Autumn falls across the Blue Ridge mountains in a blaze of glory, a fiery riot of color announcing the arrival of the dying of the leaves. It is beautiful beyond all telling, but it is a beautiful death. It is the year closing in on itself.
Here in the mountains Fall means one thing: Leaf Season. Soon all the mountains will be patch-worked with color. The higher elevations have already erupted into shades of red, orange and yellow.
There is still plenty of green holding strong, guaranteeing many more weeks of prime leaf watching to look forward to this year.
Winter looms on the horizon of Fall, when the leaves will all be gone and the world will look naked against the hard blue sky. The trees will stand gray and sad in the chill of the season, and green will be but a dream far off and waiting in a distant spring.
Now’s your chance! Keep reading for tips on how to plan a trip of your own to see Autumn fall across the mountains.
Blue Ridge Parkway
One of the best way to see the changing of the leaves is to take a drive down one of the area’s many scenic byways. This will bring you through various elevations and expose you to many different species of trees, increasing your chances of seeing a wide and varied display of color.
This past weekend I headed up the Blue Ridge Parkway to witness the spectacle of the changing leaves for myself.
October 4, 2014
I follow the Blue Ridge Parkway, weaving my way up through the mountains. This is the first day of the year that I feel the crisp bite of Fall in the air. Individual trees bloom scarlet, bright points of color in a sea of mostly still green.
Sunlight filters through the trees as they parade past my window outside the car. Leaves litter the road and get caught up under my wheels, dancing away from me.
As I continue there is more and more color. Yellow. Gold. The faint blush of orange. A strange plum hovering on the dark edge of purple.
Ahead I see the first patchwork mountain, gold and red scattered through a forest of steadfast green.
This is my favorite part of the season. We are still on the edge of wonder, our feet still firmly planted in the warmth of this year.
The road curves and twists, hugging close to the bare face of the exposed mountain. Water seeps from the red rock, flowing through the stone.
Up, always up. I continue to climb. The view opens and layers of colorful mountains spread before me in waves. White wisps of cloud rush across a deep blue sky.
Craggy Gardens is at milepost 364.5, and offers stunning 360 degrees views from atop the 5,500 feet tall bald. There are picnic areas as well as a lovely moderate hiking trail that leads to the top.
As I come upon it the leaves are all golden and falling to the ground. Rhododendron overhangs the road, closing in on me. Light dapples across this page, casting shadows across my words.
I hike to the top of Craggy Pinnacle, where winter has already begun to descend.
The few trees that grow here are short and gnarled by the constant wind. Their leaves are long gone, and the tips of their branches are encased in a thin layer of ice that looks like crystals sparkling in the sun.
The wildflowers that grow everywhere here are also coated in ice. They dance and click in the wind. All around the mountains spread before me like a bowl.
Once I reach the bald the view opens in all directions, the wind blowing bitterly cold. It bites at my ears, my skin, burns in my lungs as I breathe it inside of me.
I struggle to write, the wind pushing against my paper, fighting my words. I have bypassed Fall and found Winter in this place.
Back on the Parkway
After hiking back down I drive further North up the Parkway. Driving up is like climbing deeper into Autumn. Each milepost brings more and more color.
I am headed towards Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi River. To get there, I turn North at milepost 355.4 onto NC 128 and drive a couple of miles up to the park entrance.
Icicles form from the water that drips off the rocky overhangs. The tops of the evergreens are frosted in a thin sheet of ice.
At this elevation the mountains are awash in gold with sparse bursts of red. The only green left is the deep jade of the Spruce and the Fir. Stark skeletons of Hemlocks stand out against the ridge lines.
The beginning of the end
The changing of the leaves is a glorious end to the brief and exultant green of a leaf’s existence. For me it is always very bittersweet.
Maybe it was to make us forget how much we would miss their green that the leaves decided to change the way they do. Maybe it was their way of promising to come back again, another leaf in another season.
During the gray of winter the bodies of the leaves will break down in the soil, feeding the roots of the trees that live on, cold and sleeping without them.
Sometime around May the leaves will be back again, new life springing forth in the place of the old that has passed away.
Those leaves will mature to the deep jewel green of summer, ignite with color the next fall, and so the cycle will begin anew.
Such is the nature of life on Earth. Our individual existences burn and fade but life continues, triumphant.
Autumn reminds us that life begins and ends and begins again.
Plan your trip!
Come see the leaves change in the mountains while there’s still time! The yearly display of color will be going on for several more weeks now, so start planning your trip today.
It can be tricky to plan a trip to catch the peak fall color in any given location. Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway, or a similar scenic byway, is a better option and provides a great opportunity to view a lot of different species at different elevations.
This gives you a much better chance of enjoying a greater range of fall color.
Check out the resources I’ve provided below for tips on how to make the most of this year’s Leaf Season in the mountains. You’ll find color reports, peak times for specific destinations, and places to go to help plan your trip.
Come see Autumn fall across the mountains!
If you can’t make it out to the mountains this year, go look for the changing leaves somewhere near you or just enjoy the photographs! I’ll be posting more photos as the leaf season progresses, so be sure to check back here for more Fall color. To make it easy, follow LOCUS via email in the sidebar or by scrolling below.
Call the Parkway Information Line to hear the latest Fall Color Report: (828) 298-0398, press option 3.
North Carolina Fall Color Forecast This site provides peak times for a lot of great locations. It also has a ton of resources to help you plan your trip.
Twitter Find fall color on Twitter here.
Blue Ridge Parkway Find great tips for leaf season here, as well as a wealth of information for planning your trip and driving the Parkway.