I went out before the rains moved in today and went north onto the Blue Ridge Parkway from US 421. It was hazy out, but on occasion, the sun broke through and there was some color to see in places, but for the most part, the dominant color is still green in this area. The BRP in this region ranges mostly between 3,100’ to 3,500’ in elevation, and at these elevations, colors are just starting.
If you go south on the BRP toward Linville and Grandfather Mountain, colors are somewhat further along at the higher elevations, especially in the Rough Ridge area and the east flank of Grandfather. Same for the high elevations at Elk Knob State Park north of Boone. I’ve also seen reports (and photos!) that Graveyards is at or near peak now, and I suspect, so will be Craggy Gardens, just north of Asheville. I will check out some of these areas next week.
As for my drive today, I headed up to Doughton Park, the largest park on the BRP and went straight to the old hotel and picnic area (take a right at the intersection by the visitor center). By the way, the restaurant next to the visitor center, which hadbeen closed for some time, is now open and serving customers. You can sit inside or out and I hear the food quality is very good (see a very nice review in the latest issue of Our State Magazine).
If you take the left fork on the road to the hotel you will dead-end in a parking lot. At the end is a trailhead, and you can either take a long and downward hike (which means you have to come up it on the way back!), or a very short walk of just a few hundred feet to a stone overlook with tremendous views. Right below the overlook is a cabin in Basin Creek Cove that was occupied in the early 20th century by a couple, Martin and Janie Caudill, who raised 14 children in that small cabin – that must have been something!). It is 1,500’ below the overlook to the cabin, so the drop off here is quite impressive. The view is northward and on a clear day, you can see Pilot Mountain, or, you can see forever, and ever, and ever (I like that song!).
Today, there was just a hint of color on some hillsides, but for the most part, the forests are still quite green. I don’t think peak color will hit this area for another 10-14 days. There are isolated trees with great color, but they are scattered and far and few between. There are nice wildflowers in bloom or seed, including asters, goldenrods, clematis, milkweeds, and witch hazel, a shrub that strangely blooms in the fall.
I saw lots and lots of monarchs flying around on my hike today. More than in past years. They preferred the asters and I saw this at several stops on my drive today. These insects may be headed for the endangered species list because their native habitat and food plants here in the U.S. are being depleted, and in their overwintering grounds, in just one forest in Mexico, the threat of logging could wipe out large numbers of the main migrating population. We need to do more to preserve this iconic species on the landscape. Planting native wildflowers in your gardens is one way, and avoiding overuse of pesticides is another. You do want your children to see this majestic butterfly when they grow up, right?
Doughton Park has a number of good hikes of varying difficulty and length, and many provide you with good views. A few more miles to the north, you get to Cumberland Knob, where the BRP first started back in the 1930s. There is a nice picnic area and some good hikes there too. Just 4 miles north of the entrance to the BRP off of US 421 is the Cascades Falls picnic area. There are good views here too, plus a nice 1 mile easy loop trail to a waterfall. There are restroom facilities too.
At the intersection of Phillips Gap Road and the BRP, on the left as you head north, is a farmer (sorry, I don’t know his/her name) with a very large pumpkin patch. So, if you have kids, you might head up that way and check out those very large, orange things! Closer to home in Boone, the Appalachian State University campus has numerous trees in various stages of fall color display, so a walk around the campus will reward you with some nice views.
We are supposed to have rain all this week, up to 5” total over 5-6 days. It may not be raining all day each day, so check out Ray’s Weather for local updates (https://booneweather.com/Forecast/Boone). The weekend though, is looking good, so Oct 9 and 10 should be fine for fall color viewing and colors should be peaking then at the higher elevations and showing up better lower down. Once this low-pressure system moves out, I think we are in for a good fall foliage display this year.
Don’t forget to take advantage of the fall festivals that occur throughout the mountain region. Here in the High Country, the Valle Crucis Country Fair is coming up on Oct 16th (https://www.vallecountryfair.org/). Good food, good music, good times! And last, but not least, the 44th Annual Woolly Worm Festival (http://www.woollyworm.com/) will be taking place in Banner Elk, NC on Oct 16 and 17. So, go out, find the fastest woolly worm, and enter it in the races. You could win big bucks!