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Scenic drives on North Carolina’s national forests show off fall foliage

Jane Knowlton
Office of Communication, U.S. Forest Service

Wayah Fire Tower As the days turn cooler, the perennial treat of fall’s panorama of spectacular colors offers many opportunities to enjoy the pageantry on the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests in North Carolina.

The Web pages at Fall Foliage in Western North Carolina - 2013 showcase the forests’ scenic drives and spectacular places and lists the variety of trees and their fall colors for visitors to enjoy. The pages also offer photos of forest scenery and provide directions to enjoy the kaleidoscope of leaf colors North Carolina has to offer.

“Western North Carolina is such a popular place to visit we actually have two peak seasons for visitation in the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests,” said Stevin Westcott, public affairs officer for the National Forests in North Carolina. “After summer season peaks, we receive a second wave of visitation in the autumn as leaf-peepers migrate to the mountains to marvel at the wondrous, colorful displays of the Blue Ridge Mountains.”

Prospective visitors and fall leaves enthusiasts can use the Web pages to track the progression of fall’s colorful display in western North Carolina wilderness areas via two webcams normally used by the Forest Service to monitor air quality. The cameras are focused on the Cold Mountain, Shining Rock Wilderness and the Joyce Kilmer Wilderness Area.

The Web pages provide descriptions of the types of mountain trees that visitors will see during peak season at high, middle and low elevations. For example, the Cherohala Skyway, a National Scenic Byway in Graham County, N.C., enables travelers to enjoy a variety of colorful, high-elevation trees in late September.

Prominent trees in the South that turn brilliant colors include tulip poplar (yellow), hickory species (red), flowering dogwood (red), black gum (scarlet) and numerous oaks (reds, yellow, scarlet). Evergreen trees such as pitch pine, as well as the abundant great rhododendron, provide a green backdrop interspersed with the colorful trees.

Santeetlah Lake Where do all the colors come out? When temperatures cool in autumn, chlorophyll starts to degrade allowing the hidden pigments of deciduous trees to provide a rich, colorful display. This rich display typically starts at the highest elevation in late September and early October, gradually progressing to the lowest elevation by late October and early November.

Remember, whether in a vehicle, riding a bike or taking a hike, autumn is always a great time to visit your national forests and grasslands. Throughout the country, you can view the brilliant red, orange and yellow leaves as each region beckons with a different pallet of vibrant colors.

The U.S. Forest Service’s Fall Colors Hotline at 1-800-354-4595 offers visitors helpful information for trip planning. The hotline provides audio updates on the best places, dates and routes to take for peak viewing of fall colors on national forests.