Sep. 21—It's the season of apple cider, pumpkin carving, the county fair and changing leaves.
Fall begins Thursday, Sept. 22, and as Mother Nature begins to decorate with myriad combinations of colors, Haywood County hustles to prepare for the harvest and the influx of visitors drawn to witness Western North Carolina's mountain grandeur. Fall is the time to shine.
"People flock to the area because it's so beautiful this time of year," said Ashley Rice, marketing manager for Visit NC Smokies. "A lot of the lodging is already sold out."
Along with leaf looking, the area has some great spots to view the annual monarch butterfly migration, catch the sound of elk bugling and sample the local fare and shopping.
See the elk
Cataloochee Valley in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to many elk, and the best time for viewing is in the early morning just after sunrise or early evening just before sunset. Cataloochee Valley's remote location can be accessed via a winding gravel road through the park from Cades Cove Road off Highway 276 in Jonathan Valley.
Remember, as with any wildlife viewing, don't approach the elk. This is especially important during the fall when elk tempers are high for mating season. "The Rut," as mating season is called, is accompanied by bugling and antler locking among males as they battle over who gets the girl.
The safest way to view the elk is to stay in a vehicle or on the other side of the road away from the elk. For the best photographs, bring a long lens.
Where to look at the
The beautiful red, yellow and gold leaves paint a majestic mountain view starting near the end of September, and there are plenty of spots to see the leaves in Haywood County. Leaf looking is a major tourist attraction, and it's also a great family-friendly activity for locals.
Some leaves have already started to show their colors, and the sight becomes more vibrant throughout the month of October. Peak color changes start at higher elevations and become more visible at lower elevations as the season stretches on, creating a sort of waterfall of color.
"Throughout October the colors kind of fall down the mountains, which is just wonderful," Rice said.
The first two weeks of October are the usual peak time for color changes above 5,000 feet. In the third week of October, peak colors can be seen between 4,000 and 5,000 feet. As October nears its end, the towns and valleys of Haywood County are showing peak leaf colors. As November dawns, areas below 2,000 feet should be expressing peak colors.
Here are some good spots to see the changing of the leaves and monarch butterflies in Haywood County:
—Lake Junaluska — Walk or bike around the lake and take in the view. Fishing, kayaking and canoeing also are available. 91 N. Lakeshore Drive, Waynesville.
—Graveyard Fields — Two waterfalls and plenty of scenery. Blue Ridge Parkway, milepost 418.8.
—Waterrock Knob — Stop at the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway for one of the best views around. At 6,292 ft., hiking the 1.2-mile partially paved trail to the summit will grant a stunning view. This stop also has a new visitor's center. Blue Ridge Parkway, milepost 451.2.
—Max Patch — Pack a picnic lunch and sit for a while at 4,629 ft. elevation. From the gravel parking lot, it's a 1.5 mile hike to the mountain bald, a grand stretch of grassy area with 360-degree views. No camping or campfires are allowed, and be sure to take all trash. Max Patch Road, Hot Springs.
—Devil's Courthouse — See four states from 5,720 ft. elevation: North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee. Take in the views from the parking lot or hike a short, partially-paved trail to the summit. Blue Ridge Parkway, milepost 422.4
—The Haywood Loop — This 45-mile ride takes Highway 276 to Rabbit Skin Road, crosses the bridge to Riverside, then on to Highway 209. Turn south to Upper Crabtree Mountain Road to Canton, then onto Thickety Road to Clyde. Take Poison Cove Road to Stamey Cove Road, then Highway 215 to Bethel. Return on Highway 276 through Waynesville.
—Blue Ridge Parkway — Take a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway, which can be accessed from the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway in Waynesville.
—The Rattler — Take Highway 209 north from Waynesville for a winding ride with scenic views. Take a right at Ferguson's Market in Fines Creek to start up to Hot Springs on the 24-mile ride.
—The Copperhead Loop — Travel the 77-mile loop starting south on Highway 276 in Waynesville through Pisgah National Forest and back up again on Highway 216 with many great views along the way.