For sightseeing purposes, we can divide western North Carolina into four areas: Asheville, with a revitalized downtown and hot dining, music and art scenes; the NC portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park; the High Country with Blowing Rock, Boone, Banner Elk and the highest elevations with the tallest mountain (Mt. Mitchell) in eastern America; the Southern mountains, including areas to the south and west of Asheville, such as Hendersonville, Brevard and the beautiful enclaves of Lake Toxaway, Cashiers and Highlands.
The majestic peaks, meadows and valleys of the Appalachian, Blue Ridge and Great Smoky mountains epitomize the western corner of NC. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, craft centers, Asheville’s eclectic and sophisticated atmosphere, the awesome Biltmore Estate and the Blue Ridge Parkway are the area’s main draws providing many opportunities for shopping, sports or for simply taking in the views.
Attractions like the Blue Ridge Parksway offer travelers an unparalleled view of fall foliage. The mountains of NC Range in elevation from 6,684 feet at Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi, to 2,200 feel in some valleys.
Because the North Carolina mountains are home to a unique topography and countless tree and plant varieties, fall color typically begins in early October and lasts for as long as six weeks. Each tree and plant variety offers unique color in leaves, flowers and berries. These colors change at different times at different elevations, producing stunning reds, golds, yellows and oranges, complemented by wildflowers like the white and blue asters and the royal purple ironweed.
Peak season for hotels is October, prime color time, and almost every hotel in the area is booked, so make sure that you make your reservations as far ahead as possible. Hotels, motels and Bed and Breakfasts usually range between $80 and $270 for a standard double room, plus service charge and tax.
If you only have three days for your trip, plan to stay in or around Asheville, where you can visit the Biltmore Estate, the Thomas Wolfe Memorial or explore the hip neighborhoods with their unique shops, a myriad of restaurants, coffee houses, art galleries, museums and boutiques. A nice way to explore the different high spots is the Asheville Historic Trolley Tour.
From Asheville, you can make day trips to the Southern Mountains close by, as well as drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway, north to Mt. Mitchell, or south to Cherokee; or you can reach the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, which is only 55 miles from Asheville via I-40 and US 19 or about 90 miles via the Blue Ridge Parkway.
If you have more time, you can expand your exploration of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park or you can explore the High Country, spending two nights in Boone or Blowing Rock.
Driving through the mountains in the fall season is a joy, with their breathtaking beauty. The Blue Ridge Mountains offer in the distance the soft blue silhouette for which they are so well known. With the veil of haze that gives its name to the Great Smoky Mountains, they are considered to be the most beautiful part of the State. The Smokies are one of the most biologically rich spots on earth and a naturalist’s paradise. The National Park was established in 1934, ensuring that this magnificent natural area with its wild beauty is preserved forever. It is the most visited National Park in the country, with 10 million visitors a year.
In our mountains, autumn’s hues are slowly transformed into a celebration of light and brilliance. Feast your eyes and your soul with this seasonal wonder that awaits you around every corner, where you can leave your worries behind and get lost in this colorful world that surrounds you, a place where nature and mankind can live in harmony.
For more information on how to enjoy the North Carolina mountains when they are at their peak, check out www.ncnatural.com or www.visitnc.com.
Celia McGuire is the former owner of Global Tours and Travel, now retired, and she is enjoying travels near and far.