, where The North Carolina Arboretum is located. With over ten miles of hiking and biking trails, a cultivated garden including one that is designed to look like a quilt, and an education center, you’ll not only see a diverse array of leaves and flora, as well as fauna but can learn about it all while you’re there. Start at the Baker Visitor Center, where staff can assist you in choosing the best agenda for your visit. Don’t miss the award-winning Bonsai Exhibition Garden, where some of the miniatures are harvested from nearby forests - and their tiny little leaves change colors as well!

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Back in town, the University of North Carolina at Asheville has a Botanical Gardens with trails through native plants and frequent outdoor classes that will teach you about the native trees. The gardens, home to 100 of those natives, are open daily, from sunrise to sunset.

Peeping the Neighbors for Peak Fall Foliage

Drive any direction out of Asheville, and you’re bound to run into a number of charming neighboring towns. To the north, follow the two-lane road along the French Broad River to Marshall. A river town that boasts a mix of a hippie vibe, an adventurer's rest stop and a historic home to old-time farmers and musicians, Marshall is a must-visit. If you want to stay overnight, you can book a room at the Old Marshall Jail Hotel which hosted a different sort of visitor, in the not-too-distant past. Eat brunch or dinner riverside at an old gas station turned elevated diner at the Star Diner.

To the southwest, take the Old Charlotte Highway and enjoy beautiful views of the Black Mountains as you wind toward Bat Cave and Chimney Rock. Stop by Hickory Nut Gap Farm, a fifth-generation family farm that produces sustainably raised meats and holds special autumn events, including old-timey barn dances. Once you arrive in Chimney Rock, relax with a glass of wine at Burntshirt Vineyards Tasting Room and Bistro. Your grapes may have been grown on the next mountain over in Gerton. And the views from the floor-to-ceiling windows are of the 400-foot Hickory Nut Falls, with the magnificence of fall colors framing the show.

No matter where you look, you’re in the right place for peak fall foliage in Asheville during the month of October. Take a look at Asheville Hiking and Waterfalls to Dig deeper.