Living in Asheville, right on mother nature’s threshold, you learn to notice the signs of the seasons. The rusty tinge on the edge of the leaves. Plastic gourds piled up in the grocery stores. Candy corn boasting a new pumpkintastic flavor. Hippies howling at the moon in celebration of the equinox.
There can be no dispute: fall is upon us, once again. And so, it comes time for me to break down for you some of the best places to see fall leaves in Asheville. It’s a symphony of color, folks, and you’d be remiss to miss it on your autumnal visit to the mountains. So, without further ado, lets jump right into it.
Just one of the many points-of-interest along the Tanawha Trail, Rough Ridge offers rolling views of technicolor piedmonts, as well as Grandfather Mountain, one of the region’s signature peaks. Park at the overlook on Parkway mile marker 302.8, hop on the trail head, and follow the signs towards Linn Cove. You’ll be right on your way to some of the finest fall colors in the greater Asheville area.
The hike runs 1.2 miles round-trip. Its strenuous in some portions, and often muddy in others, but a great portion of its length does lie atop a raised boardwalk, which I find makes for a measure of ease. Plus, the trail passes a bounty of, flat-ish boulders, perfect for catching your breath, taking in the view, or partaking of a picnic.
Distance from Asheville: About an hour and a half.
They say you can’t get away with visiting Asheville in the fall without going apple picking. Luckily for you, I know just the place. The Orchard at Altapass lies on the Parkway, hemmed in by blue ridgelines and flocks of butterflies. That said, this is one of the more civilized destinations to see fall leaves in Asheville. After all, their general store vends jams, jellies, honey, fudge, and ice-cream, and you can enjoy live performances here by local musicians on the weekends, from 2:30pm to 4:30 (until October 31st).
On the natural end of things, you can acquire a half-peck bag for apple picking for $10. On Friday through Sundays, local guides can lead you out to hotspots of fruity ripeness within the sprawling orchards. If you’re more in a mood for a hike, take the 2.6 mile loop across lands both cultivated and wild, adorned with plenty of fall color.
Distance from Asheville: One hour.
Although Chimney Rock is one of the better-known local sites, I still believe it deserves my endorsement on account of its excellent views. Now admission does run at $17 for adults (and $8 for children) but let me break down what that buys you.
Drive on to their upper parking lot, and you’re just 500 steps (or a single elevator ride) away from a pinnacle with downright dominating views. You can imagine just how vivid that can be during these vibrant months. Any similarly exalted overlook is going to entail some hardcore hiking, believe you me.
However, if you are looking for a hike, and I would suggest one, the Hickory Nut Falls trail runs 1.5 miles roundtrip, and takes you down into the fall colors themselves. This path provides plentiful benches and picnic tables and ends in the precipitous falls themselves. Hickory Nut's girth varies greatly with rainfall, so if you’re looking for some impressive cataracts, plan accordingly.
Distance from Asheville: Forty-five minutes.
Whereas Chimney Rock is well-known, Beaver Lake is one of Asheville’s hidden gems. So much so that I’m ashamed to say that even I, your local expert, have only recently learned of it. Managed by the Audobon Society, at Beaver Lake you’ll find 3/8 miles of boardwalk over sonorous wetlands, plentiful in benches. It's one of the more leisurely places to see fall leaves in Asheville.
The Society offers guided bird-walks on the first Saturday of each month, setting off at 9am in October through March, and 8am the rest of the year. And I’m no birder, folks, but even with my layman’s knowledge, I can tell you that Beaver Lake boasts quite the collection of avians. You've got northern shovelers. Brown-headed cowbirds. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers, foot-geese, coots, the lesser saucy swaletail, and you’re not going to believe this last one: American crows.
Distance from Asheville: Best of all, it's in Asheville. Just ten minutes from downtown.
Located within Gorges State Park (pronounced “gorgeous”), Rainbow Falls has got to be one of the most magnificent waterfalls near Asheville, and its beauty is only magnified by those glorious fall colors. Accessed from the trailhead at the Grassy Ridge parking lot, I'd say this 3-mile roundtrip hike is not for the faint of heart. Lots of uphill and downhill sections, the not infrequent creek-crossing and a finale composed of some particularly steep steps.
However, all this tribulation terminates in an unobstructed view of Rainbow Falls, whose mists, through inexplicable prismatic mechanics, reliably produce rainbows in the pre-noon hours. You may be tempted to rest your heels at the waterfall’s first viewing-station, but it's just a little ways further down to the lower observation deck, close enough to taste the spray. If you can endure the hike, or if you’re looking for a vigorous walk, Rainbow Falls has all the explosive fall pigments you could wish for, plus a little bit more.
Distance from Asheville: About an hour and fifteen minutes.
The Orchard at Altapass
1025 Orchard Rd, Spruce Pine, NC 28777
Chimney Rock State Park
431 Main St, Chimney Rock, NC 28720
Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary
1056 Merrimon Ave, Asheville, NC 28804
Gorges State Park
976 Grassy Ridge Rd, Sapphire, NC 28774