Experience a Cloud Phenomenon in Asheville, NC
By Del Holston
Asheville’s Sea of Clouds
The Blue Ridge Mountains are one of the best places in the world to behold a fascinating atmospheric phenomenon. It’s called thermal inversion, where low-lying clouds rest in the mountain valleys and undulate with a wave-like motion.
Those fortunate enough to be standing in the right place, at the right time, can watch as these clouds swirl around the valley before beginning their ascent up the mountainside.
How does this happen? As the sun sets over Western North Carolina the cooler air from the mountaintops begins to dip into the lower elevations. Once that cool air mixes with the moisture from below it creates a sea of clouds in the valley. As the sun begins to rise, the warm air begins to mix with cold. When this happens, the clouds begin a slow ascent to the sky. As they climb up along the sides of the highest peaks, they move as if they’re alive.
Where to See Thermal Inversion in Action
While this phenomenon is not unique to Asheville, the region’s climate, topography, and abundance of streams, rivers, and creeks make it one of the best places to see the thermal inversion show. The Asheville area has drawn international attention from the likes of BBC Travel because of the opportunities for viewing thermal inversion.
Thermal inversion can occur any time of year, but it tends to happen most often in the fall, when the nights are cool and the days are warm. The best time of day to look for thermal inversion is early in the morning, just after the sun has risen.
With mountaintops towering over 6,000 feet in elevation, there are multiple vantage points to watch the show. Along the Blue Ridge Parkway you may see these clouds at the base of Looking Glass Rock, or flowing up and over the ridge top at the Craggy Gardens Pinnacle Overlook.
Other options include Mt. Mitchell and Black Balsam. Both offer an unobstructed 360-degree vantage point of the surrounding mountains, and even if you don’t see thermal inversion in action, the views are quite remarkable.
Best Places on the Blue Ridge Parkway Near Asheville to See Thermal Inversion
- Black Balsam (milepost 420.2)
- East Fork Overlook (milepost 418)
- Views of Looking Glass Rock
- Looking Glass Rock Overlook (milepost 417)
- Log Hollow Overlook (milepost 416.3)
- Cherry Cove Overlook (milepost 415.7)
- Pounding Mill Overlook (milepost 413.2)
- Mount Pisgah (milepost 408)
- Craggy Gardens Pinnacle (milepost 364.1)
Photo and timelapse video by Jared Kay.