Fall Color Report for Week of October 18, 2020

This week I took the road west and headed on up to Roan Mountain on the border of NC and TN. Here, you can get on the Appalachian Trail and see some of the most majestic peaks in the southern Appalachians. This is a popular hiking and camping location and you will meet lots of people hiking both north and south on the trail. When you get to the top, at Carver’s Gap, the elevation is 5,512’, with peaks on either side going up another 300-500’, with the summit of Roan Mt at 6,285’.

 This place can get crowded, making it hard to find a parking place, but if you get there early, no problem. I was there by 9 am today, and while most spaces were filled, there was still plenty of parking left. The best way to get there is to head west on Rt. 19E from Elk Park, or 19a from Newland in Avery County. About 5 miles after you pass into TN, you’ll see a sign for Roan Mt. State Park. Go left at that road and about 12 miles later, you’ll be at the top. If you are coming from the south, you could come up through Spruce Pine in NC – I suggest googling that as it’s not the easiest in terms of directions.

 I hiked north about 2.5 miles out and then back. The peaks here are mostly treeless, known as “balds”, which affords you excellent views in all directions. If you were to go farther than I did, you could get to the summit of Grassy Ridge Bald (roundtrip 5.1 miles), but I was too exhausted and running out of time to get there. The trails are fairly easy to hike, although there are a few places that get somewhat rocky. I saw people of all ages (my age and younger) on the trail, so if you are ambulatory, you can do this trail.

 So, how were the leaves? Well, they were just arriving at peak condition at the entrance to the Cherokee National Forest, at about 3,000’ elevation. Maples, sourwoods, and birches were all in good show there. This color show persists for about 3 miles and the lush forests were absolutely beautiful today. Once you get above 3,500’ though, the colors quickly drop out and by 4,000’, most of the leaves are gone or barely hanging on. At Carver’s Gap, the trees are leafless save for the evergreen Fraser firs, red spruces, and rhododendrons and flame azaleas (in the summer the rhododendrons and azaleas bloom in great profusion here). However, beech trees, which form dense thickets here, still had their golden color leaves on their lower branches, which was an interesting contrast to the leafless branches higher up on their trunks.

 I have attached the best pictures from my trip today. I have to say that given the remoteness of this area, and its inherent beauty, any time of the year is a good time to hike the Roan. Today, I was able to view the leaves at lower elevations, while taking advantage of the cool temperatures and low humidity, which afforded me views all the way into Ashe County to the north, and possibly Mt. Mitchell to the south. I was able to pick out Grandfather Mountain in the distance. I definitely recommend this place for those looking for a moderate hike with superb views.

 Elsewhere in the mountains, the leaves are at their peak at 3,000’ and below. Above 3,500’, the peak has passed, but there is still good color out on the Parkway. Oaks are still coloring up and they are normally among the last trees to turn color. This coming week is going to be warmer than normal (which actually seems to the normal these days!). So, that might delay the disappearance of the colors a bit, but unfortunately, once a tree is far along in the color process, it usually proceeds unabated no matter what the weather conditions are.

 I think you will have one more good week and the next weekend to see good colors in the High Country. After that, you’ll have to focus on sites located at lower elevations, like Stone Mt. State Park, Chimney Rock State Park, Hanging Rock State Park, and Gorges State Park. The Smokies should also be good this week and next, as will be places north on the Parkway up into Virginia.

 Next week – Doughton Park, on the northern part of the Parkway: mostly pastoral scenery, but still some excellent overlooks. Happy Leaf Looking!