It’s officially fall, and the hunt for stunning foliage is in full swing. Jackson County in Western North Carolina is a prime viewing destination for those who make the trip during the upcoming peak colors of autumn. With the majestic mountains as a picturesque backdrop, travelers on the move for the best seasonal displays will find the fall colors of their leaf-seeking dreams in Jackson County throughout the next month. Check out the below fall leaf report to plan the perfect trip to catch the colors at their best.
Fall 2017 Leaf Report from Beverly Collins, Associate Professor in the Dept. of Biology at Western Carolina University
- Right now, the earliest species are turning, including: sourwood (red); tulip poplar (yellow and brown); black walnut (yellow), black gum (orange, red).
- Keep in mind that the timing of color change and peak color varies with elevation.
- For visitors making a trip to the area soon, the highest elevations in Jackson County could reach peak color as early as the first week in October, or early in the second week.
- For visitors planning a trip later in the season, the lower elevation likely won’t reach peak (except in spots with ”early” species) until the third week in October.
The Top Five Places for a Unique Leaf-Viewing Experience in Jackson County
Shadow of the Bear
Jackson County is the only place in the country to see the fall phenomena known as the “Shadow of the Bear.” From mid-October to mid-November, when the sun sets behind Whiteside Mountain, its shadow casts the perfect image of a black bear over the mountain’s colorful landscape. Visitors can enjoy the shadow from a premium viewing spot at Rhodes Big View Overlook off Highway 64 between 5:30-6:00 p.m.
Explore 1,000 acres of natural landscape at Pinnacle Park with a seven-mile roundtrip hike that features significant elevation gain and rocky terrain, peaking at Pinnacle Bald. Hikers are rewarded with a 270-degree view of the adjacent mountains and the town of Sylva, both amust-see during the prime colors of fall.
Blue Ridge Parkway – Waterrock Knob
The Waterrock Knob Overlook at mile 451.2 provides another spectacular view, offering a four-state panorama of the Great Smoky Mountains painted in fall colors. Leaf-seekers can also take the 1.2-mile hiking trail to the top of the knob, gaining 412 feet in elevation, to find even more breathtaking views.
Known as the “Yosemite of the East,” Panthertown Valley is a hiker’s paradise with more than 30 miles of backcountry trails and 12 waterfalls to discover along the way. The hiking trails offer rewarding views of the fall colors with stops overlooking valleys and 360-degree views of the stunning landscape coated in red, orange and yellow. Mountain bikers can also navigate the designated trails throughout Panthertown.
One of the highest-elevation lakes east of the Rocky Mountains at 3,500 feet above sea level, Lake Glenville is also one of the largest lakes in the county. With an expansive 26 miles of shoreline, seven islands and three gorgeous waterfalls, the lake is a great stop along a fall road trip to see the colorful leaves’ reflection over the water. (pictured at top of post, photo by Philip Bradley)