Yesterday I checked out Mt. Jefferson State Natural Area, just outside West Jefferson, NC in Ashe County. This is a really nice place to view fall leaf colors, and to just take in the spectacular views from the top. You can drive all the way to the parking lot there by the picnic pavilion and then head out on the main trail for about ¾ mile to the Luther Rock viewpoint. It's mostly level hiking, so it's an easy trip. There are several other trails that go off the main one, and they all loop back so you can't get lost.
This area is dominated by red, black and chestnut oaks, along with red and striped maples and American chestnut sprouts (the larger trees were killed about a century ago by a fungal blight, but the trees continue to sprout from the roots each year before dying when they get about 20' tall). The slopes are quite steep at the top, so do as the signage says and stay on the trails so you don't fall down the steep slopes. This natural area is very popular with families and kids, and you can either picnic on the mountain, or sample the restaurants in nearby West Jefferson.
This week, the Mountain Ash were just starting to turn, as were the striped maple, black birch and a smattering of red maples. At the rock outcrops, the huckleberries are turning red now. Otherwise, the rest of the trees are still quite green.
I highly recommend this hike. It's easy access, and if you stop at the Jefferson Overlook, on the road before you get to the top, you can see into Virginia, which is only about 20 miles away. The prominent peak is Whitetop Mountain, Virginia's second highest peak at 5,518' elevation. Mt. Jefferson is at 4,680', and noticeably cooler than the valley just below, so be prepared when you go and bring jackets on cool days. The elevation makes these forests similar to those much farther north, in fact, similar to those in New York state.
In town, the ornamental red maples are starting to display now. Many turn red from the top first. I'll post a few pictures soon. They always turn much earlier than the native trees. The other early turning native trees are dogwoods and sourwoods, both of which have colored up red quite nicely this past week.
Finally, many of you are wondering what the impact of Hurricane Irma will be. Well, it has taken a more westerly track and is only supposed to skim the mountains. Wind speeds may be 40-50 mph, but because the leaves are still mostly green, and held firmly by the trees, I don't think this will knock many of them off. We often have thunderstorms with more severe winds. I think the fall color season will be just fine. It has been quite cool so far, which is good for stimulating the red colors. So, I think we are still on schedule – mid-October for Boone/Blowing Rock and the Highlands area, a week or so earlier for higher elevations, like the Craggies and Graveyards off the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the end of October for lower elevations like the Asheville/Hendersonville area. The Smokies, with their great range of elevation, start changing in early October at high elevations, and peak in mid- to late-October, since they are slightly south of Boone. Check my links on my fall color page at ASU for links to other sites. Here it is:
Have a good week, and I'll post again next Sunday!