Fall Leaf Color Road Trip In Maggie Valley, North Carolina
The BEST Road Trip Itinerary
Visit Maggie Valley, North Carolina! Fall foliage colors in and around the area produce some of the most beautiful views you’ll see anywhere in the world, so get ready to make plans to head toward Western North Carolina this Fall.
Update for 2019: Factoring in many of the expected variables, the Farmers’ Almanac predicts that in the regions of North Carolina that are more aligned with the mountain ranges, peak fall color dates should occur between October 12th and October 28th, 2019.
Undoubtedly, the mountains are beautiful every season of the year, but there’s something very special about Maggie Valley when it’s surrounded by fall’s cool and crisp air. The annual color show of vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows make Maggie Valley one of the best places to participate in annual leaf peeper fun.
Only Mother Nature truly knows when the prime fall color viewing time begins, but I’m here to help you out as much as I can! Read on to discover the predicted foliage forecast for Maggie Valley with potential peak color dates.
As a local, I know Maggie Valley well. For more information on fun things to see and do any time of the year, check out my recent blog post 48 Hours in Maggie Valley: 16 Must See Things to Do.
Blue Ridge Parkway
Spotty color changes begin at elevations above 6,000 feet during the last week of September. From downtown Maggie Valley, you can literally be on the Blue Ridge Parkway in about ten minutes, so taking a leisurely drive on the famous BRP is a good place to start.
From the Maggie Valley parkway entrance, you can drive toward Cherokee and stop at any number of nice overlooks, but the altitude and views aren’t quite as remarkable as heading in the opposite direction toward Asheville.
If you choose the Asheville option, you’ll travel through the highest elevation point on the parkway and enjoy numerous scenic overlooks that offer long-distance views, all dappled in delightful Fall color.
Pro Tip: Use the Blue Ridge Parkway Guide for more information and pre-plan interesting stops along the way.
This one is definitely a favorite! If you prefer a remote, off the beaten path location, head to Cataloochee Valley in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Cataloochee Valley is famous for its historic structures and is a much sought-after location for elk viewing.
Cataloochee Valley’s elevation is 2,600 feet, so fall color generally peaks in mid to late October. For a real treat, the elk are in the midst of rut, the annual mating season for these stately animals.
During rut, male elk make bugling calls to challenge other bulls and attract female elk. Amazingly, bull elk bugling calls may be heard more than a mile away. Wow!
Rut occurs from mid-September to mid-October so it’s the perfect time to catch the leaf peeper views as well as hear the mighty bugle sounds.
Pro Tip: Be sure to check out the historic buildings in Cataloochee Valley as they make for memorable photo opportunities!
When I first moved to Maggie Valley, I heard many locals talking about The Swag. Back then, I envisioned something else entirely than what The Swag actually is.
The Swag is a remote mountain top Inn and restaurant, nestled on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and at 5,000 feet in elevation, it sits between several peaks over 6,000 feet tall. The best leaf color here should be around the first to second week of October.
There are two routes to get to The Swag, the first being the most direct – booking reservations for an overnight stay or booking one of their awesome picnic lunches. With either of these options you will gain access to their gate and entry road that takes visitors up to The Swag itself.
The Swag can also be accessed via the Cataloochee Divide and Hemphill Bald trails, which will take you right by The Swag. That’s how I would get there!
Pro Tip: For a budget friendly option, skip an overnight stay and opt for picnic lunch reservations instead. You’ll enjoy a gourmet lunch served at a beautiful mountain overlook with outstanding high elevation views. Book early so you aren’t disappointed!
When colors are at their peak in mid to late October, there’s nothing quite like a mountain top horseback ride in the Smoky Mountains during the fall. If you fancy a leisurely mountain-top ride atop a gentle horse, Cataloochee Ranch is the place to be!
Located at the top of Fie Top Road in Maggie Valley, the Ranch is located right next to the Cataloochee Ski Area. At the Ranch, visitors enjoy lodging, cabins, a restaurant, guided horseback riding, and many other outdoor activity opportunities.
Choose from a high elevation horseback ride over Hemphill Bald, which provides stunning views, especially in the Fall when colors are peaking.
Pro Tip: Advance reservations required for all horseback rides. Minimum age limit: 8 years old; Minimum weight limit: 55 lbs.; Maximum weight limit: 225 lbs. Check out Ranch ride information here.
Purchase Knob, part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is a 5,000-foot-tall bald near Maggie Valley that provides stunning 360-degree long distance views from the Science Center located at the top. Peak views are typically early to mid October.
This is a beloved hike for many of my local Maggie Valley friends and they always return from hiking to Purchase Knob raving about how great it is! During the fall, the views of Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the west, and the Balsam Mountains to the east are the best they can be.
Pro Tip: While the gate from Hemphill Rd./Purchase Rd. is sometimes open, you should not drive further up the road unless you make arrangements with the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center. The best option is to park at the pull-off areas near the gate and walk up.
Drive Heintooga Round Bottom Road
For a delightful Great Smoky Mountains National Park scenic side trip, drive to Balsam Mountain via Heintooga Ridge Road, which begins at Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 458.2, just 11 miles from the southern end of the Parkway. This will take you to Heintooga Round Bottom Road, where you can begin a 24-mile perfect road less traveled scenic mountain drive from the Maggie Valley area to Cherokee, North Carolina.
I drove this route just a few months ago and loved it! Find more information about the entire drive on my blog post here. Since this road starts at over 5,000 feet and drops in elevation until reaching Cherokee, NC, peak leaf color times will vary from very early to late October.
Pro Tip: Plan your drive for mid October because Heintooga Ridge Road is typically open from late May through October, but could close due to weather events before or after those dates.
If you are traveling through other East Coast states, you can find awesome fall color in these road trip destinations too!
Ready to Go?
Experiencing any one of these leaf peeper options will lead to great fall color viewing opportunities in and around the Maggie Valley, North Carolina area. Pack up the kids, get in the car and go!
Are you planning a trip to Maggie Valley or the surrounding area this Fall? Please share your experience in a comment below.
If winter travel is more your style, Maggie Valley in the winter is simply spectacular and offers a fun and unique place to spend your winter holidays. If skiing is on your bucket list, Cataloochee Ski Area is known as one of the six best ski area in North Carolina. Come visit!
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