Traveling The Blue Ridge Parkway • Day 5

Fall Colors On The Parkway

Color change begins to show up around Linville Falls

As Fall approaches the leaves of trees begin to go through a change as chlorophyll production slows and eventually stops. The old chlorophyll in the leaf begins to decompose, and when it’s all gone, the leaf’s underlying color is exposed. Nights becoming progressively cooler is one of the major triggers of this process.

Mabry Mill

The Fall colors begin in the Northern United States and follow the cooler temperatures in the higher latitudes as they travel South. The first hints of fall color also start off at the higher elevations, then day by day, sweep down the mountain’s slopes to the lower elevations and into the valleys and lowlands.

As we planned our hiking trip up the Blue Ridge Parkway we hadn’t given much thought to the changing colors, but as we traveled north from our start in Cherokee, within a couple of hundred miles it was obvious we were going to see a significant change during the trip. In the Smokey Mountains there were trees dotted here and there showing some color change but mostly the forests were still a verdant green. By the third day around Linville Falls the fall colors were spreading along the mountain sides. By the time we got to Roanoke, Virginia the bright colored trees were taking over the forests.

One of the things that makes the Fall forest so spectacular is the wide pallet of leaf colors on display. The dogwood, sourwood, and blackgum trees turn a gorgeous deep red. Tulip-trees and hickories turn bright yellow while sassafras trees show off a vivid orange. The red maples often are the real stars of the show with a multi-colored brilliance ranging from intense yellow, through shades of orange to a bright red. The oaks bring their own touch to the show with darker muted shades of russet and maroon. Evergreen trees including Virginia pine, white pine, hemlock, spruce, and fir add a nice contrasting green to the scene which often seems to enhance the colors of the hardwood trees.

Early October color change

For 2020 October is prime time for leaf colors as they flow down through the mountains of Virginia into the Carolinas and on to Georgia. By mid-October the Skyline drive should be in full color and by early November much of Georgia should be approaching high color.

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