Wow, somebody hit the color switch this week! From Thursday to Sat, the colors just popped out all around Boone and along the Blue Ridge Parkway. This cool weather has really jump started the fall color season for us this year. Between Boone and Grandfather Mountain there is noticeable color, maybe even up to 20% in some places, and it is progressing quickly. The next two days will be warm, but then after some rain on Monday and Tuesday, we are supposed to get some of our coldest weather yet, and that should push the trees to color up quickly after that happens.
I got up early today and hoofed it all the way down to Graveyard Fields (mile 419 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, south of Asheville, https://www.blueridgeheritage.com/destinations/graveyard-fields/). This bowl shaped valley, at over 5,000’ elevation, always has early color change, and so most years, I miss it because I go there too late in the season. But this year, I hit it just as it is approaching its peak – now! Fall color is well on its way there now and by next week, it should peak for the season. I highly recommend a visit, but go early, as there is very limited parking. And because it is so popular, it gets crowded and you won’t be able to find a parking space.
The initial trail down to the creek from the parking lot is paved and then switches over to wooden stairs and boardwalk, so it is fairly easy hiking. Once you reach the creek you have two options: one is a loop trail that goes to the upper falls. This is about 2 miles roundtrip, and it can be muddy and slippery, with some places so eroded that you have to negotiate fairly large step ups to continue your hike. It takes you to a falls known as Yellowstone Falls. It is also prime bear country, so if you don’t need to, don’t bring any food with you on this hike.
The other hike is down to the bottom of the lower falls, and is only about a quarter of mile, with much of it on a boardwalk. At the bottom, it reverts to dirt and there are some slippery rocks at the bottom, so you should be careful there. But you will be rewarded with a very nice view of the falls from this vantage point.
Today, the red maples, blueberries, and sourwoods were in great color at Graveyards and a tree with dark blue drupes, that I am currently trying to ID. Some birches were also turning yellow. Goldenrod is abundant at this site, along with asters and St. Johnswort plants, which are fruiting now. I also saw some Galax leaves beginning to turn deep burgundy, something they don’t usually do until mid-October in other locations along the Parkway.
After Graveyards, I went to Craggy Gardens. This high elevation site is behind Graveyards, but colors are starting to appear on the hills that you see from the overlooks. If you go past the visitor center there (going north) there is a larger parking lot and you can take a very nice trail up to the top were there are some very nice stone overlooks. It is not a hard hike, maybe 1 mile roundtrip, and the view from there are stunning.
I took the Parkway all the way from Craggy Gardens back to Boone. As you approach Mt. Mitchell State Park, there are occasional hillsides with well-developed color now, mostly 4,500’ and above in elevation. Unfortunately, there are very few places to stop and take pictures on this stretch, because it is part of the Asheville city watershed. But there are occasional overlooks with great views.
Lower down on the Parkway, around 3,000’, maples and buckeyes, sourwoods and Virginia Creeper vines (which are peaking in red color right now) are providing most of the color in the forests. Each weekend now, as we get into October, we will see more color than the week before, and if our weather stays cool, we should have a normally timed fall color season (see earlier posts for exact dates, but at 3,000’ or so, I’m predicting around Oct 10-18th). We might even be a little early this year in fact, something that hasn’t happened in many years!
I’ll be posting an album of pictures soon and I’ll let you know the link to it. On the trails today, I’d say only about 1/3 of the hikers were using masks. It was hit or miss on that. I wish people who shun the masks would think more about their failure to take responsibility when they are out in the open, because all they are doing is endangering others who want to get out and view nature at its best. My rant of the week. I wore a mask, and when anyone approached, I put it on. It’s not hard to do!
If you come up to the High Country to see the fall leaf colors, have a safe drive and an enjoyable time outdoors!