Saturday, October 25, 2014

Fall Color Report for the 4th Weekend in the Smoky Mountains October 2014

If you look outside in mid and lower elevations right now, you would swear it was the first weekend of peak leaf season in the Great Smoky Mountains, not the second. Regardless there areas still see some nice fall colors and for sure there will be more next weekend as well.

The fall leaf colors in the higher elevations of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Newfound Gap Road are gone, however the long range views are still nice. The traffic is extremely heavy though and I would suggest Foothill Parkway West as a better drive.

The Foothills Parkway Spur between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg is not showing its best, however there are some decent spots of color along parts of Little River Road and now Laurel Creek Road all the way into Cades Cove.

Cades Cove Loop Road is very crowded and still not at peak in the valley. Rich Mountain Road and Parson Branch Road coming out of Cades Cove both have nice color in spots, and will continue to have color into next week. Both the Gregory Bald Hiking Trails and Hannah Mountain Hiking Trails have decent color and long range views are still very good.

Deep Creek, Tremont and Elkmont are 3 of my top picks right now for a great place to have a moderate hike and see decent fall color in the Great Smoky Mountains national park. All three of these sections of the park have significant water features which add to fall photography even though the amazing fluorescent fall colors along the rivers have yet to show themselves.

Deep Creek North Carolina has some great color along the Loop Trail, Sunkota Ridge and especially the Noland Divide Trail up to and beyond Lonesome Pine to Sassafras, as well as along Thomas Ridge. Other than Little Creek Falls, none of the Waterfalls in the Deep Creek area have color left.

In Elkmont if you hike the Little River, Cucumber Gap, Jake's Creek Loop, there is only limited bright fall colors out as of yesterday. Hiking further up Jake Creek Trail especially up the Panther Creek Trail there are spots of colors which are wonderful. A hike along Meigs Mountain trail or the Curry Mountain Trail will not be disappointing.

I normally love to walk the roadway in Tremont this week in October and stop all along the way at the many pools and small waterfalls and take photos of the fall colors in the leaves in the trees above reflecting in the water. This is not one of the best years for that, at least not yet.

Hiking along the West Prong Trails is very nice right now, but I suggest in the next few days to still take advantage of the Middle Prong Trail and the Greenbier Ridge Trail, however there is no color left by the time you get up to the AT. Indian Flats Falls is nice as the water flow rate is fairly low, but it is not a waterfall for "fall pictures".

Reports have come in the color is getting much nice along the Lakeshore area, but I have not been there since Monday and sadly many areas that should provide brilliant color have not done so this year even though based upon high hope we had at the start of the season.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

2014 Fall Peak Leaf Season: Where To Go To See the Best Fall Color This Weekend

This weekend is the first major weekend of autumn leaf color for the 2014 peak season in the Great Smoky Mountains and luck be with us, it is going to be a weekend with great weather as well!

The Smokies have been unseasonably warm and wet so far this fall. We also had to contend with considerable rain and wind in the past week which has pushed some of the early leaves that changed into bright fall colors to the ground, especially leaves in the very high elevations as well as sycamores, sourwoods and tulip poplars in mid and lower elevations.

Since it was not really cold enough yet at night which the maples and oaks need to turn the sugars in their leaves into bright brilliant reds and oranges, and our grasses are still mostly mid to deep green, you will be able to see lots of greens still along with nice contrasting colors which all should last longer than normal this season.

The best place to be to see the most colors in a long landscape view right now is being up high. This means by car you should take advantage of places such as the Blue Ridge Parkway, Newfound Gap Road, Clingmans Dome Road, the Foothills Parkway East between Cosby and I-40 and the Foothills Parkway West between Townsend/Walland and US129, The Smoky Mountain Parkway, and the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail behind Gatlinburg.

A little off the beaten path would be taking old State Road 284 from Big Creek to Cataloochee North Carolina. Not only are many of the overlook areas simply stunning as well as many parts of this drive, it will take you right to Cataloochee where the Elk Rut is still taking place and the colors in the mountains surrounding the Valley are beautiful.

Another exception ride today is US129 from the Foothill Parkway West all the way to the Fontana Dam. You must take a trip to the damn itself as the leaves have come in full force along the mountainside and against the blue green water, with what green is left in the mountains and the fall colors, the contrast are stunning.

If you plan on hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains to see the fall colors, there are many great choices this weekend. For a moderate hike and the ability to see stunning long range views, hike Andrews Bald starting at the Clingmans Dome parking area or the Brushy Mountain hike starting at Grotto Falls off the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Both should be nice next weekend as well.

For a more strenuous hike with equally stunning color but a better long range view looking down into Cades Cove, consider going up to Gregory Bald. This is about an 11 mile round trip hike and should be fairly popular during peak fall color season so expect the trail to be a little more crowded.

Also moderately strenuous with a very outstanding view will be the Pinnacle Man-way Trail in Greenbrier off the Ramsey Cascades trail which should be very quiet and with a 9 mile round trip, or Charlies Bunion which will be much more crowded, but well worth the 8 plus mile hike along the Appalachian Trail starting from the Newfound Gap Parking area.

Some lesser know but great fall hikes would be taking the start of the Appalachian Trail in Fontana to the fire tower, the hike to the Mount Sterling fire tower from Old State Road 284 or from Big Creek, and the Mount Cammerer Fire tower from either Cosby or the Appalachian Trail.

