Where to See Fall Foliage in North Carolina

Grandfather Mountain features an explosion of color in the fall
Grandfather Mountain features an explosion of color in the fall | © Sean Pavone / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Mike Title
8 October 2020

Fall in North Carolina is picturesque, with the days becoming shorter, the nights growing colder and the trees adopting new, fiery colors. Whether you’re in the mountains or valleys, this spectacle arrives as early as September and delights right up until November. Peak time can happen at any point in that period, and when it does, the comfort factor really hits home. Culture Trip has chosen some of our favorite places to appreciate the state’s natural splendor.

Chimney Rock State Park

Hiking Trail, Natural Feature, Park
Map View
Entrance road at Chimney Rock State Park, NC, USA
© Mark Castiglia / Alamy Stock Photo

For those who like to hike, Chimney Rock State Park – less than 90mi (145km) southwest of Sugar Mountain – has a range of trails, varying from child-friendly and moderate to difficult. The Hickory Nut Falls Trail is one of the most popular, a 1.4mi (2.3km) round-trip path with majestic waterfalls. During fall, the oak and hickory trees deliver warming colors as the wildlife scuttles and swoops around you. It’s a great place to appreciate autumn and get active.

Grandfather Mountain

Natural Feature
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The nearly 6,000ft (1,829m) Grandfather Mountain is 300m years old, with some of the rock formations dating back 1.2bn years, and features incredible biodiversity and beautiful scenery. While most of it is wild, there is an admission fee to explore the area, including a unique feature. It’s home to a swinging bridge that hangs 1mi (1.6km) above sea level and offers perfect, if not terrifying, vistas – from the orange leaves of the beech trees to deep red oaks.

Table Rock

Natural Feature
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Nearly 4,000ft (1,219m) above sea level in the Pisgah National Forest in eastern North Carolina is Table Rock, offering glorious sunsets and fantastic views of the vibrant fall colors. By no means is getting here an easy feat – it’s a peak favored by seasoned rock climbers who travel from afar to take it on. Carolina hemlocks, pines and hardwoods line this remarkable trail. At the top, you’ll enjoy breathtaking views, but you need to watch out for the sheer drops and stand way back from the edge.

Little Switzerland

Natural Feature
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Sign marking the tiny hamlet of Little Switzerland, North Carolina.
© Richard Ellis / Alamy Stock Photo

The picturesque town of Little Switzerland, hidden away on the Blue Ridge Parkway, has incredible views of Mount Mitchell, Table Rock and Grandfather Mountain. It’s a great choice if you don’t want to be too far away from civilization, as this remote town is really on the cusp of it. It’s a charming place that revels in its rural, mountain lifestyle and is known for its chalets, square dancing and mines to explore. There are many places to stay so that you can continue to appreciate this time at a different pace.

Sugar Mountain

Natural Feature
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For those who want something more relaxing, there is an alternative way to witness the beauty of the ever-changing seasons. Within a 3.5-hour drive northeast of Table Rock, you’ll find Sugar Mountain, a ski resort with a chair lift that can effortlessly take you to the top. On the slow ride up, the hemlocks, birches and oaks will drift by as you dangle dreamily in the golden light of autumn. From here, you can take in some of the most awe-inspiring scenes in the entire region – they will stay with you well into winter.

Uwharrie National Forest

Natural Feature
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Just an hour’s drive east of Charlotte, the Uwharrie National Forest is a place to embrace fall and take one of the region’s popular hikes. The Badin Lake Trail is an easy 6mi (10km) loop that takes in lots of waterside action before you climb into the hills among the dry oaks and longleaf pine trees. These forests are not only populated by hikers but also by local legends, with ghost stories, UFO sightings and the spotting of Bigfoot equally part of the landscape.

These recommendations were updated on October 8, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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