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Oct
28

Leaf Peeping Along the Blue Ridge Parkway by Debbie K. Harding

Fall comes to the Mid-Atlantic and southeast a littler later than the New England states, so there’s still time to check out autumn color in these warmer regions. One of the best places for leaf peeping is along the incredibly scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, the 470-mile roadway that connects Shenandoah National Park in Virginia with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee. The Blue Ridge Parkway snakes through mountaintop wilderness that displays more than 100 species of trees, making this expanse of asphalt one of the loveliest in the country when the leaves begin to fall.

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Photo: Courtesy Asheville Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

The Parkway gets an estimated 1.5 million visitors during the month of October, which typically marks the peak of the color-changing season. If you visit during the last two weeks of October and the first week of November (especially on weekends), expect serious roadway congestion. But don’t let that dissuade you. With scenery this lovely, there’s no reason to rush: Follow the guiding principle of the park: “drive awhile and stop awhile.” There are numerous roadside pullouts that offer gorgeous vantage points, and many link to trails and picnic grounds. And if you’re willing to leave your auto behind and hike a quarter of a mile or so, it is easy enough to find solitude, even on the busiest Sunday afternoon.

My family and I like to arrive early (early!) in the morning, generally before sunrise, and hit the Parkway before the worst of the traffic. In years past we’ve driven for as long as two hours after daylight before we saw another car. In addition to helping us beat the crowds, we’ve found that morning light makes for stunning photographs; this is also the best time of the day to see wildlife, including white-tail deer and black bears.

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Photo: Courtesy Asheville Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

If the traffic along the Parkway slows down too much for you, consider an aerial tour. Asheville Hot Air Balloons out of Asheville, North Carolina, offers exhilarating trips year-round. Routes vary depending on air currents, but expect to see spectacular views above the mountains of the nearby Pisgah National Forest.

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