There aren’t many places that provide better views of the fall leaves than right here in the North Carolina Smoky Mountains. If you’re a leaf-peeper, you should swing by Haywood County to check out the beautiful array of reds, golds, and oranges brought by the changing seasons.
For starters, 18 mountain peaks here soar to elevations of over 6,000 feet—the most of any county east of the Mississippi River. As a result, we offer some of the most incredible, long-range views of autumn’s famous and photo-friendly color palette. And because of our high elevation, we’re also one of the first places to see these colors start to emerge.
One of the most common questions we get from fall leaf-peepers is, “When and where can I experience the best peak fall leaves?” The Biology Department at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC has released a Fall Color Map for Western North Carolina, which is a great resource to help answer this question. Truth is, it really depends on where you’re headed, when you’re going, and what kind of weather the area has been experiencing. Sunny, chilly weather means leaves turn faster, while rainy, overcast days delay the process. The map below is a great jumping-off point, but please know that these estimates could potentially change. To see the best of the best fall colors, just stay with us the entire months of October and November. Just kidding. Or are we?
Conceived by Howard Neufeld and Michael Denslow
Map Constructed by Michael Denslow
Leaf season is hands-down our favorite time of year. We want you to experience it for yourself—swing by these seven sensational sites to watch the leaves change in the Smokies.
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, but you’ll also 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 that 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. Here, you’ll find a 4,600-foot mountain bald that offers a massive mountain bald that offers amazing, unobstructed views of the surrounding fall colors. Several hikes can be accessed from here, including a popular section of the Appalachian Trail.
Directions: 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!
3. Lake Junaluska and Lake Logan
Yeah, we squeezed two places into the #3 spot—we just couldn’t leave either off our list!
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 the lake on a paved 2.6-mile trail that’s also great for riding bikes, walking the dog, or taking a jog. Enjoy fishing, recreational paddling, mini-golf, and more here. Turn a trip here into an overnight stay at the beautiful Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center.
Next, take Hwy 215 South towards the Blue Ridge Parkway. You’ll come right to the peaceful waters of Lake Logan in Canton. Lake Logan Episcopal Center offers unique summer camp-style cabins and cottages around the lake, a perfect place to call home while you’re enjoying the fall colors. While you’re here, take part in fishing, paddling, and adventuring along their group-friendly ropes course.
Both lakes are beautiful year-round, but there’s something special about the fall here. Maybe it’s the cool weather? Maybe it’s the autumnal hues? Maybe you should find out for yourself.
4. Devils Courthouse Overlook and Hiking Area
Milepost 422.4 on the Blue Ridge Parkway
You can’t miss this odd-looking rock formation that offers incredible falls views from both its parking area and the summit. This spot is said to have gotten its name from the Cherokee legend of the slant-eyed giant Judaculla, who resides in a cave on the mountain. Needless to say—this eerie landmark is not to be missed. Photos at the parking area offer amazing views of the massive cliff but a short half-mile 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 five towns of Waynesville, Maggie Valley, Lake Junaluska, Canton, and Clyde offer fun fall time activities and scenery for everyone. 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 the 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 interesting layout of this trail brings you smack dab into the middle of the area’s fall time beauty.
No fall trip to Haywood County is complete without an adventure to see the wild elk gang 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—it’s quite the spectacle. Besides the wild elk, this valley is home to several historic homesteads that include houses, churches, and a schoolhouse. Visiting these monuments in the fall as the surrounding trees and mountains come alive with golden color makes for a truly special day if you ask us. Brush up on your elk-watching etiquette if you’re heading this way!
These are just seven of many amazing spots to view Haywood County’s fall foliage. There are dozens of scenic overlooks, miles of hiking trails, and tons of other high elevation spots where you can take in the spectacular reds and golds that cover our mountain ridges. 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’ll share a few more of our favorites!