The vibrant colors of autumn paint the vast natural wonders of North Carolina in varying hues of oranges, reds, and yellows for an awe-inspiring vision coveted by fall fanatics everywhere. Come mid-October, a crisp chill begins to creep into the air while the sun shines bright, creating the perfect atmosphere for a stunning outdoor adventure, all the while wearing a cozy light layer, of course.
Hike to the highest heights, pick some apples, carve a pumpkin, and break out the warm beverages. For a fun and unique peek into the local culture, there are an array of seasonal festivities to be found in many of these Tarheel State towns and cities.
Throughout this scenic Southern region are divine destinations for chasing that perfect fall feeling. Below are all the best places to spend the fall in North Carolina.
When is Fall in North Carolina?
This is a tricky question to answer as there are so many varying factors regarding leaf-peeping season. Leaf color varies every year, and factors like elevation, location, temperatures, and type of plant always come into play.
Leaves always change at higher elevations first, and then the beautiful yellows and oranges work their way down as time goes on.
That being said, typically by the last week of September, there are some fall colors higher in elevation. Colors last throughout most of October, with leaves typically falling to the ground around early November.
Tips for Spotting Fall Colors in NC
- Book Your Accommodation Early: Hotels and B&Bs book up quickly during the fall season.
- Dress Accordingly: The weather is unpredictable and can change quickly in the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains. Pack warm weather clothes like jeans, vests, sweaters, and a jacket. Rain jackets in the fall never hurt as well – you may even get some snow! The key is to dress in layers in case you get hot or cold.
- Wake Up Early and Stay Out Late: The best photos, with the fewest people around are in the early morning and before sunset. It’s worth waking up early for a little quiet time in nature without all the mid afternoon crowds.
- If driving the Blue Ridge Parkway: Make sure you have plenty of fuel. Some areas are remote and gas stations are few and far between.
Where to Spend a North Carolina Fall
Starting off this list of places to enjoy a North Carolina Fall is a classic. Often referred to as North Carolina’s oldest attraction, Blowing Rock is a popular pick for an autumnal paradise. It’s a quaint town that provides unobstructed panoramas of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains.
The short hike at Price Lake is a picturesque place for fall scenery, as well. Glen Burney Trail is another heavenly hike for taking in the stunning colors of the landscape.
The namesake attraction sits some 3,000 feet out over the Johns River Gorge and provides sweeping vistas over the vast expanse of wilderness and the entire spectrum of colors it holds in this special season. The downtown feels festively fall-like as well, with a tiny Main Street offering affordable boutiques, bars, and bites.
Technically an unincorporated community, Linville Falls is the most popular waterfall in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s located right off the Blue Ridge Parkway, so the journey there is sure to be just as scenic as the destination.
The trek to the falls is only about a mile and a half, yet offers four different viewpoints, each one uniquely alluring. The five trails available range from moderate to strenuous but are well worth the work to soak up the natural wonders around.
The three-tiered cascade plunges powerfully into a large pool below for a dreamy and dramatic experience. The steep gorge here is known as the Grand Canyon of the Appalachians. The dense forest is full of pines, hemlocks, birches, and oaks.
The array of glowing reds and oranges of the foliage here are a fantastic sight to behold. There are even campgrounds on-site if you’re hoping to stay in the enchanting nature of Pisgah National Forest for a while.
If you’re wondering where to see the fall colors in North Carolina look no further. Boone is a haven for outdoor adventure and Appalachian culture and one of the most scenic North Carolina mountain towns.
It boasts some of the highest elevations in the high country of North Carolina. Boone is home to Howard’s Knob, a prominent peak 5,000 feet above sea level, a spectacular vantage point to look out over the acres of lush and idyllic forests of foliage.
Rough Ridge Trail takes you to the rugged mountain overlook above Grandfather Mountain and Linn Cove Viaduct. Large boulders at the top of the wooden walkway make for the perfect picnic spot with a breathtaking background. It’s home to an amazing array of breweries, as well. What’s better than a cold craft pint in the crisp fall weather?
Appalachian State University in Boone even shares an annual map for all the best spots that year to enjoy some lovely leaves.
Banner Elk is a secret gem of this southern state. It sits between Sugar Mountain and Beech Mountain, and is known for its abundant skiing opportunities. However, the changing hues here often last from mid-September all the way to the end of October, offering ample time to witness their beauty.
A paddle around Wildcat Lake is a relaxing way to take in the scenery of the charming town. There are plenty of places to try some rock climbing, too.
