Looking for that perfect autumn vista? Fall forecasters note that in the mountains the peak actually changes weekly depending on the elevation. Visit our weekly leaf reports to find the most colorful fall foliage peaks in the Asheville area. This is a guide to the best scenic fall drives whether you're visiting in early fall (late September to early October), mid-fall (early to late October) or late fall (late October to early November).
In the early fall, the best scenic drives are at the highest elevations in the Asheville area. Here is a list of great fall scenic drives for late September and early October.
Visit Grandfather Mountain to view native animal habitats, enjoy hiking and picnicking and test your courage on the mile high swinging bridge which also provides a great vantage point for viewing autumn’s rich colors.
Directions: From Asheville, take I-40 East to exit 100 (Morganton). Take NC 181 North straight to the park.
From Asheville, follow US 19/23 north from downtown, taking US 19E to Burnsville. Continue your drive along 19E to the town of Spruce Pine, stopping along the way to take in the spectacular views of the Black Mountains and Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak in the eastern U.S. at 6,684 feet. To return to Asheville, take US 19E back to Burnsville and US 19/23 south into the city.
Take the Blue Ridge Parkway south from Asheville toward Mount Pisgah, where you will find picnic areas, hiking trails and a restaurant. Travel north on US 276 through the magnificent Pisgah National Forest, which affords a spectacular view of Cold Mountain, made famous by the novel and motion picture of the same name. Continue on US 276 into Waynesville. Take US 23 north to US 19/23/74 east, which will return you to Asheville.
In mid-fall, the fall color is moving to new elevations and there are many splendid scenic drives and day trips for soaking in the autumn beauty. Here are some suggested drives for mid-October.
From Asheville, head south on the Blue Ridge Parkway and exit onto US 276, following it south. Along the way, stop by Sliding Rock, the Cradle of Forestry with its many interpretive exhibits and special programs, and Looking Glass Falls. The Looking Glass Rock trailhead (parking on the left), provides access to a 3.1 mile trail set amidst brilliant fall color. Continue on 276 to NC 280 north to NC 191 along the banks of the French Broad River past the Biltmore Square Mall and the Western North Carolina Farmers Market and on into Asheville.
Take a trip to Hot Springs via NC 63 west through Leicester and to Trust, where NC 209 intersects with NC 63. Take NC 209 north to Hot Springs and return by following US 25/70 to Weaverville, and connect with I-26 which leads back to Asheville.
US 19 from Maggie Valley to Cherokee boasts several excellent leaf-viewing sites. To get there take US 19/23/74 west from Asheville. A return trip to Asheville via US 276 through the Pisgah National Forest to the Blue Ridge Parkway offers many overlooks from which to enjoy the autumn panorama.
Chimney Rock Park, located in Hickory Nut Gorge, offers expansive views of the gorge and Lake Lure. The quickest way to Chimney Rock Park from Asheville is via I-26 East to US 64 East to the park.
Follow US Highway 19/23 north to the New Stock Road exit. Turn right at the light and left at the next light, onto US 25. Follow this highway less than one mile to Reems Creek Road and turn right. Drive five miles to Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace State Historic Site, site of a working 1830s-era farm once owned by North Carolina's Civil War governor, Zebulon Vance. From Vance Birthplace, turn left and travel half a mile to Ox Creek Road, winding through the picturesque community to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Turn south on the Parkway. You may want to shop for mountain handicrafts at the Folk Art Center and drive a little further south to the North Carolina Arboretum before returning to Asheville.
From Asheville follow I-26 South to US 64 East and into Hickory Nut Gorge. Continue on to Chimney Rock Park, the setting for the movie “Last of the Mohicans.” Take in the views of Lake Lure, where Patrick Swayze danced in the film “Dirty Dancing.” Head back to Bat Cave and pick up NC 9, a true mountain road with spectacular views of the cliffs around the Lake. Wind your way to Black Mountain and explore the many galleries and artisan boutiques that make this small town worth the stop. From Black Mountain, take US 70 through the Swannanoa Valley back to Asheville.
Located just north of downtown Asheville, Kimberly Avenue will be canopied by the orange tint of sugar maples. A drive offers views of the historic Grove Park Inn perched on the hill above the street. From downtown Asheville, take the Charlotte Street exit off I-240 and proceed north on Charlotte. Turn left onto Edwin Place and follow through the light as it turns into Kimberly Avenue. Follow Kimberly to Beaverdam Road. Turn right and drive through the scenic Beaverdam Valley before circling back to Asheville.
Surrounded by the Pisgah National Forest, the North Carolina Arboretum is nestled amidst one of the most beautiful natural settings in the US and is a great place to see Mother Nature's fall color finale. The Arboretum is located south of Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 393, or take I-26, Exit 33 (formerly Exit 2) and proceed 2 miles south on Highway 191/Brevard Road.
Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority