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Warm Start to Fall Dulls Leaf Color in High Country, Peak Color Still In Play for Some Areas of BRP

Grandfather Mountain earlier this week. 

By Jesse Wood

If you are looking for peak fall color this weekend, Dr. Howard Neufeld, the “Fall Color Guy” at Appalachian State, suggests heading out to the Blue Ridge Parkway, starting at the Yonahlossee Overlook near Grandfather Mountain and heading north to the Rough Ridge Trail.

Golden leaves complement the sunshine in Grandfather Mountain’s MacRae Meadows, with the mountain itself creating a stunning seasonal backdrop. Photo by Skip Sickler | Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation

“It is not yet at peak. There is still a lot of green, which means that next weekend should be even better. And it’s supposed to get cool this week, which should hasten color development,” Neufeld wrote in his Oct. 14 fall color update.

This year, the consensus seems to be that fall color is kind of blasé so far, although at my home in Western Watauga, the leaves seemed to peak a week ago with lots of bright oranges. It was pretty, although brief.

Neufeld doesn’t expect the leaves still hanging to pop in color – even with lots of green still on the trees and cooler air arriving. Neufeld noted that this is the second exceptionally warm October, which isn’t “conducive to great fall colors.”

“The bad news is I don’t think this will be a great fall color year. The heat wave we’re having (it was 72 [degrees] today in the mountains, which is about 10-15 [degrees] warmer than it should be this time of year) is doing a number on the leaves. Many trees have already lost leaves even before they have turned color. At Price Lake, for example, it went from no color to no leaves. It’s still pretty there, but the colors are fairly dull.”

In Grandfather Mountain’s latest color update, Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation spokesman Frank Ruggiero wrote:

“Golden leaves complement the sunshine in Grandfather Mountain’s MacRae Meadows, with the mountain itself creating a stunning seasonal backdrop. During summertime, the meadows are draped in a different color — plaid. MacRae Meadows is the site of the annual Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, held each July and celebrated as one of the nation’s most popular gatherings of Scottish clans. Meanwhile, fall color continues to progress into the lower elevations of the High Country, with spot color still bursting at higher elevations, such as Rough Ridge on the Blue Ridge Parkway (Milepost 302.8), meaning leaf-lookers can expect some colorful sights this coming weekend.”

For latest updates from the Fall Color Guy, check out his Facebook page here and the App State biology leaf color page here. Neufeld’s updates are crucial if you’re trying to hit peak leaf season during your travels in the High Country and beyond – or if you just want to learn the science behind the color changes. 

Photos by Tara Diamond
The viaduct. 
The Blue Ridge Parkway. 
Price Lake.