If you hop in your car this time of year and drive the winding roads of the Blue Ridge Parkway, you will discover that autumn has arrived. The annual changing of the leaves in the Appalachian Mountains is a sight not to be missed, and for the past fifteen years, Howard Neufeld never has.
A professor of biology at Appalachian State University and widely recognized as the “Fall Color Guy” on Facebook, Neufeld has made it his mission to report on and study the changing foliage of North Carolina. He considers himself a messenger: “I just keep going where I know there are popular places to visit, and I check out the status of the colors,” he says of his side job of sorts. “I then tell people when I think they should come see them.”
This year, Neufeld believes the fall display will be as beautiful as ever, and—thanks to the crisp air that is already swirling through the mountains and the plentiful rain the South has seen this season—he trusts that the colors will appear right on time. “My prediction is that if the cool weather continues and if we get a lot of sunny days—that helps make the bright red colors—then we should have a fairly good fall color season,” he says.
Although many parts of the South won’t see the colors until later in the fall, the highest peak in the southern Appalachians—Mount Mitchell—is already putting on a show. Neufeld suggests visiting the area in mid-October; Grandfather Mountain, Craggy Gardens, and Elk Knob State Park are just a few of the early-season destinations he recommends. Filled with sourwoods, dogwoods, and tulip poplars, they provide picturesque views as far as the eye can see.
As autumn marches on, Neufeld suggests heading to lower elevations. One of his personal favorites (and usually his last stop on his fall foliage field trip) is North Carolina’s Stone Mountain State Park, where the colors surrounding the quartz monzonite dome are best seen in the first weeks of November.
While North Carolina may be Neufeld’s area of focus, the leaves are changing all throughout the South. This handy tracking device, courtesy of SmokyMountain.com, uses historic data and forecasts on temperature and precipitation to help you keep a real-time eye on where to catch the nearest autumn magic.