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2024 Spring Color Season

Welcome everyone to the start of the 2024 Color Season! This go around we are focusing on the greening up of the mountains as spring climbs the hillsides from the valley floor in early March, finishing sometime in mid May along our highest ridgelines. The transition may be less drastic compared to the fall color season, but one could argue spring colors are more vibrant and inspiring as we exit winter and seek more time outside.

We are not shaking too many things up this season, adjusting our coverage timeline a bit to release the Color Report each Thursday via email (subscribe here) and on the website the following day. Interactive 360° views from our favorite overlooks remain and something new will be insights and updates from botanists explaining in more detail the change we are observing, local guides providing insights on best trails and places to unwind, and our extremely biased opinion on the best spots for local treats and eats (click here).

small KH Cloud from Looking Glass Overlook

The Southern Section of the Parkway is roughly 90% open, with the southern entrance closed as NPS deals with downed trees and lingering ice; this should be open by March 12th at the latest. Average date for full opening of the Southern Section is March 6th (going back to 2007) and this year a good portion of the section opened up on February 20th, closing and reopening every so often as we deal with short lived cold snaps.

Looking ahead there seems to be very little winter weather, with a few sub freezing nights in the mid - upper 20's likely Sunday and Monday nights for the lower elevations. After this short lived cool down, temps soar into the 70's next week and this should kick our greening up of the mountains into high gear.

Bethel below, Richland Balsam (6410') to left

Enough preamble, let's dive right into the report, which will be short as not much movement is taking place from the valley floor to the mid elevations. The higher elevations above 5000' remain dormant, except for a tree or two that sits in full sun all day, budding before the rest.

Hominy Valley Overlook - smog in the distance

I drove the Parkway from Asheville to the closure at Soco Gap the past few days and although 90% is still dormant, it is gorgeous out there. Traffic remains non-existent during the week days, while the weekends show minimal uptick, mainly due to most of the facilities being closed such as Pisgah Inn (opens April 1st).

A handful of trees are budding

The best locations for budding trees and maybe some crocuses are below 3000', with several turns showing 10% budding coverage; see below example. Give it another week and the valley floor (1800 - 2200') to the mid elevations (3500') will come to life with spring colors, followed by the lime green phase sometime in late March - early April.

Budding Colors along the Parkway - 2445'

Another note to make is southern facing, high sunlight hour areas will turn before the shaded sections with higher shade hours; opposite of the fall color transition. As in the fall season, we'll observe many mornings with temperatures below or near freezing across the valleys, while the ridgelines sit in the 40's and sometimes, the 50's. This is called a temperature inversion (when it usually is the opposite; colder up top, warmer down low) and occurs as the colder, more dense air settles into the lower elevations, while the ground radiates warm air, rising and staying along the ridgelines. This phenomenon occurs when winds die down, clear skies sit overhead, and dewpoints are relatively low. I mention this because places like Graveyard Fields or nearby high elevation bowls, may seem off in their timing as the surrounding ridgelines turn before the lowest points due to this subtle but impactful phenomenon.

Sam Knob (6050') and Little Sam's Knob (5863') in distance, seen from Spot Knob Overlook

We'll wrap up the Color Report by saying not much color change is occurring as of March 7th, however the recent warm weather and upcoming 70's next week will kick the transition into high gear. If you are seeking spring colors, they exist but stay close to the lower elevations. Our next Color Report comes out Thursday 14th.

Blower cleaning up roadside


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