Best fall hikes near Asheville, NC: our top 10 favorite trails through autumn leaf color
Hike through western North Carolina's autumn beauty on our top 10 favorite trails to stunning views and the the best fall leaf color near Asheville.
Cool, crisp autumn breezes. Robin-egg blue skies that seem brighter – and bluer – than in any other season. The crunch of leaves underfoot, and their scent in the air. Wide-open, lofty vistas of the surrounding valleys painted in fall’s vibrant gold, orange and red leaf color. There’s just nothing like an autumn hike in western North Carolina’s rolling Appalachians.
Fall is our hands-down favorite hiking season, a celebration of the departure of summertime’s heat and the onset of crisp, cool days. Hike our top ten favorite autumn hikes near Asheville, exploring some of Western North Carolina’s most exceptional views from towering mountaintops, craggy mountainsides and a few of WNC’s famed, historic fire lookout towers. Take a hike on NC’s stretch of the Appalachian Trail, chase waterfalls framed in autumn’s colorful hues, or catch picturesque vistas from view-packed, grassy mountain balds.
Asheville fall leaf change: when to hike?
Because elevations vary widely across western North Carolina, peak foliage season will vary throughout the WNC mountains near Asheville. Fall leaf change will start with the highest-elevation mountain summits like Mount Mitchell in early autumn, will move down to lower elevations like Catawba Falls later in the season. Most of western NC sees peak leaf color in October. Check out this fantastic guide to fall color near Asheville for predictions of peak leaf color in WNC, and the science behind fall leaf color.
Our top 10 favorite fall leaf hikes in western NC
Don’t forget to pack water, hiking gear essentials and multiple layers: WNC’s mountain summits can be downright cold in autumn, even on a warm Asheville fall day. Explore each trail’s info page to view detailed trail info, interactive trail maps, driving directions to the trailhead and our favorite photos from each hike. And when you capture your favorite fall shots, don’t forget to tag your photos with #ashevilletrails on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter… we’d love to see them!
SHINING ROCK WILDERNESS IN FALL
Hike mile after rolling mile through autumn’s beauty on the Art Loeb Trail, one of western NC’s most scenic trails. The trail climbs from the Blue Ridge Parkway, summiting the view-packed balds at Black Balsam Knob and Tennent Mountain, clad in golden fall grasses. Then summit the brilliant, white, quartz-crusted summit of Shining Rock Mountain, grabbing exceptional views of the autumn-hued surrounding balds.
FALL WATERFALL HIKE OFF THE BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY
Chase waterfalls at Graveyard Fields in fall for a chance to catch views of these ultra-popular falls framed in stunning fall leaf color. Autumn’s hues descend early in the Graveyard Fields valley – so add this hike to the early-fall bucket list.
AUTUMN HIKES ON THE BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY
Hike through fragile, rare mountain flora and over craggy, angular rock outcrops on the Tanawha Trail at Rough Ridge, exploring Grandfather Mountain’s middle elevations. This Rough Ridge hike catches gorgeous views of the surrounding landscape, swathed in vibrant leaf color, in early autumn.
BREATHTAKING FALL VIEWS NEAR HIGHLANDS
Hike a moderate two-miler near Highlands, NC, scaling to view after exceptional view from the sheer-sided, lofty Whiteside Mountain summit. It’s a beautiful hike in any season, but a seasonal right of passage in autumn – so plan for an early weekday hike if crowd avoidance is a priority. Crowded or not, the views from this trail are simply unforgettable.
LOFTY FALL VIEWS NEAR THE NC BORDER
Hike this oddly named peak, located just off the Appalachian Trail near Albert Mountain, to stunning long-range views and abundant autumn leaf color. Views from the mountain’s towering, jagged rock outcrops stretch far and wide, with Georgia’s Black Rock Mountain on the far horizon.
ROAN HIGHLANDS IN FALL
Hike the longest continuous stretch of grassy bald mountains in the Appalachians, following the Appalachian Trail through golden fall grasslands on Round Bald, Jane Bald and Grassy Ridge Bald in the Roan Highlands. Views from this bald mountain trio are nearly continuous, exceptional 360-degree panoramas. It’s one of our favorite western North Carolina hikes in any season – but somehow even more magical in autumn’s golden hues.
PANORAMIC VIEWS FROM A KNOBBY CRAG
An extension of the view-studded Plott Balsam Range, this craggy stub of towering rock near Sylva, NC offers exceptional views from its summit. Hike Pinnacle Park to The Pinnacle, and soak in some sublime autumn views from its knobby summit.
HIGH-ELEVATION VIEWS NEAR BOONE, NC
Scale to the rocky, lofty summit of Calloway Peak, the highest point on Grandfather Mountain’s imposing ridgeline. Views from the Grandfather summit are vast and sweeping, stretching over nearby Rough Ridge and Beacon Heights to mile after mile of western NC mountain beauty.
AUTUMN ADVENTURE ON THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL
Hike the Appalachian Trail from Wayah Gap, climbing through a hardwood forest bathed in fall’s showy golden colors. Then summit the grassy, tree-barren summit of Siler’s Bald, catching extensive views of the surrounding peaks in the Nantahala National Forest speckled in reds, golds, and greens.
WHAT TO PACK?
Ready to hit the trail, but wondering what to pack? Our hiking gear list details our favorite, trail-tested hiking gear that we’ve used – and loved – over thousands of miles on the trails throughout the South. From backpacks to safety gear (and a few extras thrown in for fun), our gear list offers the essentials to help inspire your own packing list.
Bonus adventures: more great fall leaf hikes near Asheville
ACROSS THE NORTH CAROLINA BORDER
It’s time for an autumn road trip! Chase more fall adventures on our favorite fall hikes in North Georgia, scaling to beautiful views on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia and hiking to some of Georgia’s best waterfalls framed in autumn’s colorful show.
Fall hiking safety
Autumn coincides with hunting seasons in some western North Carolina counties and areas. Hike safely: follow these guidelines for safe hunting season hiking.
Let’s hit the trail, Asheville! #ashevilletrails
Western North Carolina's beauty is simply stunning. From Asheville's urban biking and running trails to the curvy meanders of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and from the towering heights of Mount Mitchell to the shady, cool, waterfall-filled valleys of the Pisgah National Forest, there's a whole lot of outdoor beauty to be seen in Western NC.
Snap a selfie from a hike to your favorite mountain summit, a group shot of your favorite hiking buddies, or a morning sunrise from your trail run off the Blue Ridge Parkway... we'd love to see your adventures! Share your photos with us! Tag them #ashevilletrails on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. We'll share our favorites, as well as our own favorite shots!