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Leaf peeping in WV and Eastern TN: Timing and crowds questions

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Sep 10th, 2011, 10:35 AM
  #1
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Leaf peeping in WV and Eastern TN: Timing and crowds questions

After spending much time in New England, I'm of the opinion that pre-planned leaf-peeping trips are basically a losing proposition, because it's too hard to try to predict in advance when and where the foliage will be peaking, and one usually ends up just paying premium prices to fight crowds and see nothing particularly special. Nevertheless, I need to head down South in a few weeks anyway, and I'm thinking of stopping in West Virginia and Eastern Tennessee to take in some scenery.

From past threads here and various websites, I've identified two regions in WV, the Monongahela National Forest and the New River Gorge, as well as Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. So here are my questions:

(1) What are my chances of seeing peak or near-peak foliage in any of these locations if I visit during the weekend of October 22-23, as well some extra weekdays after that to give me a better chance of avoiding crowds? My sense is that I'd be much too late for Monongahela, and that I'd probably be past-peak at the New River, but the foliage might well be peaking at low elevations in the Smokies. Am I right? I'm thinking of giving up on Monongahela entirely, but maybe I should try to build in some flexibility so that I could visit either the New River and/or the Smokies?

(2) Just how bad will the crowds be? Someone else posted a question about this recently, but I don't think there were any responses. I'm prepared to deal with some crowded highways, expend some energy researching less-traveled roads, and do some moderate hiking to get to less-crowded locations. But if I'm going to be stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic jams on mountain roads for hours and not even see any scenery, then I'd want to skip those areas.

Here's some information that might be helpful to others considering similar trips:
http://www.wvforestry.com/FallColorMapAndLegend.pdf
http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/fallcolor.htm
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Sep 10th, 2011, 06:14 PM
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I would recommend visiting Asheville NC - it has a 5,000-foot elevation change within 50 miles of the downtown. The Blue Ridge Mountain range puts on one of the longest-running leaf color displays in the country. Depending on whether you are traveling on the weekend or weekday the crowds will vary widely. Are you wanting to go on the Blue Ridge Parkway? I think it would be nice to go to Black Mountain NC and drive around and spend some time in Asheville. DTHe Blue RIdge parkway is easily accessible from Asheville.
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Sep 11th, 2011, 12:55 PM
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willowjane, those mountains close to Asheville are probably in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, no?

I've been working on this trip a little more, and realizing that I have less time for it than I thought. So I think I'm going to save West Virginia for another day, and concentrate on the area around the Smokies. I think I'm going to fly into Charlotte and rent a car there, which I think means that I'll be driving right through Asheville! If you have any tips on how to avoid the crowds during my weekend days, I'd certainly appreciate them.
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Sep 11th, 2011, 02:34 PM
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If you drive from Charlotte into Asheville you will go right by Black Mountain I think that would be a really nice stopover. The Black Mountains are part of the southern end of the Appalachian mountains. They are the highest mountains in the Eastern US. I really think the crowds aren't too bad on the weekends in and around Asheville as compared to the Smokies. I haven't been up on the Parkway in a while, but the speed limit is so slow that it is bound to be easy slow driving anyway. Yes, this whole area is close to Great Smoky Mountains National Park - I am not sure what part of the Smokies you are wanting to visit....The Appalachian Trail is nearby and you could do some really nice hikes in the area.
I wish I could tell you more about the leaves - I am going over to Asheville next weekend to see the Tiffany lamps on display at Biltmore. I hope you have a great trip.
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Sep 11th, 2011, 02:37 PM
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I would avoid Gatlinburg and that entrance into the Smokies near Knoxville TN. That area is always packed! I have read other threads that talk about going through Crosby (I think) to get to the Smokies and is not so touristy....I am afraid I don't much about that area.
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Sep 16th, 2011, 04:58 PM
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The 2nd and 3rd week of October are perfect times to see the Fall colors in The Smoky Mountains. The crowds will be there but its not as bad as others will lead you to beleive. My husband go every year and the crowds arent never a problem. I would get up early and beat the crowd to the park. Most people do sleep in and get out in the park around 10:00ish. The colors higher up close to Clingmans Dome will start changing earlier and then work its self down the mountain into the valley. There is a website called Discover The Smokies and they keep up with the change every year and you can look at years pass and know what to expect.My husband and I went towards the end of October last year and there was plenty of color every where. I would go up to Cades Cove which is a 11 mile motor trail and it is beautiful up there. You will see alot of old churches,cabins,barns,bears,deer and turkeys. Also I would drive thru Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail at light # 8 on Airport Rd in Gatlinburg. It is also a motor tour with cabins etc. You could also go over the mountain on 441 which runs from Gatlinburg to Cherokee,NC and take in the sights or drive some on the Blue Ridge Parkway another beautiful drive. Have fun and enjoy the colors.



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Sep 18th, 2011, 12:27 PM
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gatlinburglover, thanks for the encouragement! I feel better knowing I'm likely to find some good colors at least somewhere.

I've been reading some really scary things about the traffic and crowds, especially at Cades Cove. I've seen the term "gridlock" used, and even suggestions that it could be better to park outside of Cade's Cove and hike in. I'm thinking of maybe spending at least one night in Townsend and trying to sneak in before the crowds show up.
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Sep 19th, 2011, 03:31 PM
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hawksbill, we have been going for years and we have never had a traffic problem in Cades Cove. Get there early when the gates open. It is a beautiful drive and one not to miss.I think alot of people that complain probably complain about every little thing so take thoses comments with a grain of salt. You might get caught up in an Bear Jam but you know alot of people have been going to The Smokies for years and have never seen a Bear and when they do they do stop and get a peak and everyone does it except maybe the locals. Go and have fun and get to the park early and you should be fine.We will be there part of the 2nd and 3rd week of October and I am so excited. Make up your own mind, what some think of nightmare traffic may not even bother you at all.
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Sep 19th, 2011, 03:33 PM
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Oh there is always park rangers at Cades Cove and they always do a great job keeping the traffic moving along.
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Oct 8th, 2011, 07:48 PM
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Hawksbill,

I have been an avid leaf peeper for years. Traveled the southern apps around the smokies, the Blueridge Parkway, Asheville and other popular areas. A few years back we got the opportunity to travel into WV for the fall foliage season. We all agreed that the combination of extraordinary scenic views, scenic roadways, off the beaten path hiking trails, and minimal traffic, ranked this trip as the best we've taken. We were in the Monongahela National Forest about 10 days ago. Most of the higher elevations - above 4000 feet - were 75 to 80% peak. The colors this year were unbelieveable.
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Oct 9th, 2011, 03:27 AM
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Just returned from WV...the leaves are turning and should be in full color next week.
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