There are few places (if any) that are more perfect to view gorgeous fall leaves than the North Carolina Smoky Mountains. Haywood County is an especially awesome area to check out the changing of the leaves for many reasons.
For starters, 18 of the mountain peaks soar to elevations of over 6,000 feet – the most of any county east of the Mississippi River. That means Haywood offers some of the most incredible, long range views of the fall color. And because of the high elevation, the county has some of the first changes of color in the region.
To help plan your trip around the peak fall color, the Biology Department at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC has released a Fall Color Map for Western North Carolina. One of the most common questions we get from Fall “leaf-peepers” is: “When and where can I experience the best peak fall leaves?” Well, the answer to that depends on where exactly you are located and also on how the weather conditions are favoring. This map is a great guide to reference and we encourage you to follow the link to learn more.
Conceived by Howard Neufeld and Michael Denslow
Map Constructed by Michael Denslow
If that isn’t enough to make you pack your bags and head to Haywood County, then maybe a list of seven sensational sites to see the leaves change will entice you. And here is a little secret – they are ALL right here in Haywood County!
1. Waterrock Knob Overlook – Milepost 451.2 on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Not only does this overlook boast 360 views from its parking area that sits at almost 6,000 feet in elevation, you’ll find an NPS visitor center, restroom facilities, and several picnic areas. This makes it the perfect spot to not only take in incredible fall leaves but also offers a chance to relax for a bit and enjoy a picnic lunch. It also offers a fantastic hiking opportunity – a 1.2 mile moderate hike will take you to the summit for even more spectacular autumn views.
2. Max Patch
Located just off of Interstate 40 West before you cross into Tennessee, Max Patch is another great option for 360 views, but this time in a more remote area. Max Patch is a 4,600 foot mountain bald that offers acres of wide open clearings with offer amazing, unobstructed views of surrounding fall color. Several hikes can be accessed from here, including a popular section of the Appalachian Trail. Take Exit 7 at Harmon’s Den and turn right onto Cold Spring Rd. A six mile drive up a beautiful winding road will bring you to the Max Patch parking area. Park and enjoy!
Check out this incredible time lapse video we shot at Max Patch!
Yeah, we squeezed two places into the #3 spot, but whether you check out one or both, each lake boasts beautiful, easily accessible fall scenery at a lower elevation.
Lake Junaluska, located in the heart of Haywood County between Clyde, Waynesville, and Maggie Valley, offers amazing fall views courtesy of its surrounding mountains. Take in the beauty with a leisurely stroll around lake on a paved 2.6 mile trail that is also perfect for riding bikes, walking the dog, or taking a jog. Other activities includes fishing, recreational paddling, mini-golf and more. You can also stay the night with several accommodation options provided by the Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center.
Next, head towards Canton and take Hwy 215 South towards the Blue Ridge Parkway. You’ll pass right through the peaceful area of Lake Logan, but make sure you pull over to take a photo and explore. Lake Logan Episcopal Center offers unique “summer camp” style cabins and cottages to stay in throughout the lake and enjoy fall color. Recreational opportunities also include fishing, paddling, and even a ropes course that is perfect for groups. Both lakes are beautifully highlighted by the season, so make sure you check them out.
4. Devils Courthouse Overlook and Hiking Area – Milepost 422.4 on the Blue Ridge Parkway
You can’t miss this sinister-looking rock formation that offers incredible falls views from both its parking area and the summit. Said to have gotten its name from the Cherokee legend of the slant-eyed giant Judaculla, who is said to reside within a cave located on the mountain, this eerie landmark is not to be missed. Photo opportunities at the parking area offer amazing views of the massive cliff but a short 1/2 mile (yet strenuous) hike to the top will give you fall color views of four different states – North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee.
Some of the best fall experiences can often be found in the heart of charming downtown districts. Haywood County’s four towns of Waynesville, Maggie Valley, Canton, and Clyde offer fun fall time activities and scenery for everyone. Festivals, entertainment, delicious restaurants, local shopping and more can be enjoyed amidst a fantastic fall decor display in each town. And don’t forget to look up – the surrounding beauty of the colorful mountains is just icing on the cake.
6. Graveyard Fields Overlook and Hiking Area – Milepost 418.8 on the Blue Ridge Parkway
One of the most popular spots to view fall leaves on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Graveyard Fields offers plenty of opportunities to take in the beauty of the season. Rushing waterfalls and cool, clear streams are a favorite highlight along this moderate 3.2 mile hiking trail. The unique layout of this trail offers the feeling of being smack dab in the middle of all the fall time beauty. Here’s a tip – go early or during the week; the parking area can often be crowded, but it is well worth waiting for a parking spot.
No Fall trip to Haywood County is complete without an adventure to see the wild elk of Cataloochee Valley. From Hwy 276, take Cove Creek Rd into the remote area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park known as Cataloochee Valley. The elk roam wild throughout the valley (most noticeable at dawn and dusk), and fall signals the height of their rut season. Bull elks can often be heard “bugling” to signal their dominance over other bulls and is a highlight in itself. Besides the wild elk, the valley is home to several historic homesteads that include houses, churches, and even a school house. This serene valley is especially enjoyable in the fall as the surrounding trees and mountains come alive with golden color. If you go to see the elk, though, don’t forget to catch up on your elk watching etiquette.
These are just seven of many amazing spots to view fall leaves in Haywood County. There are dozens of scenic overlooks, miles of hiking trails, and tons of other fun spots from high elevations to low that you can enjoy the spectacular color of fall leaves. Gives us a call at 800-334-9036 or stop by the Haywood County Visitor Center at 1110 Soco Rd, Maggie Valley, NC and we will share a few more of our favorites.