Fall Leaf Color Forecast 2020

A road winding its way through the changing fall foliage.
Nathan Anderson

The Asheville area is currently expected to reach peak color at the end of October. The Blue Ridge Parkway is already seeing traffic and crowds on most days. So if you visit on the weekend, please expect slowdowns.

As of October 15, higher elevation locations such as Graveyard Falls, Grandfather Mountain, Doughton Park, and Elk Knob State Park are great and convenient spots for previewing what’s to come.

The usual fall leaf color leaf schedule is as follows:

  • September to Early October: Areas above 6,000 feet, including Pisgah, Grandfather Mountain, Mt. Mitchell, and Craggy Gardens
  • Early October to Mid-October: Areas 4,500 feet to 5,500 feet, encompassing much of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Linville Falls
  • Late October to Early November: Areas around 2,500 feet, including downtown Asheville and Biltmore
  • Early November: Areas below 1,500 feet, including Chimney Rock

Why do the leaves change color?

When temperatures cool in autumn, chlorophyll starts to degrade allowing the hidden pigments of deciduous trees to provide a rich, colorful display. This rich display often starts at the highest elevation in late September and early October, gradually progressing to the lowest elevation by late October and early November. Peak season occurs around mid-October to late October.

At high-elevation areas, above 4,500 feet, red, crimson and orange colors are displayed among the sugar maples and mountain maples, yellow hues are displayed with beech and yellow birch, and red displayed with serviceberry, red oak and high-bush blueberry leaves as well as mountain ash berries. Fall flowering species at these elevations include yellows from skunk goldenrod and roan goldenrod, blues from wavy-leaved aster and eastern agueweed, and white wood aster. Red spruce, Fraser fir and Catawba rhododendron provide a backdrop of green evergreen foliage within many of the high-elevation areas.

Why does fall color vary year to year?

The intensity of fall color and time of peak color vary and are determined by complex environmental factors, as well as the genetic makeup of the plants themselves. The “best” fall color for an area occurs during the shortening days of autumn when days are bright, sunny and cool, when nights are cool but not below freezing, and when there has been ideal rainfall. Adequate rainfall also keeps the leaves on the trees longer and enhances the color. Wet, cloudy, warm weather or exceptionally low temperatures in early fall tend to mute the much anticipated autumnal display.

Call the Blue Ridge Parkway Information Line to hear the latest seasonal report: (828) 298-0398, press option 3.

Last updated October 15, 2020.