Beautiful creek views during the autumn season on the Catawba trail in Western North Carolina

Fall is the most beautiful time of the year in Western North Carolina. Dazzling colors liven up the forests, line one of the country’s most scenic drives, surround the historic mountain towns, and provide a beautiful backdrop at any local park or restaurant patio. Known for having one of the longest and prettiest leaf peeping seasons, the WNC region is a fall vacation bucket list contender. It’s the busiest time of the year in terms of tourism. The Blue Ridge Parkway, the most visited NPS site, sees heavy traffic during the peak of fall. It’s best to plan your adventures during the week, or at the very least, get out to more popular Parkway hikes and overlooks very early in the morning. Regardless of the high traffic, the Parkway and WNC in general, is a perfect vacation destination for anyone who loves the fall.

Asheville will likely be your base for exploration as it is located within close proximity to pretty much everything of interest in the region. Because of the varying elevations in the mountains, different areas peak at different times. Thus, it can be quite a hassle to time your hike perfectly. However, on the bright side, this means a longer window for leaf peeping. There is almost always somewhere that is alive with color beginning in late September and continuing on until November. Stay updated by checking out the Fall Foliage predictor via Explore Asheville.

Featured below are 12 fabulous leaf peeping destinations, in and around Asheville. All are located within an easy hour drive (at most) from the city limits. Be sure to dress in layers as the temps can feel much colder at 4000-5000+ feet.

Rough Ridge via the Tawanha Trail

Gorgeous fall foliage along the Rough Ridge overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Western North Carolina

One of the Parkway’s most fantastic leaf peeping destinations is found via a short hike up to an overlook known as Rough Ridge. This trail begins along a lengthier trail (The 13.5 mile Tanawha trail). The views are simply stunning, and thus, this one draws major tourist traffic every fall. Parking is a nightmare if you arrive after 9am. This hike features several overlooks (one just 0.3 miles into the trail) and another more dramatic viewpoint via the summit (elevation 4773 ft) about a mile or so in, so you can go out to your comfort level. The full hike is a bit more intense, but worth it for the long range views. The colors tend to turn a bit earlier here, making Rough Ridge the perfect choice for those visiting the region in early fall.

  • Location: Milepost 302.8
  • Peak color: Late September – early October
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Graveyard Fields

Pretty fall foliage at Graveyard Field's Second Falls along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Western North Carolina

As one of the more popular destinations along the Parkway, the Graveyard Fields parking lot (although quite big) fills up fast on weekends. What sets this hike apart from others in the vicinity is that you get to see 2 pretty waterfalls via one hike. If you are limited on time (or energy) simply check out Second Falls. This easy walk comes in at under a half mile, is very colorful in the fall, and features a picturesque 60 foot waterfall.

If you time your visit just right, you will enjoy a picture-perfect fall scene. The colorful foliage of the season surrounding the falls creates a photo worthy site. Anyone up for a decent workout can continue on another 3 miles to Upper Falls. And, if you feel like bypassing a workout altogether, simply stop at the overlook and enjoy the mesmerizing views of the mountains. Unending red and golden hues draws fall photographers in droves.

Beautiful fall foliage at the Graveyard Fields overlook along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Western North Carolina
  • Location: Milepost 418.8
  • More info
  • Peak color: Early October

Note – while you are in the vicinity, you may want to check out Devil’s Courthouse. This short (0.5 mile) but very steep trek up to a stunning overlook is one of the best short hikes on the Parkway. While the view consists mainly of pines, there are some deciduous trees in the mix. An average fall color hike, but a true beauty all year-round. Located at Milepost 422.4.

Fall color at Devil's Courthouse on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Western North Carolina

Blue Ridge Parkway

Fall foliage along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Western North Carolina

“America’s Favorite Drive,” the Blue Ridge Parkway, is an adventure lover and fitness buff’s dream fall destination. First off, the drive is 469 miles, so you can cruise all day long if you please. Second, beautiful hikes and waterfalls can be found around every curve and turn. The Parkway is one of the country’s top tourist destinations, and expectantly, each autumn tourists arrive from around the country to enjoy one of America’s top leaf peeping destinations.

