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March 28th; Slight Improvement

This week's Color Report covers the section from Balsam Gap (Hwy 215) to Waterrock Knob, highlighting popular areas such as Mt Lyn Lowry, Yellow Face, the Smokies, and other notable changes.

Plenty of time remains to make plans as the vast majority of the Southern Section remains dormant, however there are plenty of signs that this will soon change. The cooler weather today is another reminder that the last freeze date for the our southwestern valleys is around April 21st - May 3rd for most towns, while the higher elevations above 5000' extend that another week or two; Mt. Mitchell in particular is May 17th.

The few maples that are leading the way are the main attraction at this time. We recommend timing your drive earlier in the morning (before 10am) or late in the afternoon (between 5 - 8pm). You'll benefit from the direct sunlight, which enhances the reds, yellows, and soft orange buds we see popping up here and there across the landscape. In particular, the stretch from Balsam Gap entrance up to Wesner Bald Overlook is where the best color display is currently available; a nice photo setup with the winding curves and budding colors.

The general elevation line where the battle between winter and spring is taking place looks to be between 4500 - 5000'. I have only seen leaf out in a few valley locations, with no leaf out along the Parkway, only budding flowers and emerging buds up to 4000'. A handful of times I was treated to a grove of maples at full flower against a sea of brown, looking out across the Parkway, a great setup for the photographers willing to pull over and walk around for that perfect shot.

Quick update on the southern entrance closure. It is finally open, a big thank you to the NPS crews working to repair and fix it for the upcoming season. The tunnels near Craggy Gardens remain closed (see closure map below created/ran by Explore Fall) and Evan Fisher shared why, hiking up the road to document the work. Best guess is a few more weeks till this section opens.

taken by Evan Fisher (shared with permission)

taken by Evan Fisher (shared with permission)

The weather this weekend will be warm and dry with temps pushing into the mid - upper 70's across the valleys, while the ridgelines climb into the mid 50's - low 60's above 5500'. This will not jump start a transition to spring colors, but it will continue our March forward into April and with each passing day wintry weather becomes less likely.

We added four 360° views with this update, at Mt Lyn Lowry Overlook (4000'), Fork Ridge Overlook (5280'), Yellow Face Overlook (5588'), and Waterrock Knob Visitor Center (5800'). Click here to check them out. Below are pictures showcasing overlooks and the changing colors.

I'll circle back next Thursday (Apr 4th) with a new Color Report. Enjoy the spring colors!


Yellow Face Overlook

view from Waterrock Knob Visitor Center parking lot

view from Mt Lyn Lowry Overlook at 4000'

budding maples along the road

Fork Ridge Overlook

Waterrock Knob Visitor Center / Overlook

the Casino as seen from Waterrock Knob Overlook

same view as above, zoomed out


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