Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

Kiss of Autumn

Posted September 22, 2009

It is the kiss of autumn. Day one and I’m already chomping at the bit. I can’t wait to head for the hills and celebrate the fabulous fall colors of North Carolina. With all the rain we’ve had out west some of the biological experts say we may not have as great a display of foliage this year as we enjoyed in 2008. I am always skeptical of those forecasts. I’ve always been able to find some wonderful colors. North Carolina has such a rich diversity of hardwoods that you can savor the transformation of summer to fall over several weeks as the colors work their way down the mountains. I fully anticipate great colors next week when I visit the Roan Highlands including Big Yellow Mountain at 5,540 feet. Already around here we see the dogwood leaves turning.

I interviewed Dodie Stephens of the Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau this morning and she anticipates another grand display of colors this fall. With the economy on the rebound many hotels, B&Bs, resorts and restaurants are hoping for a thick flock of fall tourists.

My father described the mountains this time of year as “a Persian rug of colors” and delighted in multiple car trips and vigorous hikes. He never grew tired of watching the hardwood trees change into their vibrant autumnal wardrobe. However, he worried that NC natives might take the beauty for granted: “Those of us whose happy fate it is to live in this section are apt to become tepid in our appreciation and enjoyment of the beauties of nature that surround us.” My father was an artist, newspaper columnist and Morganton merchant. His watercolor “Pageant of Color” is attached to this blog. You can read more about his work and love of the mountains in my book Blue Ridge Reunion.

People frequently ask me to recommend fall color routes. I’ve come up with five new ones this year. What about you? What are your favorite autumn roads? Please share.

Here are my Top Five Fall Foliage Drives for 2009:

1. Waterfall Byway from US 64 and NC 215 intersection near Rosman to Murphy. You will encounter 98 miles of grand views of waterfalls and autumn leaves.

2. Blue Ridge Parkway from Blowing Rock to Grandfather Mountain.

3. Cherohala Skyway outside Robbinsville.

4. Flat Rock Scenic Byway near Hendersonville.

5. Highway 9 from Montreat through Black Mountain onto Chimney Rock and Lake Lure.


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  • racinjunki Sep 23, 2009

    Don't remember where I heard it, but I heard some scientist saying last year that the fall colors have more to do with how much sunlight the trees are getting. Which makes more sense to me.

  • thinknc Sep 22, 2009

    I'm so ready for fall I cut the last row of corn Sunday afternoon and bundled the stalks for decoration for the yard. No pumpkins purchased yet, though. Favorite fall drives include the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Doughton Park area, Sims Pond--Price Park--Grandfather Mtn. stretch, and the area around Mabry Mill, Va. Boating on Kerr Lake is especially beautiful when the leaves change, as you get the colors reflected in the water, too.

  • LMRA Sep 22, 2009

    My favorite leaf viewing spot is the NY/Vermont boarder. When I was in college, my parents would come every Parent's Weekend (which was usually somewhere around Columbus Day) and we'd drive along old Route 7 and stop at all the local apple farms, the little antique shops and the roadside diners. It would give us the chance to get away from campus, spend some time together and enjoy the Fall colors.

  • wdwbmw Sep 22, 2009

    The prettiest fall color I have ever seen was years ago when I was a student at Appalachian State. The leaf color was incredible that year and on one particular morning, we awoke to the prettiest sight I have ever seen. There had been frost during the night and, before the sun melted it, those of us with (aarg!) 8 o'clock classes were treated to mountainsides with the early morning sun shining on them that looked as if those gorgeous leaves had been painted with diamonds. Wow, what a treat. So pretty that I remember it these many years later.

  • fishnett5977 Sep 22, 2009

    One of the prettiest sites I've seen has been were NC 27/27(?I think) crosses Badin Lake. It is really beautiful there and looking up Morrow Mountain when the colors change! I even like to ride up I-40 from Benson to Raleigh - where the land goes from flat to hilly, the colors on the hillsides make me think of being in the Piedmont around Greensboro. Even here at home, the colors can be beautiful. And the scenery going down to the coast is great too!

  • lynneslaughter Sep 22, 2009

    Bill, your number 2 choice is my #1. I love to go on the parkway. Blowing rock is a great little town and I try to go to thier winterfest when I can. Grandfather Mountain is a good spot. We often leave there and head for Linville Falls.

  • 2thebeach Sep 22, 2009

    I love the mountains and the fall views up there, but I don't get to go too often. We get pretty colors in the piedmont, too, though. I love the ride west crossing Jordan Lake on 64 when the sun hits that stand of trees edging the lake. Those colors can be as vibrant as those in the mountains.

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Bill Leslie