Whether you feel like taking a cruise, relaxing on an easy nature walk, hiking to an incredible summit, or simply enjoying a picnic in lovely natural surroundings, this drive will give you plenty of opportunities to rejuvenate far away from civilization. A few notable leaf peeping hikes include Crabtree Falls, Linville Falls, Craggy Pinnacle, and Devil’s Courthouse.

A view of an autumn drive taken on October 20, 2021 (Mt Pisgah picnic area at Milepost 408 to Devil’s Courthouse overlook at Milepost 422.4)

  • Location: Varies – check out the BRP map
  • Peak color: Varies by elevation (earlier in high elevation)
  • More info

Catawba Falls

Beautiful autumn scene along the Catawba Falls trail in Western North Carolina

One of the closest waterfalls to Asheville also happens to be one of the prettiest leaf peeping destinations in Western North Carolina. Catawba Falls, an enchanting 100 foot multi cascade waterfall, is a definite contender for best of WNC. A mere 30 minute drive and a moderate 1.5 mile out-and-back hike is all it takes to see this stunner. During the fall season, you will notice vibrant foliage lining the entirety of the hike. The way the vivid golden trees drape around the waterfall creates a particularly picturesque scene each autumn. It’s no surprise that Catawba is one of the top bucket list waterfalls (out of the 200+ options) available to new visitors.

  • Location: 3074 Catawba River Rd, Old Fort, NC
  • Peak color: Early November
  • More info

Omni Grove Park Inn

Beautiful fall foliage at the Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina

The most elegant place to stay in Asheville is the beautiful Omni Grove Park Inn. While most Omni properties are fabulous, the mesmerizing mountains surrounding this Asheville resort really place this property on a whole new level. Featuring an award-winning golf course and spa, wonderful restaurants, and the most gorgeous lobby, there is no better place to stay.

Enjoy a delicious breakfast buffet at the Blue Ridge Artisanal Buffet featuring floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Blue Ridge mountains. Grab a drink at the lobby bar and sit by the massive fireplace or enjoy a drink on the terrace as you gaze at the lovely fall scenes surrounding you. The property feels like it is in the middle of nowhere, although you are just minutes away from the excitement of one of the South’s favorite foodie cities.

  • Location: 290 Macon Ave, Asheville, NC
  • Peak color: Mid-late October
  • More info

North Carolina Arboretum

Gorgeous fall scene at the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville, North Carolina

The best place within the city limits to work up a sweat is the 434 acre North Carolina Arboretum. A bit pricey with a $16 parking fee, although there is no entrance fee. While the Bonsai Garden and Quilt Garden are both fantastic, what really sets this arboretum apart from others is the well-maintained hiking network, which includes 10 miles of trails. Here, you can get in a great workout in rustic natural surroundings, minus the long drive to the Parkway or Pisgah National Forest.

It’s never overly crowded here, and thus, hiking the serene trails comes as a welcome break. After a few days putting up with rowdy downtown crowds and traffic, you will definitely enjoy this natural oasis. During the fall season, the deciduous trees all dazzle in the most brilliant of hues. Overall, this is a beautiful place for an easy-moderate fall hiking experience.

  • Location: 100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way, Asheville, NC
  • Peak color: Late October
  • More info

Flat Rock

Hint of fall foliage along the Flat Rock hiking trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Western North Carolina

This quick loop hike along the Parkway features surprisingly spectacular views considering the short distance. With fewer crowds than surrounding destinations like Rough Ridge and Grandfather Mountain, Flat Rock is the perfect alternative for anyone who doesn’t want to hassle with crowds and parking. From the expansive flat overlook, you will enjoy picture-perfect views of the region including beautiful Grandfather Mountain. This hike is at its’ best during the colorful fall season. Time your visit just right to enjoy one of the more colorful autumn vistas along the Parkway. And bring with a picnic or book – this one is quiet enough to plan for some relaxation time.

