Yesterday was a beautiful day here in the High Country with clear blue skies and moderately cool temperatures. There were many people out on the Parkway catching the last of this season’s fall colors.
Fall colors here in the High Country are now past peak. In fact, they are mostly gone. There is still some color, mostly burnt-orange and deep burgundy red, due to the red, white and chestnut oaks, the last species of trees to show off their fall colors. The display of colors ranges from a single tree in a forest of leafless, gray trees to ridges dominated by oaks completely covered in orange and red. Coverage is spotty, with ridges near Rough Ridge having abundant colors in contrast to areas farther north where almost all the trees are leafless.
I have mentioned that if you miss the colors up here you can see them at lower elevations from the overlooks. However, I missed one point about this. If you look over the east-facing overlooks, you need to do that in late afternoon; otherwise, you will be looking directly into the sun, which washes out the colors. Best to view west-facing overlooks in the morning and east-facing overlooks in the late afternoon.
With few to any leaves on the trees, you have to adjust your expectations of what to see. There are plenty of the “small” things to see at this time of year: notably the variety of fallen leaf colors on the forest trails; young red oaks standing out red against an otherwise drab background; and the ferns, mosses and lichens that give green color to the brown forest floor.
I tried out several new trails yesterday. After viewing Beacon Heights, I took the Tanawha Trail southward, which branches off the Beacon Heights trail. After a few hundred feet, the trail forks and you can take the left trail, which swings around the base of the large rock outcrop that most people hike to on Beacon Heights. This takes you away from the Parkway, and it becomes more isolated and quiet, not mention quite beautiful. It is a fairly easy hike too. I went about a quarter of a mile before turning back. I’m not sure where the trail ends up but it is something I’ll check out in the near future.
While hiking this trail I heard voices and two guys on mountain bikes came by. I just have to say that mountain bikes are destructive to forest trails and prohibited from trails on the Blue Ridge Parkway. These guys should have had more respect for the environment than they demonstrated. Also prohibited (and subject to large fines) are drones. A couple was flying a drone at one of the overlooks and it is very disturbing. I wish people had more sense when they are on public lands shared by other tourists.
The other trail is well known to many people, but this was the first time I tried it: the Linn Cove Trail beyond the Parkway. You get the trail from the Linn Cove Viaduct Visitor Center, pass under the Parkway, where you can admire the amazing engineering that enabled its construction, before you enter a nice woodland trail paralleling the Parkway for a bit. A while later it heads inward away from the Parkway, which is nice. It eventually ends up at Rough Ridge, so if you have two cars, you can park one car at that end, hike to the other end, and then ferry yourselves back to the other car when done. It’s about a 4 mile hike. Highly recommended.
For those still wanting to see fall colors, I suggest your best bets are now the lower elevation sites, such as Stone Mountain State Park in northern Wilkes County, and Chimney Rock State Park below Asheville. Colors should now be picking up in the Piedmont too, and there are some state parks there, so check them out.
Overall, this was not a bad foliage season. Color wise, I rated it an 8 out of 10, but logistically, it was mixed because rainy weather occurred on at least one day for each of the peak weekends. The forecast for this week is sunny and cool until Thursday evening, when a front moves through with rain on Friday. But the coming weekend is supposed to sunny and cool, with high temperatures in the mid-50s, perfect for a brisk hike in the woods.
I’ll probably publish one more report next week. I’m trying to decide which park to visit and then that will wrap it up for this year. It’s been a great fall, and I’ve enjoyed meeting some of you out on the trails. Happy Leaf Looking