Leaf-Peeping Roadmap Through Jackson County
Photo courtesy Elizabeth Alonso @lizalonso
There’s nothing quite like the excitement that comes with the first feels of fall. You can smell it in the crisp mountain air, you can see the leaves starting to transform from vibrant greens to sunset hues, and you can feel a sense of general anticipation from the people around you when this popular season starts to peek through.
The thrill for the season comes out full force in Jackson County, which is made up of the charming Western North Carolina mountain towns of Cashiers, Cherokee, Dillsboro and Sylva. We’re often asked when the best time to visit is, and the answer is simple: October and November. Due to our unique location tucked between the Nantahala National Forest and on the edge of the country’s most-visited national park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, fall here is more eye-popping than your average autumn escape and beckons leaf peepers from across the nation. While here, view a one-of-a-kind natural phenomenon (more on that later!), revel in mild fall temperatures, embark on outdoor adventure among the rich colors that blanket our surrounding peaks and celebrate the season with festive fall events throughout the county.
This autumn, leaf peepers will be greeted with lively bursts of reds and auburns throughout the area. Although Mother Nature didn’t let us know a specific date, it is predicted that colors will begin to peep through in late August or early September as the days begin to shorten, giving you a head start on enjoying the foliage. Peak color, which is predicted to be about a week later than usual this year, is expected to show up in late October, depending on your location in the county. Our region is known to have one of the longest leaf seasons in the country, so visitors have the chance to view this fall spectacle as it moves from the highest peak to the lowest valley. The southern towns of Cashiers, Glenville and Sapphire will see earlier peak color due to their higher elevation than some of our northern towns of Sylva, Dillsboro and Cullowhee, plus the stops along the Blue Ridge Parkway; therefore, so if you want to be a part of this colorful display, be sure to plan accordingly.
Lucky visitors who happen to be in Cashiers at the right time (mid-October through early November) will have the opportunity to be a part of a true natural phenomenon as a shadow of a bear appears as the sun sets and seems to walk along the color-filled treetops of Whiteside Mountain. As you make your way north through the county, be sure to explore Panthertown Valley. Known as “the Yosemite of the East,” this expansive valley encompasses miles upon miles of hiking trails awaiting your discovery. Although this area is known to be a local gem and popular outdoor haven, you will feel as if you are the first to traverse through the lush and seemingly untouched forest. Be sure to grab a map and seek out Panthertown’s waterfalls, where the surrounding trees’ colors will reflect on the pools below. Finally, stop by Pinnacle Park where a rather strenuous, yet stunning, 7-mile roundtrip hike awaits. Follow the path up to Pinnacle Bald, where you will be greeted with a spectacular sea of fall color below. The views in Jackson County are endless, so for even more fall overlooks and hikes, download our hiking map.
Celebrate the arrival of fall with the autumn-themed festivals and events that fill the streets in Jackson County. Held each year as the leaves begin to change, the Cashiers Leaf Festival (Oct. 5-7) is a free event where you can enjoy inspiring work by unique artisans, dance like no one is watching thanks to the live mountain tunes and so much more. Continue the fall exploration in the eclectic and artistically talented crafts town of Dillsboro at the WNC Pottery Festival (Nov. 3). Known as one of the Southeast’s Top 20 Events, this popular event celebrates the town’s rich pottery culture with 40 master potters from across the country.
Local restaurants and breweries will feature savory fall flavors and seasonal ingredients in many of their locally sourced creations, presenting the perfect opportunity to sample the taste of autumn during your leaf peeping getaway. Jackson County offers a wide variety of restaurants and plenty of cozy overnight accommodation options, allowing for complete customization depending on travel preferences. For a complete guide to Jackson County, request a free Visitor Guide to begin planning your fall getaway today!