  • Location: Milepost 308.3
  • Peak color: Mid October
  • More info

Dupont State Forest

Fall foliage at the Dupont State Forest in Western North Carolina

The Dupont State Forest is home to several incredible waterfalls. Two of these can be found along a wonderful trail known as Triple Falls. In addition to two towering 125 foot waterfalls (High Falls and Triple Falls), you will also come across the small but mighty Hooker Falls. A covered bridge and beautiful leaf peeping add to the ambiance during the fall season. This one gets pretty crowded, and thus, a weekday visit is your best bet to find parking. On an interesting side note, The Hunger Games filmed in the area!

  • Location: 89 Buck Forest Rd. Cedar Mountain, NC
  • Peak color: mid- Late October
  • More info

Asheville Botanical Garden

Autumn at the Asheville Botanical Gardens

This free, but lovely local botanical garden is a quiet place to escape the tourist traffic for a bit. Within the 10 acre space, you will find many plants native to the Southern Appalachian area. Although this garden can easily be walked in its’ entirety in less than a half hour, it’s a great place to relax, picnic, or bird watch. Fall is the most beautiful time to visit as the grounds are covered in a medley of seasonal hues. Parking and admission are both free, although donations are appreciated. Don’t forget to stop by the gift shop – lots of great birding books to pick up!

  • Location: 151 W T. Weaver Boulevard, Asheville, NC
  • Peak color: Late October-early November
  • More info

Tom’s Creek Falls

Pretty fall foliage along the Tom's Creek waterfall trail in Western North Carolina

This secluded waterfall hike is the perfect option for those who wish to avoid the crowds. This hike is really easy coming in at under a mile, yet sees little tourist traffic. It’s located a bit off-the-beaten path which likely keeps it a local gem. The waterfall stands 60 feet tall, but appears much larger. The lovely setting within the Pisgah National Forest will really allow you to get lost in nature, if only for an hour or so. On a sunny day, you may notice the rocks glistening in the sun (the area was once home to a mica mine and the mica is now embedded in the rocks). As with most other hikes in the vicinity, the forest truly comes alive during autumn. The addition of a brilliant palette of colors to the landscape makes this scenic hike even more appealing.

  • Location: 1250 Huskins Branch Rd, Marion, NC
  • Peak color: Early November
  • More info

Caesars Head State Park

Vivid fall foliage at Caesar's Head State Park in Upstate South Carolina

This large park, located in Upstate South Carolina, is most well known for the scenic escarpment after which the park is named. From atop this 3215 foot rock outcropping, the views are quite marvelous. Also, tourists come to enjoy the annual Hawk Migration (September through November). The best time (and also the busiest) to plan your visit is during leaf peeping season. During this time, you will have the opportunity to enjoy the regular amenities, along with the added bonus of immersing yourself in a forest filled with color.

Consider hiking the 2.2 mile trek to the state’s highest waterfall, 411 foot Raven Cliff. This one is a favorite of leaf peepers. Also, as one of the state’s prettiest parks, picnicking is top notch. Save a few bucks on dining out and plan for a full day out in nature.

  • Location:  8155 Geer Hwy, Cleveland, SC
  • Peak color: Mid-late October
  • More info

Downtown Asheville

Downtown Asheville, North Carolina in the fall

Although downtown Asheville leaves much to be desired, there are a handful of great coffeehouses, restaurants, galleries, and shops to explore. In addition to the regular hotspots, seasonal events line the calendar. During the fall months, you can look forward to a number of festive events including art fairs, farmer’s markets, the annual holiday parade, and food festivals. Art in the Park, taking place on Saturdays in October, is one of the best. Although this is a busy time to visit the city, the temps and humidity have finally begun to go down, leading to pleasant conditions for strolling around, dining alfresco, and enjoying the beautiful fall colors.