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14 Oct 2022
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Vacation Tips

Asheville is one of (if not the best) places to visit in the fall because our area enjoys one of the longest and most vibrant fall color seasons in the nation due to the wide variety of elevations. While October is typically the month for prime leaf peeping, there are a variety of factors that can make that sweet color that everyone is looking for happen as early as September and as late as November.

In fact, in 2021 fall color began in late September at the highest elevations and continued into the first week of November in the lowest elevations. This year, the colder temperatures have propelled us into an earlier color-changing season, and we are currently in the midst of peak color season at mid-higher elevations. Don’t worry though, peak color is all set to transition to the rest of mid and lower elevations over the next couple of weeks, leaving ample time for a last-minute getaway!

When Can I See Peak Color-Changing Foliage?

October is the most reliable time to visit, though “peak week” may be different from year to year. It’s difficult to predict the opening night of the color show until the fall season is actually upon us.

Elevation and location no doubt have an effect on when the leaves change, but there are other factors that influence the duration and vibrancy of autumn, such as the temperature and precipitation levels. 

While many swear that a rainy and unseasonably cool summer produces the most brilliant foliage for the coming fall, the reality is that summer weather doesn’t actually have that much influence when it comes to color-changing foliage. It's really the early-autumn weather (aka September to October) that affects the leaves' appearance. According to the U.S. Forest Service, what leaves really need for a dazzling display during this time is clear sunny days and cool nights. The warm sun “provides the sugars needed for pigment production,” while the cold weather “ensures the sugars don't travel far from the leaves.” 

Oh-So-Cozy Picnic Spots

Our fall foliage timeline is a great resource for planning your fall getaway in line with peak season. Once you book your stay, the next step is planning the best activities that will allow you to take in the color-changing foliage in all its glory. Our first recommendation will require you to grab your flannel blanket, pack a picnic basket full of local meat, cheese, and accouterments along with a bottle of wine, and head on out to one of these scenic spots around Asheville for an oh-so-cozy picnic:

1. Botanical Gardens: Located near Beaver Lake in North Asheville on UNCA's campus, the Botanical Gardens does not require a parking or entrance fee and has been thoughtfully designed for picnicking. The gardens are brimming with nature trails, wildflowers, and tons of open spaces to lay out your picnic blanket. For kids, there is an Investigation Passport that they can fill out when walking the grounds, and for the adults, there's the Cole Library which contains an impressive collection of books relating to botany, horticulture, entomology, and ecology. While you'll feel like you entered The Secret Garden or something akin to it, the on-site Visitor Center offers restrooms so you can explore with convenience in mind.

2. Biltmore Estate:  If you are looking to picnic at one of Asheville's most iconic spots, head to the Biltmore Estate. While you will need a ticket to enter, Biltmore has designated picnic areas. We recommend picnicking on the spacious lawn in front of the Diana statue, around the beautiful Lagoon with the ducks and Biltmore House in the background, or the Bass Pond with its gazebo, bridge, and nearby waterfall. No matter which spot you choose, chances are high that it will be gorgeous. 

3. Craggy Gardens:  One of our absolute favorite hiking and picnic spots along the Blue Ridge Parkway, a relatively quick drive from Asheville, is Craggy Gardens. There are two different Craggy locations to choose from. Craggy Gardens has a huge picnic area with tables, a restroom, and charcoal grills, and you can hike further to relax in one of their meadows with stunning views of the mountains. Nearby, you can also hike Craggy Pinnacle. You can either park at the Craggy Gardens Picnic Area or hike in from the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center. They are located at Mileposts 364.4-367.6 on the BRP.

4. Lake Louise:  Lake Louise in Weaverville couldn’t be more idyllic, especially in the fall. The iconic water wheel backdrop is fairytale-like and offers a bright pop of red to compliment the surrounding color-changing foliage on the trees. It’s tucked away to the side of the main park but is relatively easy to find, and the walk is extremely short. 

5. Western North Carolina Nature Center:  Ready to combine your love for animals and your love for picnic bites? Head to the WNC Nature Center in east Asheville. Set up your picnic on the grassy field near the Recreation Park City Pool overlooking the rushing Swannanoa River, then head in to see the animal exhibits before taking off. It’s the perfect combination of wide-open autumnal spaces and adorable wild animals. 

