Fall Foliage in The High Country
By Lydia Noonan
Color Change Explained and Best Viewing Areas
Fall is here in The High Country! This region is famous for is its beautiful fall foliage and changing of the leaves. If you have lived in the area or travel here during peak season often, you may have noticed the delay in the expected vibrant color change. It seems like everyone has their own opinion on why the colorful season experienced a slow start. But what are the facts?
What’s the science behind leaves changing?
A very necessary photosynthetic pigment called chlorophyll is responsible for the green coloring of leaves. In the fall, when the days become shorter and the nights get colder, chlorophyll production begins to cease which allows for carotenoid, the pigment that causes the yellow and orange coloring, to become visible in the leaves. Red and purple colors are caused by anthocyanins, a pigment that is dependent on the sugars stored in the leaves. Abundant sunlight leads to brighter reds.
The vibrancy and color of leaves is highly dependent on weather conditions year round. The best conditions for beautiful fall foliage is a growing season beforehand filled with plenty of moisture, and an autumn with warm, sunny days, and cool nights. Droughts during the growing season or heavy precipitation in autumn cause leaves to drop off trees before developing color. The High Country was experiencing a moderate to severe drought season during early summer months up until recent weeks, this explains why we were seeing some of the leaves fall before changing colors. During recent days with the return of some moisture, we have been seeing beautiful leaves of all colors with many green trees at the very brink of turning. This is great news, so plan your trips accordingly! There is still plenty of leaf season left!
Here are some great places to experience the colors in the upcoming weeks all around us:
Day Hike: Flat Rock Trail is an easy 0.7 mile trail with a lovely overlook. It is located near Linville, NC and will offer beautiful views of the fall foliage.
Day Hike: Elk Knob Summit trail is a 3.8 mile moderately rated out and back with tons a views along the way. From the peak, you will be able to see the fall colors in action and view some of the tallest mountains in the region in the distance. It is located in Elk Knob State Park which has access to picnic tables and grills, as well as campsites that can be reserved online.
Day Hike: Daniel Boone Scout Trail to Calloway Peak is a 7 mile loop that takes you to Calloway Peak, the tallest point on Grandfather Mountain. The higher elevation of this hike will allow you to experience more colors sooner than lower elevation hikes. You will experience 2,000 feet of elevation gain on this difficult rated hike.
Overlook: Want to enjoy the colors from the comfort of your car? Drive to mile 303.6 of the parkway to the Wilson Creek Valley Overlook and see them first hand. Keep driving a few miles and you’ll get to experience the iconic Linn Cove Viaduct.
Up for a longer trip? Backpacking is a great way to travel through different areas and chase the peak color change.
Safe travels to the High Country and don’t forget to stop by the Footslogger shops in Blowing Rock or Boone to get trail advice, gear up, and say hello!