Good N.C. routes for leaf-peeping


October 08, 2006|By COX NEWS SERVICE

We are driving to North Carolina to see fall foliage. Could you suggest the best time and the best scenic routes?

Fall foliage typically starts in early October at high elevations in North Carolina and lasts for as long as six weeks. These colors change at different times at different elevations.

Fall color predictions are not an exact science, so you should check the weekly reports by calling 800-VISIT-NC or going to

The Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountain regions showcase a variety of deep colors for the longest time at elevations from 6,684 feet at Mount Mitchell to 2,000 feet in the valleys.

Your best bets are the little-known scenic routes along the Blue Ridge Parkway. In the northwestern part of the state, state Route 18 between Sparta and West Jefferson give visitors a glimpse of the small towns of the Southern Appalachians. In Sparta, don't miss Farmer's Hardware or the quaint main street shops. In West Jefferson, take the downtown walking tours of murals and the Ashe County Cheese Store and Factory.

Southbound travelers can pick up state Route 18 by exiting the parkway at Milepost 229 and taking U.S. 21 to Sparta. Northbound travelers can exit the parkway onto U.S. 421 at Milepost 281, then follow the signs to West Jefferson.

The 41-mile Cherohala Skyway and Cherohala Scenic Byway, 97 miles southwest of Asheville, connects state Route 143 from Robbinsville to U.S. 165 in western North Carolina. Often compared to the Blue Ridge Parkway, it follows the crest of the Unicoi Mountains in the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forest. The highest point reaches 5,390 feet.

Hanging Rock Scenic Byway runs 38 miles from Mount Olive to Shelton Town. The lookout tower in Hanging Rock State Park offers a wonderful panoramic view. A brief drive on state Route 89 will take you to Mount Airy, Andy Griffith's Mayberry.

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