Beautiful Back Road Byways

Our second recommendation is for those who love to travel a little off the beaten path and seek some adventure. While the Blue Ridge Parkway is a phenomenal and convenient drive for those visiting the area, there are plenty of other options that will allow you to take in the breathtaking sights of fall while exploring some of the lesser-known corners of Western North Carolina. Below, you’ll find our top 5 by-ways:

1. Black Mountain Rag to Chimney Rock: A great back-road drive for those vacationing in Black Mountain, you take exit 64 off I-40 to follow N.C. Hwy 9 South. Named for an old fiddle tune and musical term, a "rag" is a tune with multiple twists and curves up and down the scales, very similar to the road you’ll be traveling on. In approximately 16 miles, you’ll arrive in Bat Cave, where you’ll turn left on U.S. 64 to Chimney Rock and catch spectacular views of Hickory Nut Gorge as you drive. Continue to Lake Lure to walk across the eccentric Flowering Bridge for a photo op!

2. Town Mtn/Elk Mtn Loop: If you're staying near downtown Asheville and time is limited for a scenic drive, this is the best one for you. You'll drive up N.C. Hwy 694 (Town Mountain Rd) from College Street. A windy drive up the mountain for approximately 6 miles will connect you to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Once there, turn left, and take the first road on the left (sign for Weaverville). Go a short distance, and turn left on Elk Mountain Scenic Highway. Drive down the mountain ridge for 7 miles taking in the breathtaking scenery. 

Clocking in at about an hour, you’ll take a right on Beaverdam Road then a left on Merrimon Avenue to return to the city. 

3. Indian Lakes Scenic Byway: For an epic ride that will offer charming glances at pastoral landscapes, this 60-mile drive is it. This byway will take you by Lake Fontana and Lake Santeetlah at the far corners of western North Carolina and through the historic rural communities of Stecoah and Robbinsville. The latter is home to the Fontana Dam, aka the highest dam east of the Rockies, and the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest where you can take in the sky-high 450-year-old Tulip Poplars. 

4. Appalachian Medley Scenic Byway: This byway follows NC Hwy 209 from Lake Junaluska to Hot Springs, with so much to see in between. It’s a great drive for spotting historic barns and the colorful barn quilts that adorn them, as the Appalachian Barn Alliance created five driving tours that cover various sections of Madison Co. While these barns are not open for public visits, these scenic routes offer plenty of other things to do along the way, like getting the chance to drive alongside part of the Appalachian Trail. If you choose this drive, be sure to take a detour at Hot Springs Resort & Spa where you can soak in natural hot mineral waters. Before tackling the rest of the drive, we also recommend popping into Artisun Gallery and Cafe to grab a latte and a piece of local art. 

5. The Diamondback: Located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway near milepost 334, The Diamondback is full of looping switchbacks that reach almost 360 degrees, making it an extra fun and adrenaline-pumping favorite for motorcyclists. If you choose to go by car, you’ll still experience 190 steep, climbing curves in just 12 miles and climb 1,900 feet in elevation. The route will also cross through Little Switzerland which is definitely worth checking out. While there, stop into Emerald Village, a group of 12 real historic mines that have been featured on National Geographic and the Travel Channel. 

If you’re looking for a nearby hike, Crabtree Falls is located at milepost 339.5 of the Blue Ridge Parkway and follows a scenic 2.5-mile loop trail to 60-ft falls. It’s a truly magnificent sight to behold at the peak of fall.   

Do you have a favorite color leaf in the Fall?

Picture it: You’re driving with the windows down as you sip your pumpkin spice latte and listen to your perfectly curated autumn playlist.

You look up and see the vivid scarlets, ambers, and golds adorning the trees that surround you, and you might wonder, what creates these differences? Let’s break it down: 

Red: Red is produced by warm sunny fall days and cool fall nights. Leftover food in the leaf is transformed into red (aka anthocyanin) pigments. These red pigments also color cranberries, red apples, blueberries, cherries, strawberries, and plums. Found on: Maples, oaks, dogwood, black tupelo, sourwood, persimmon, and some sassafras.

Yellow and Orange: Deep orange is a combination of the red and yellow color-making process. These yellow and orange pigments also color carrots, corn, canaries, and daffodils, as well as egg yolks, rutabagas, buttercups, and bananas. Found on: Hickory, ash, tulip poplar, white oaks, sweetgum, beech, birch, and sycamore.

Fall is one of our most-in-demand and magical seasons, so treat yourself to a last-minute getaway this October, and be sure to check out these specials running all month long and into November. In addition to specials, we’ve added close to 10 new homes this month alone, making our inventory a strong 250+ homes. 

Peak color is upon us and is projected to last for the next two to three weeks, so if you’re the one to book travel for your group, make your trip even more special and memorable by being the first to stay in one of our newest vacation rentals

Our inventory offers everything from quintessential log cabins to cozy cottages to luxury lodges with sweeping mountain views, so any choice you make is bound to make your fall vacation one you’ll continue dreaming about long after you depart!


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