Appalachian Foliage: A Colorful Fall Show

John M. Dabbs

Johnson City, Tenn. — As the balmy summer transitions to crisp fall, the Appalachian Highlands of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia are preparing for one of the most anticipated natural displays of the year: the autumn foliage.

East Tennessee State University’s (ETSU) campus arborist Travis Watson said, "Colors move down in elevation as we progress through October." For those considering a picturesque drive through the mountains, Watson advises aiming for the second and third weeks of October.

For those unfamiliar, the transformation of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the fall is not just a regional attraction. The diverse elevations of the Blue Ridge range showcase prime fall colors for over a month, starting at the highest points in early October and trickling down to the lower regions by early November.

This pattern, coupled with factors such as plant variety, rainfall, and temperatures, can make the fall foliage enchanting and complex. Essentially, the color transformation depends on an interplay of these factors. For instance, the consistent rainfall over the summer, combined with cooler nights and sunny days entering fall, set the stage for a vibrant color display. Watson explained that the cooler, wet spring resulted in a slightly delayed onset of autumn colors, noting that in previous years, higher elevations might have been more colorful by now.

However, unpredictable weather can put a damper on nature's show. Watson warns enthusiasts to be wary of strong storms or high winds, which could diminish the foliage's grandeur. Fortunately, the outlook for tropical storms seems favorable for the region, with current storm systems unlikely to majorly impact the Appalachian Highlands despite an expected active hurricane season.

ETSU is taking a proactive role in keeping the public informed. The institution has committed to releasing a weekly fall color prediction every Thursday until the season ends.

But what instigates this change in leaf color? Meteorologist Ken Weathers (WATE TV) explains, "The combination of shorter daylight hours and colder nighttime temperatures slows the chlorophyll production, letting the leaves change colors." This year's peak color for the highest elevations in the Great Smoky Mountains is anticipated between October 8 and 15, followed by a cascade of color across Monroe, Blount, Sevier, Cocke, and Greene counties between October 15 and 22.

For the uninitiated, tens of thousands of nature lovers flock to the Blue Ridge Mountains spanning North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and North Georgia to experience this prolonged fall spectacle. Areas like Graveyard Fields, located off The Blue Ridge Parkway, are renowned for their early and vibrant color displays.

As for those eager to plan their leaf-watching getaways, here's a handy guide based on the current predictions for the 2023 Fall Foliage in the Blue Ridge Mountains:

  • September 25 - October 2: High elevations above 6,000 feet will start to show color, with locations like Graveyard Fields taking the lead.
  • October 2 - 9: Expect peak time for areas above 5,000 feet, encompassing landmarks such as Clingmans Dome and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
  • October 9 - 16: Elevations between 4,000 - 5,000 feet, including the Linn Cove Viaduct, will shine in autumnal glory.
  • October 16 - 23: Lower elevations, ranging from 3,000 - 4,000 feet, featuring places like Pisgah National Forest and towns like Boone, will be fully displayed.
  • October 23 - 30: Elevation points from 2,000 - 3,000 feet, including the city of Asheville and the Biltmore Estate, will showcase their colors.
  • October 30 - November 6: The remaining lower elevations will culminate the season with locations like Gatlinburg and Lake Lure taking the stage.

So, the Blue Ridge Mountains are rolling out their annual carpet of reds, oranges, and yellows for those yearning for a visual treat. Pack your cameras, plan your routes, and immerse yourself in nature's splendor this fall.

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John is a writer and journalist with a passion for travel, adventure, and the outdoors. You can find him at HTTP://

Bristol, TN

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