September 21, 2011
Here are directions to five different routes where you will have good opportunities to see great fall foliage. A barometer to aid in deciding the best time to see the foliage is that the higher elevations usually peak the first week in October and the lower elevations in mid to late October. There are several online sites that give you day-by-day updates on how the leaves are changing.
1. Deep Gap to Trade (the Boone area). From U.S. 421 at Deep Gap, go to the community of Todd. From there, go to Meat Camp and turn onto Meat Camp Road heading toward Elk Knob State Park. At Elk Knob, you might want to take the 4-mile roundtrip hike to the summit. The last hundred yards are difficult because the trail is not yet complete, but on a clear day, you get a 360-degree view that extends for 60 miles. Leave Elk Knob and continue on Meat Camp Road over the mountain into Sutherland Valley. At the end of the valley, head west on N.C. 88 to Trade, Tennessee. Turn left at Trade onto U.S. 421 and head back into Boone. Approximately 90 miles.
2. Marion to Burnsville to Asheville. Take Exit 85 off I-40 at Marion. From U.S. 70, take N.C. 80 toward Lake Tahoma. Continue up the mountain to the intersection with the Blue Ridge Parkway. You can take a 12-mile side trip to Mount Mitchell State Park or continue on N.C. 80 through the Celo valley with the Black Mountains paralleling the South Toe River. At Micaville, turn west and travel on U.S. 19E to Burnsville. From Burnsville, continue on U.S. 19 to I-26/U.S. 19/23 where you head south to Asheville. Approximately 120 miles.
3. Asheville to Hot Springs. From Asheville, take U.S. 25/70 to Hot Springs. Follow Paint Rock Road along the French Broad River to the actual Paint Rock landmark. Continue around Paint Rock to Lower Paint Creek Road. Turn south on Tenn. 70, traveling back into N.C., where the road becomes N.C. 208. Turn south onto N.C. 212, which parallels Big Laurel Creek to the intersection with U.S. 25/70, which will take you back to Asheville. Approximately 120 miles.
4. Franklin to Nantahala Gorge to Wayah Bald. From Franklin, take N.C. 28 through the Cowee Valley, which follows the Little Tennessee River. Turn west onto U.S. 19/74 and follow it through the Nantahala Gorge. At the community of Beechertown, turn south onto Wayah Road, which travels past Nantahala Lake to Wayah Bald. Be sure to take the side trip to the lookout tower on the summit of Wayah Bald. From Wayah Gap, continue on Wayah Road to U.S. 64. Turn east on U.S. 64 to travel back to Franklin. Approximately 150 miles.
5. From Robbinsville to Murphy. From Robbinsville, take N.C. 143 to the Cherohala Skyway. Take the skyway for 43 miles to Tellico Plains, Tennessee. Be sure to fill up your gas tank before going on the skyway because there are no commercial establishments along the way. On the Tennessee side, take the 12-mile round-trip sidetrip to Bald River Falls, which is located right next to the road. In Tellico Plains, turn south onto Tenn. 168 and travel past Coker Creek to Tenn. 123, where you turn east. This road becomes N.C. 294 as it passes Fields of the Wood. Continue to U.S. 64, where you turn east to Murphy. Approximately 110 miles.