Fall is my favorite season. I realize coming from a North Carolinian that’s about as unique as saying “I prefer sweet tea,” but it’s true nonetheless. As I round the corner on three months living outside of the Old North State, the change in seasons has prompted me to reflect on exactly why I and so many others who grew up in North Carolina love fall.
I was hoping that in my reflection I eventually would stumble upon a seasonal epiphany — some unique insight that would reveal the exact nature of the autumnal affections of North Carolinians. Other than some rather obvious weather-related observations, the moment of enlightenment never came — my thoughts just kept returning to the same fall activities that could be readily listed by nearly anyone who has called North Carolina home.
I began to grow frustrated. Why in my pursuit of some deeper insight did I keep coming back to the clichés?
Then it hit me. The clichés are what make fall in North Carolina so special. As the summer vacation season draws to a close, the temperature drops, the leaves change colors and we retreat ever so slightly into North Carolina’s familiar comforts before the (relatively speaking) in hospitality of winter. Sure, embracing clichés runs against current generational ideals of rejecting the common in the name of uniqueness, but ultimately most clichés are cliché for a reason.
With that in mind (as well as a not-so-unsubstantial nostalgia for my favorite season in my home state), here are a few of my personal favorite, totally cliché North Carolina fall activity recommendations.
1. Take in the Fall Colors on the Blue Ridge Parkway
More specifically head to the Blue Ridge Parkway outside of Blowing Rock. Things can vary a bit with weather but the colors are usually best during mid-October. Take the Parkway South and drive over the Linn Cove Viaduct for my personal favorite view in the entire state. Do one of the nearby hikes. If you don’t feel like expending much energy the half-mile Beacon Heights trail offers great views for little effort. If you want a good, moderate hike with great views, park at the Linn Cove Visitor Center and hike theTanawah Trail to the Rough Ridge (~4.5 miles round trip). But if you really want to go all out, park at the Boone Fork lot off the Parkway, and make your way to the Cragway Trail via the Tanawah and Nuwati Trails. The rigorous mile long ascent offers some spectacular views. The round trip to Calloway Peak comes out to about seven miles and involves some ladder climbing near the end, but if you’re physically capable it’s worth the effort.
2. Drink (Local) Pumpkin Beer
Look, Pumpkin Beer finding its way onto shelves in June and July is unequivocally awful, but from mid-September through Thanksgiving Pumpkin Beer is absolutely glorious. While pumpkin beer is hardly unique to North Carolina, given the state’s extremely strong craft beer culture why settle for imports from other states? This list from VisitNC offers some great recommendations — Big Boss’s Harvest Time is probably the signature NC pumpkin beer. I’d also throw in a plug for the Cottonwood Pumpkin brewed by Foothills in Winston-Salem, which has a great but not overwhelming pumpkin flavor and is light enough so that you can knock back a couple without feeling overfilled.
3. Tailgate a College Football Game
North Carolina’s football teams are consistently mediocre. The state’s tailgating scene is admittedly subpar. Who cares. The best part of tailgating isn’t football anyways — it’s spending a crisp fall afternoon sharing with friends, drinking afternoon beers, and grilling out. NC State and ECU have the best tailgating setups though Wake Forest has a underrated tailgating scene. UNC has probably the worst setup but Kenan Stadium itself is beautiful and you can always head over to Top of the Hill on Franklin Street postgame.