10 Great Places to Go Leaf Peeping Down South
There are plenty of dramatic foliage displays south of the Mason-Dixon Line. You just need to know where to go for the show.
Photo By: Bryson City-Swain County Chamber of Commerce
Photo By: Abingdon Convention & Visitors Bureau
Photo By: Bryson City-Swain County Chamber of Commerce
Photo By: VisitUvaldeCounty.com
Photo By: Adventures on the Gorge
Photo By: Bowling Green Convention & Visitors Bureau
Photo By: Georgia State Parks
Photo By: Visit Greenville
Photo By: Visit Franklin
Photo By: Beech Mountain Tourism Development Authority
Photo By: Historic Banning Mills
Fall Colors Abound in the South
New England may receive the bulk of the love when it comes to leaf peeping and fall color displays, but don't count out the South. From Virginia to Georgia, even Texas, there are plenty of bucket list-worthy destinations in the South deserving of a foliage-inspired getaway. Leaves typically peak between mid-October and mid-November, but the Fall Foliage Prediction Map has a fairly detailed look at when and where to see peak color this year. Here are our 10 favorite towns in the South just right for a leaf-filled weekend.
Revel in vibrantly-hued leaves on a mountain bike trip, where you will glide over wooden trestles and ride parallel to flowing streams, as you coast along the Virginia Creeper Trail in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwest Virginia. Rent a bike from the Virginia Creeper Trail Bike Shop in historic Abingdon, then board a shuttle to the trailhead at White Top Station for a 17-mile downhill ride into Damascus (a.k.a. Trail Town USA) under a canopy of foliage. Sample whites and reds from the patio of Abingdon Vineyards, a short half-mile ride off the multi-use rail trail.
Bryson City, North Carolina
Board a classic steam train at the historic depot in Bryson City for a foliage-filled excursion along the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. The scenic ride runs 4 to 4.5 hours, criss-crossing the breathtaking landscape of western North Carolina. Got little ones in tow? Book a fun-filled 2.5-hour train ride on the Great Pumpkin Patch Express, which includes a hayride and a stop at a pumpkin patch. You won't want to miss seeing the stunning shades of crimson and amber from within Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The leaves are especially vibrant along the Deep Creek Loop Trail, a wide hiking trail that boasts three waterfalls.
When the heat of Texas begins to ease, it's time to pay a visit to the Texas Hill Country River Region for vibrant foliage that's said to rival that of the East Coast. Make Concan in Uvalde County your home base, then start with a refreshing float along the Frio River at Garner State Park. Keep your eyes open for the largest tree in Texas where the river merges with Buffalo Creek. Dry off for a short hike to the summit of Old Baldy for rewarding views of the color-changing trees below. A guided horseback ride along the chalk bluff cliffs is one more spectacular way to experience the region's fall foliage.
Fayetteville, West Virginia
In Fayetteville, see vibrantly-hued foliage from all angles as you zipline, hike, raft, ride a steam train, even base jump from the New River Gorge Bridge (as part of a tandem base jump on Bridge Day, every third Saturday in October). At nearby Adventures on the Gorge, whitewater rafting season on the New River has been extended through November, allowing visitors to clash with class IV rapids while reveling in the colorful leaves all season long. Walk across sky bridges and zipline through a dense hemlock forest on a treetop canopy tour, then hike along the rim of the New River Gorge in this charming mountain town.
Bowling Green, Kentucky
Bowling Green may be best known for cars (National Corvette Museum) and caves (Mammoth Cave National Park), but it's also a sought-after spot among leaf peepers. At the national park, go underground to explore more than 400 miles of passages, but make time to wander the colorful tapestry of oak and hickory trees above ground, too. More than 80 miles of hiking and biking trails allow access to the park's natural treasures. Take in the rolling hills and red brick architecture at Western Kentucky University. Walk amongst gold and maroon leaves at the Kentucky Museum, then pose with Abraham Lincoln on the front bench.
A mere two hours from Atlanta, Clayton is a favorite among leaf watchers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. At nearby Tallulah Gorge State Park, home to one of the most notable canyons in the South, a dramatic suspension bridge puts fall colors and the 1,000-foot-deep gorge below on full display. Six spectacular waterfalls, including Tallulah Falls and Hurricane Falls, wow visitors with rushing waters and a breathtaking mosaic of reds, oranges and yellows. Make a side trip to the Bavarian-inspired village of Helen to experience first-hand the longest-running Oktoberfest (check the website for annual dates) in the United States.
Greenville, South Carolina
Nestled into the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Greenville is known for natural beauty and captivating Southern charm. Start your foliage-friendly adventure at Caesars Head State Park. The park's accessible overlook sits on the rocky Blue Ridge Escarpement and is widely considered one of the best viewpoints for fall color in all of South Carolina. In downtown Greenville, the 22-mile Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail meanders along the Reedy River. Stop at Falls Park on the Reedy, home to Liberty Bridge, a unique pedestrian bridge that curves around a waterfall and boasts golden foliage views from surrounding beech trees.
A drive along the famed 444-mile Natchez Trace Parkway — a two-lane scenic byway that runs from Nashville, Tennessee to Natchez, Mississippi — is a must for leaf watchers. In Franklin, you'll find the signature vista along the parkway, which is atop the 145-foot-tall double-arched Natchez Trace Bridge. You'll see colorful foliage for miles. For dramatic, leaf-filled hikes, the 700-acre Bowie Nature Park is the place to go. On Saturdays, check out a bike (for free) to pedal around lakes and up to overlooks along tree-lined trails. Make a side trip to Leiper's Fork, a quaint village known for down-home cooking, local art galleries and plenty of boot-stomping country music.
Beech Mountain, North Carolina
At an elevation of 5,506 feet, Beech Mountain is the highest town on the East Coast, allowing for vibrant fall colors that arrive early and peak by mid-October. On arrival, make a beeline for the scenic chair lift at Beech Mountain Ski Resort, which boasts five-star foliage views across five states (North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee). Rent a canoe to see the changing leaves along Buckeye Lake or go for a leafy adrenaline rush on single-track and double-track mountain bike trails at the Emerald Outback. Before you leave town, stop at Grandfather Mountain for dramatic views from the Mile High Swinging Bridge.
At Banning Mills in Whitesburg, there are almost too many ways to experience fall colors, including from the top of the world's tallest freestanding climbing wall (140 feet tall) and from the middle of the longest hiking suspension bridge in North America (600 feet long). Historic Banning Mills also claims the world's largest zipline course, allowing visitors dramatic bird's-eye views of the changing leaves. Across this 250-acre outdoor adventure resort, there are also plenty of hiking trails, even cozy cabins, if you want to make it a weekend. Treehouse rooms set guests 70 feet above the ground, tucked away in the colorful forest canopy.