Less strenuous great fall hikes would be would be Abrams Falls in Cades Cove, The Little River Trail Cucumber Gap Loop in Elkmont, Husky Gap Trail from Newfound Gap Road, Rainbow Falls off Cherokee Orchard Road behind Gatlinburg, Boogerman Loop in Cataloochee, and the waterfall loop in Deep Creek.

If you are a serious hiker, no matter what way you make it up to Mount LeConte this weekend you won't be disappointed, of course it will be crowded.

The Appalachian Hiking Trail still has beautiful long range views in spots, same as the Thomas Divide Trial, but the colorful fall leaves along the trail are virtually all gone.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

2014 Fall Color Observations for Tennessee areas of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Clearly peak leaf season in the Great Smoky Mountains is right around the corner, but is sure did not feel that way in the lower elevations in Greenbrier, Tremont, Cades Cove, The Foothills Parkway West and the Abrams Falls area.

Traffic is seasonally heavy for mid week on Newfound Gap Road, Little River Road, Laurel Creek Road and the Cades Cove Loop Road. The Spur section of the Foothills Parkway that runs between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge has not only seen heavy traffic and numerous accidents, 2 separate accidents this month each resulted in a single fatality, so drivers are asked to exercise extreme caution on park roads.

To get away from all the traffic, take the Foothills Parkway West and go south on 129 to the Abrams Creek part of the Great Smoky Mountains national park which is not only just starting to show some posts of color in the higher elevations, it is virtually deserted right now with about a dozen campsites in use and during a hearty 8 mile loop hike of Rabbit Creek, Hatcher Mountain and Little Bottoms Trail, I did not see a single other hiker.

Long range views along the trail were crystal clear with just random areas showing light green and tinges of yellow other than sourwood trees which have started to change toward the bright and deep reds we all love so much. At least a dozen different species of wildflowers are still blooming and wildlife including birds was plentiful.

The views from the Foothills Parkway West are still mostly summer-like with some lower bushes and some random trees turning and well as from Look Rock. By next weekend The Foothills Parkway West and the higher portions of Abrams Creek and Cades Cove will be a sight to behold as the riot of color will swing peak leave season into those areas.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

2014 Fall Leaf Color Peak and Dates for the Great Smoky Mountains.

As signs of fall start to show in the Smokies, signs point to beautiful color and bountiful food for the local wildlife in the Great Smoky Mountains.

While fall color on the leaves is a huge attraction for people coming to the Great Smoky Mountains, a good mast crop of acorns and other nuts is crucial to wildlife in the Smokies. This year it looks as though the Great Smoky Mountains may have one of the highest yield mast crops in a very long time. On years where the mast crop is so good, the fall color tends to be brighter and last longer as long as there are no violent last minute storms to blow down the leaves.

While the first part of our fall season ushered in by the breaking of summer heat and the ripening of apples, walnuts, pawpaw, acorns and persimmons was generally dry and with seasonably comfortable temperatures, just as the acorns peak ripening ended we got a quick cold snap along with a few days of gentle soaking rain.

These cooling temperatures as well as the light soaking rain with moderate winds were enough to blow some of the early turned leaves such as in the sycamore trees which never have great color to the ground, but will hydrate the other leaves so they have a potential to stay longer in the trees and more slowly lose their green revealing much more brilliant colors that will last far longer than usual.

Based open visits have taken in the past few days to various parts of the Smokies including Newfound Gap, Elkmont, Cosby, Cades Cove, Cataloochee, Balsam Mountain, Greenbrier, Smokemont, Bryson City, Maggie Valley, Cherokee and along the Blue Ridge Parkway from Mile Marker 380 to 469, it is clear that the start of the 2014 leaf season will by October 12th along the higher elevations with southern exposure.

The first peak fall color leaf season in the Smokies for 2014 along the Blue Ridge Parkway and Balsam mountains higher elevations given present weather and plant conditions will run from October 12th through the 17th with some decent color in North Carolina and deciduous trees along higher points along Tennessee into the 25th.

Lower elevations in Tennessee such as around Cades Cove near Townsend, the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail near Gatlinburg, Cosby, Elkmont, Greenbrier, Tremont and Big Creek will be most brilliant from the 17th all the way to the 28th of October as long as the weather cooperates. After the main peak there is usually still nice color mostly deep reds and maroons in the hardwoods until the first week in November Lower down in the valleys such as Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and Wears Valley.

They key is as long as the weather keeps its current pace of wet and dry and the temperature gradually keep falling as they are doing right now, you can easily extend these dates another 4-5 days. In 2005 we had very decent fall color in the hardwoods of Tennessee as late as the second week in November with leaves in some trees the week of Thanksgiving.

As weather becomes more unpredictable and has more dramatic swings between hot and cold, and wet or dry, predicting fall color quality and peak dates as weeks as wildflower peaks have become harder and harder, however unless something dramatic happens, this looks to be an exceptionally great year for fall color and longevity of the autumn leaves in peak.

Note: These 2014 fall peak color predictions are based upon 23 years of historical data correlating temperature, moisture and fruiting density of local plants to leaf color brightness, timing and duration.