We are now about six weeks away from what should be peak fall color along the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, at elevations between 3,000-4,500’. Right now, the forests are mostly still green, although after my excursion today on the Parkway, I did see scattered instances of trees starting to turn color. These trees seem ahead of schedule compared to past years, but I don’t think fall color will be unusually early this year.
I drove the BRP between Blowing Rock and the Linn Cove Viaduct today. This section is one of the most popular parts of the Parkway, so when we near peak color, you may want to schedule your visit for a weekday and early in the morning, when the crowds are smaller. Also, if you are driving the BRP, you’ll get the best lighting for pictures early in the morning. If you wait until midday, the colors will look washed out, and if you try to take pictures late in the day, you’ll need to face north because the sun will be to the south, and most of the overlooks in this section face south.
So which trees are showing color already? Red maples are turning color now, mostly at the tips of branches. You can see some of this in the attached photos. This was particularly noticeable near Grandfather Mountain and the Linn Cove Viaduct. Mountain Ash trees along the boardwalk on the Rough Ridge Trail have nicely colored berries that currently vary from yellow to orange to red. By October, these will all be bright red, and stand out against the somewhat dull foliage of this tree. Sourwoods are fruiting now (making seeds) which hang down in white sprays over the green leaves. By October, the leaves will have turned a deep red, which will further highlight these white seeds, making this one of the more spectacular trees to see this fall. A few sassafras have begun to exhibit leaf color, and on the same tree one can often find all color of leaves, ranging from green, to yellow, to orange and finally to red. Finally, a few ash trees have just started to turn color. Leaves on these trees become deep purple in color and ash trees are among the first to color up in the fall.
For those new to this site, I’ll be posting weekly updates, usually by Thursday of each week, so you have time to decide if you want to come up for the weekend. So far, we are in good shape with regard to the upcoming fall color season. We are not in a drought situation, we haven’t had unusually extreme temperatures, and the trees are looking good after a fairly mild summer. I predict that if the weather continues to behave (and I have had some long discussions with Mother Nature about this!), we should have an excellent fall color season this year. What happens in mid- to late-September and the first two weeks of October will be crucial. If unusually warm or rainy, expect duller colors and a later peak. If cool and sunny, then expect on-time peak color and brighter colors. For the elevational range between 3,000-4,500’, that would be mid-October. For higher elevations, the first week of October, and below 3,000’, the last week of October. For those in the Piedmont, where you are at 700’ elevation, you can expect colors well into November.
Happy Fall Color Season!