Today I traveled up to Mt. Jefferson State Natural Area just outside West Jefferson in Ashe County, NC. Colors up on the mountain and surrounding area were just about peaking (there is still a hint of green) and the best viewing is this weekend. However, colors in this area will continue into midweek, but around Thursday, rain is supposed to move in, which may take down some leaves. However, there will still be good color the following weekend, so if you missed hiking and viewing leaves today, try this week or next weekend.
You can drive right to the top of Mt. Jefferson (take US 221 north from US 421 to get there), and there are three nice viewing pull-offs on the way up. The two lower ones each have interpretive signs and you can identify the mountains on the horizon. Today was clear and warm and the views were fantastic. I have posted a bunch of pictures from my hike today.
The hike goes from the picnic area and is less than a mile, mostly flat, and ends up on Luther Rock, affording you views of where you came from when you started (near the communications tower that resides at the top of the mountain) and of Grandfather Mountain and the New River. Red oak, maple, birch, beech, and sprouts of American chestnut dominate the forest along this hike. It is very reminiscent of forests in Maryland and Pennsylvania in fact!
This year, the white snakeroot in the understory is not as prominent, perhaps due to the dry conditions. Some trees have already lost their leaves due to drought and heat, so even though the trees are at peak color, they are doing so amidst some leafless trees. In my opinion, this reduces the quality of the peak color, but it’s still worth a trip to see. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d rate this year’s display between 6 and 7 (a grade of B or B-).
If you are coming up, the Blue Ridge Parkway is approaching parking lot status, so either come early or come during the week to avoid the crowds. Today I heard from some people that it was a mistake to get on it around the Linn Cove Viaduct, as I predicted it would be last week. Instead, head north to Doughton Park, where you’ll have great views. Continue on to Cumberland Knob and have a picnic, take a hike, and see more colors that are gorgeous.
Another trip you can take is to get on US 221 South back toward Boone, but several miles south of West Jefferson, turn right onto State Highway 194 South. This will take you from Ashe County into Watauga County and eventually put you back on US 421 in Boone (King St.). This is a NC Scenic Byway and I have also posted some pictures of the forests you can see from this drive. Some of the most colorful forests in the entire area are along this drive, and most importantly, there are very few people! So, take the road less traveled! Just be careful if you stop to take pictures – there are few to no places to get off the road and if you do stop, don’t do so around a blind corner, or someone may come up from behind and plow into your car.
That’s about it for this week. Most locations above 2,500’ will be peaking now and into this coming week. Rain may take down some leaves starting around Thursday, but the following weekend should still be good. Colors will be moving into the foothills soon, but the rate will depend on the temperature. It is still some 10F to 15F too warm for this time of the year, and the trees are way behind (some 10-14 days behind a normal year!). We need some cold!