The Wooly Worm Festival is a special event that has happened every fall in Banner Elk for many decades. It includes food, entertainment, handicrafts, and the famously fascinating wooly worm caterpillar races, where the winner of the race is then used to predict the winter season ahead week by week according to the color of its body segments.
Aside from the chance to win a sweet cash prize and bragging rights by entering a worm into the race, naming them is a delightful tradition filled with whimsy, with classics like Dale Wormheart.
North Carolina fall foliage doesn’t get much better than Asheville. Asheville is a cultural hub of the high country and a great jumping off point for exploring the majestic mountains of North Carolina. It’s home to the historic and beloved attraction—the Biltmore. The grounds of this estate provide picture perfect ways to enjoy the painted panoramas of color changing leaves.
The Chow Chow Culinary Festival takes place here in September each year. Award winning chefs from all over join the already fabulous foodie scene in Asheville to concoct craveable culinary creations with a focus on community and sustainability.
Just outside of the city are an array of idyllic waterfalls and mountain top vistas, such as Mount Pisgah, Graveyard Fields, Looking Glass Rock, Mount Mitchell, and Table Rock Mountain. Asheville is one of the best places to spend the fall in North Carolina, perfect for hiking during the day and staying at a beautiful Asheville cabin in the evening.
Often called the crown jewel of North Carolina, Lake Lure is a magical mirage of a town in Western North Carolina and one of the most beautiful lakes in NC. It was originally created as a resort town, and as such is also known as the filming location of the famous movie Dirty Dancing. In fact, the Dirty Dancing Festival celebrating the iconic movie takes place in September.
It boasts one of the most stunning man-made lakes in the entire country and is one of the most romantic places in North Carolina. The sparkling mirrored surface reflects the surrounding mountain peaks for an all round ethereal way to experience the season.
Located in the Hickory Nut Gorge the terrain is marked with granite cliffs and lush forest. Rumbling Bald Trail and Buffalo Creek Park offers opportunities to hike, mountain bike, and boulder to actively enjoy the scenery.
It might be surprising to see some beach towns listed as a few of the best places to spend the fall in North Carolina. However, those in the know will tell you that the stunning sandy shores of this state’s superb coastline can be better to visit during this season than the summer.
It means far fewer crowds on the idyllic but often busy beaches, especially in Atlantic Beach on the Crystal Coast.
The temperatures are often warm enough to soak up some rays and have a swim during the day and then layer up for cozy sea breeze filled evenings. I love this season better than summer as the brutal North Carolina humidity is almost non existent. Also, the incredible Carolina Kite Festival takes place here in October.
Imagine kites of all styles, shapes, and colors filling up the clear skies above soaring in the wind. What could be a more whimsical way to have some fall time fun?
Named after its resemblance to the Swiss Alps, you can see why Little Switzerland may be a perfect place to visit in the cooler seasons. It’s a fan favorite for fall colors, especially for those driving the Blue Ridge Parkway, with the peak foliage happening around the middle to end of October.
Deemed to have some of the best leaf peeping in the east, it’s just off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Discover picturesque views of Mount Mitchell, Table Rock, and Grandfather Mountain.
The Orchard at Altapass is right nearby and a very popular stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s one of the best places offering U-pick apples in the area, along with a general store for locally made goodies, some spectacular nature trails around the farm, and a captivating butterfly house.
If you’re hoping to drink your fall fruits, head to the quaint Little Switzerland Orchard and Winery for creative apple ciders that are insanely delicious.
Maggie Valley is a small mountain town with plenty of mom-and-pop magic. The Great Smoky Mountains are nearby and offer world-renowned wildlife and, of course, alluring autumnal vistas.
The town has a laid back and simple feel with a charming vintage twist. There’s plenty of bluegrass music and moonshine to enjoy in the seasonal spirit.
The Fall Arts and Crafts Festival is a large gathering of artisans and craftsmen that come together from all over the southeast to sell their handmade wares. There’s an array of mediums available to appreciate or buy, like paintings, photography, pottery, wood work, furnishings, apothecaries, and jewelry.
It’s a gorgeous event to enjoy the beautiful fall weather while browsing works of art.
While you don’t get the fall leaves in North Carolina here, you do get a beautiful and quiet beach destination. Kitty Hawk is part of the chain of barrier islands off the Carolina coast called the Outer Banks. This nautical haven offers peace and tranquility in the fall that is hard to find anywhere else. Prices drop and tourists vacate, leaving pristine OBX beaches empty for a day of fun in the sun.
