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2023 Fall Season Overview (free)

lasted 51 days, ending Nov 1st
2023 Fall Season Overview (free)

The writing has been on the wall the past few days, but after the cold front arrived last night we can no longer deny that the color season is quickly coming to an end. The amount of leaf drop the past few days has been rapid and noticeable and the 20 - 35mph winds we are dealing with today (Nov 1st) is the nail in the coffin. There are a few holdouts with color but the vast majority of the Parkway is past peak, with bare coverage as low as 4500' in a few sections.

We put forth the question on social media, what defines the end of the color season and many of you responded, with the majority saying the season is over when most of the leaves have fallen (regardless of elevation). Other folks said when peak color has reached the valley floor, or offered up specific tree types as their marker. Either way we slice it the 2023 Color Season is closing down regionwide or in some areas, has fully transitioned to winter dormancy; aka stick season.

For those wishing to see what color remains, head out to elevations under 4000' but do not expect widespread coverage, more so a handful of trees standing out in a sea of past peak. There is still a beauty to this last hoorah, with leaves strewn everywhere and of course the weather acting more and more like fall with each passing day. I say this as snow is falling along the highest ridgelines this morning in typical NW flow snow fashion.

Our 2023 coverage began September 10th, lasting 52 colorful days, ending November 1st. This was our second season and it was an amazing year filled with new partnerships, amazing growth, new tech, snowliage, and exciting ideas to carry us through the off-season as we prepare for 2024.

2023 Season Overview:

The season seemed to be split in two phases, with the higher elevations above 5000' kicking off in late September, maintaining pace through the middle of October till past peak took over. Whereas the middle and lower elevations didn't get going till the second week of October and because of the cooler weather, the pace of color change ramped up dramatically during the second and third weeks of October. Then came the second peak during the final week of October (10/25 - 10/30) and typically this can last for 1 - 2 weeks as the oaks and other hardwoods hold onto their leaves a bit longer, but alas, the weather as of late has kept leaf drop moving along at a steady clip, culminating on Halloween night with a stout cold front and 25 - 35 gusts below 5000'.

Entering opinion territory here, but the best window of color regionwide occurred from October 13th - October 29th. Anywhere in WNC during that time-frame was a guaranteed color moment, regardless of elevation. Keep this in mind when planning your trip next year, that the middle - end of October tend to be the best color window, more so as we continue to experience a shift in seasonal change with fall weather arriving later and later over the past few decades.

Our favorite area for the Southern Section this season has been Upper Hwy 215. This section started in mid September and never let off the gas, producing pockets of peak color in early October. Many folks couldn't believe it but there are several areas along the Great Balsams that will peak weeks ahead of the main event. Here are the guaranteed locations each season to turn as soon as mid - late September:

  • Upper Hwy 215
  • Graveyard Fields
  • Yellow Face (below summit)
  • Mt Hardy (below at Wolf Mtn Overlook)
  • Sugar Cove
  • Cherry Cove

Our favorite moment was when we documented Snowliage (snow + fall foliage) on October 16th. Two inches of snow fell atop the ridgelines above 5800', with Mt LeConte picking up 4" for the highest total in the region. We ran up to Waterrock Knob and so did most of the locals and tourist visiting the area; it was a madhouse after 11am. Jackson and Haywood county schools were out that day for Teacher Work Days, adding to the magic with kids running around, while the adults soaked in the moment, enjoying both fall colors and the first snow of the season. We will dedicate a section to this moment on the 2023 Season Gallery page we'll publish sometime this November; closer to Thanksgiving.


The crowds this season were not too rowdy, however most of our scouting was done during the work week; not many people cruising the Parkway at 8am on a Tuesday. Once Graveyard Fields moved to past peak around October 17th it seems the section from Graveyard Fields to Lone Bald Overlook dropped in visitation dramatically; perhaps the Asheville crowds did not want to venture much further.

All in all this was a great season and we gave it a B +

How we rank each season:

  • color coverage (isolated or widespread)
  • color timing (transition from high to low elevations and 1st to 2nd peak phases)
  • weather (rainy all the time, multiple cold fronts, snow)
  • color itself (vibrant, rich, dull, faded, long lasting/short lived)

We know what you're thinking... But there was snowliage, how could we not give it an A grade?!? To provide reference, last years banner season was an A+. Colors were never brighter and although it was short lived, it was a seamless transition from top to bottom, very little weather interruptions (only one rainy day), and the coverage was not isolated as the weather cooperated for a widespread transition.

Mt Lyn Lowry showing off

The snowliage certainly saved this season from falling down a letter grade, however the color this year was vibrant in the beginning, succumbing to the warm spell in the middle and not transitioning well into the second peak phase, where the hardwoods saved the day with their sea of russet reds and golden yellows. The weather was not terrible, snow certainly was a nice surprise, but it also wiped out the color scene above 5400' in two days. Fork Ridge Overlook for example went from moderate color on 10/14 to peak coverage on 10/19, three days after the snowfall. Again, snow is always welcomed in the fall, but its not without a small compromise. Lastly, the coverage was isolated for most of the season, showing up in pockets here and there as shade hours became the limiting factor for color change. Widespread coverage only showed up during the second peak phase.


a perfectly timed hike during high color under a leaf shower

We had a wonderful time covering the Southern Section of the Parkway (Asheville to Cherokee) and look forward to the 2024 seasons. You read that right. We'll soon go into hibernation mode, but spring back to life this April as we cover the greening up of the mountains. The valleys will blossom first and then all sorts of color will climb the mountainsides, lasting some years into late May. The Parkway usually closes sometime in December - January, opening back up in mid - late March and once it does, we'll send out an email announcement.

Thank you all again for following along, it means the world to us that our updates and coverage help you plan a better fall experience. Until next time!