Visit the famous site of the first ever flight by the Wright Brothers. It’s not too developed, allowing for the natural scenery to shine through, enhanced only with cute historic beach homes.
Kitty Hawk Coastal Reserve is over 400 acres of maritime forest to discover. In early October they host the Oink and Oyster Festival to celebrate the culinary culture of the area with a classic coastal roast.
Wings Over Water Wildlife Festival takes place in the fall as well, where you can witness the largest natural wintering of waterfowl on the East Coast. It’s such a special sight to behold for any nature lovers.
Mount Airy is famous for being Andy Griffith’s hometown and the idyllic inspiration for the Andy Griffith Show’s town Mayberry. Step back into a simpler time and let the nostalgia of this perfectly crisp season wash over you. Mayberry Days Festival is a week-long homage to this, and even incorporates characters and sets from the show.
Every year in October, there’s the Autumn Leaves Festival, as well. It offers a little bit of everything, food, music, and arts and crafts. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience to celebrate the season and its falling foliage.
Mount Airy is nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, so it’s an ideal place to appreciate the leaves in all their gorgeous glory. Riverside Park provides a path along the Ararat River called the Granite City Greenway, and Westwood Park offers far more wooded nature trails in addition.
It’s also part of the Yadkin Valley Wine Region, meaning you can spend time exploring the variety of amazing NC vineyards of the area.
Tryon enjoys a reputation in the state as a cultural center and arts enclave. However, its biggest claim to fame is being the home of the Tryon International Equestrian Center. If you’ve ever dreamed of riding a horse through an autumnal paradise then this pick is for you.
In the fall they host the Saturday Night Lights event, a free for all fun time that’s part carnival and part horse competition.
The Overmountain Vineyard has 70 acres in the foothills for perhaps the most enjoyable way to soak up the seasonal scenery, with a glass of red in hand. They make handcrafted and distinctive French wines from their own estate grown grapes.
The Tryon International Film Festival takes place in early October and truly lights up the entire town. A vintage state-of-the-art cinema, along with the Tryon Fine Arts Center, show high crafted cinema of full length films, shorts, and documentaries.
It’s known as the friendliest town in the South so you’re sure to get your fill of Southern hospitality here.
Black Mountain is perched high in the peaks of the Blue Ridge range and is a delightful tiny town to explore. Though small in stature, it’s big in personality, and you’re sure to fall (pun intended) head over heels with this charming hamlet. They host the LEAF Festival, which might actually sound more fall based than it is.
However, it’s a great place to take in the mountain surroundings while also getting the chance to live out any Woodstock dreams and enjoy multiple days of music on this righteous and rocking retreat.
Nature abounds here, as do the views at an elevation of 2,500 feet. It’s home to historic streets, fine eats, many breweries, and plenty of galleries. There’s an array of amazing hiking trails and the climate is extremely mild, meaning it should be the perfect temperature for a trek or two.
Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway
Driving the entire Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the best things to do in North Carolina in the fall. There are plenty of stops on the parkway that sparkle during autumn, and you’ll find yourself wanting to pull over every two miles.
Take a few days to drive the parkway in its entirety in October. Some of the best stops along the parkway in the fall are
- Sharp Top Mountain
- Mabry Mill
- Price Lake
- Grandfather Mountain
- Linn Cove Viaduct
- Linville Falls
- Crabtree Falls
- Craggy Gardens
- Looking Glass Rock
- Graveyard Fields
- Black Balsam
- Devil’s Courthouse
- Thunder Struck Overlook
- Bunches Bald Overlook
Things to do in the Fall in North Carolina
- Go Apple Picking: There are plenty of apple orchards in North Carolina to go picking. Many have special events on the weekends in October. So grab the fam for a day of apple cider and farm rides.
- Go Waterfall Chasing: North Carolina has endless waterfalls and the earlier in October it is, the warmer splashing around one will be.
- Go Hiking: Some of the best hikes in North Carolina are Looking Glass Rock, Mount Mitchell, Rainbow Falls Trail, and Big Creek Trail.
- Stay in a Cabin: There’s nothing better than staying in a cabin in the mountains in the fall. We break down some of the best cabins near Asheville in this post.
- Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride: Asheville Balloon Company offers scenic flights in the fall. There are plenty of other places to take a hot air balloon up around NC, such as Statesville.