The 7 Best Places to See North Carolina Fall Foliage

The fall colors in Maggie Valley

Fall is the perfect season to get outside and enjoy Mother Nature’s painted landscape. If you happen to be exploring around Greenville, South Carolina, make sure to take a few day trips to explore the best places to see North Carolina Fall foliage. The Blue Ridge Mountains of the Southern Appalachian Mountain range offer a variety of places to see colorful leaves and amazing waterfalls. Here is everything you need to enjoy an outing exploring the best fall foliage in North Carolina.

The fall colors in Maggie Valley
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Field by Oconaluftee Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Cherokee, North Carolina, is a great place for a day trip to explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Cherokee Indian heritage and history. There is much to see in Cherokee, including the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, Oconaluftee River, Oconaluftee Indian Village, Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, the Mountain Farm Museum, and of course, the elk in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If you are looking for hiking trails to see the fall foliage up close, check out the Oconaluftee River Trail, a 3.1-mile round-trip hike along the beautiful Oconaluftee River. Or, if you love chasing waterfalls, hike the 0.3-mile round trip to the magnificent Mingo Falls. Whatever you choose to do, Cherokee will surprise you with its simplicity and beauty.

Chimney Rock State Park

Chimney Rock State Park

Chimney Rock is a massive 535-million-year-old, 315-ft-tall granite rock in Rutherford County, North Carolina. After you park your car in Chimney Rock State Park, you have two choices to reach the top of Chimney Rock, a 30sec elevator ride or the Outcroppings trail (494 steps). I chose to take the elevator up and walk the trail down.

Elevator Tunnel at Chimney Rock

The elevator is at the end of a 198-ft tunnel. If you are claustrophobic, I would recommend taking the outdoors Outcroppings trail. At the end of the elevator ride, you have an additional 44 steps to the flag and the 360° panoramic view of the Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure.

Flag at the top of Chimney Rock

I took my time hiking down the Outcroppings trail enjoying the views and taking photos of everything that captured my eye. From the Gneiss Cave, the Grotto, Subway, and Pulpit Rock to colorful rock striations. Plan at least an hour and a half for the hike and views up Chimney Rock.

Outcroppings Trail at Chimney Rock

When I finally reached the bottom, I decided to hike the Hickory Nut Falls Trail. This is a short 3/4-mile hike to an amazing 404-ft waterfall. This is a very popular trail, and if you are hoping to get a photo of the waterfall without people in it, you might be waiting a while. When I was visiting, the water flowing over the falls was light enough that people were walking on the ledge below the fall to the other side. The rocks were very slippery, but that didn’t stop entire families from getting photos by the waterfall.

People at the bottom of Hickory Nut Falls

With all there is to see in Chimney Rock State Park, you should be able to get some fantastic views of North Carolina’s fall foliage.

Baston Creek Falls & Connestee Falls

Connestee Falls

Connestee Falls and Batson Creek Falls are a pair of converging waterfalls near Brevard, North Carolina, right off U.S. Highway 276. A small parking lot with an accessible boardwalk toward the rear leads to an overlook that sits directly above one of the falls. You can see the two waterfalls merge when you get to the overlook. Connestee Falls is an 85-foot waterfall on Carson Creek, and Baston Creek Falls is a 20-foot cascade on Batson Creek. It is a bit misty at the end of the boardwalk, so make sure your camera is protected. The county park is open year-round and is free to visitors.

Maggie Valley

View of Maggie Valley from the Observation Deck at Soco Crafts

The most photographed view in the Smoky Mountains is worth the quick roadside stop to see one of the best places to see North Carolina fall foliage. At Soco Crafts, for 50 cents, you can climb up the nine-story observation tower to see a magnificent 360° colorful fall view of Maggie Valley. It was a great break from sitting in the car to climb up the stairs and enjoy the clean, fresh autumn air.

The observation deck at Soco Crafts in Maggie Valley

If you can’t make it up the stairs, there is a lower viewing platform of the valley next to the store. After taking selfies and photos of North Carolina’s fall foliage, head back down to browse the gift shop. Inside this cute little store, you’ll find a variety of crafts, souvenirs, T-shirts, bumper stickers, wind chimes, and so much more. Soco Crafts and Tower is located at 6638 Soco Rd in Maggie Valley.

Pisgah National Forest

Pisgah National Forest

One of the best places to see North Carolina fall foliage is within the Pisgah National Forest (pronounced PIZ-guh), which is 10 minutes from downtown Asheville, North Carolina. At 500,000 acres of hardwood forest, it is large enough to be North and South of Asheville in western North Carolina. And one of the popular scenic drives through Pisgah National Forest is the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway on U.S. Highway 276.

Its entrance is near Brevard, just 30 miles south of downtown Asheville. Along the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway, you can find many waterfalls, including the Looking Glass Falls, Moore Cove Falls, and the Sliding Rock Falls. Besides the many waterfalls, driving within the forest will give you ample time to enjoy the best of North Carolina’s fall foliage. There aren’t too many areas to pull over, but that shouldn’t stop you from rolling down the window and snapping a few pics with your phone.

Looking Glass Falls

Looking Glass Falls

Looking Glass Falls is 45 minutes from downtown Asheville. It is located along U.S. Highway 276 in Pisgah National Forest. Looking Glass Falls has a 75-foot drop in a tight gorge that you can see from the observation deck by the road or take the stairs down to see the bottom of the falls. You can wade and splash at the bottom when the water level is low.

When my Aunt and I were, two young influencers climbed the rocks next to the waterfall and were taking selfies, drinking, changing clothes, and not caring if they were blocking everyone’s photo of the waterfall. They completely ignored calls for them to move out of the way and that they were disturbing everybody’s view of the waterfall. I ended up waiting over 45 minutes for them to get out of the way for me to take this one photo of the waterfall. My reason for bringing this up is to remember that there are other people in the world besides yourself and to be courteous to other travelers. Nature is for everyone!

Sliding Rock

Sliding Rock Area in Pisgah National Forest

Not even three miles from Looking Glass Falls, there is another great place to see North Carolina fall foliage. Sliding Rock Falls is a 60-foot waterfall that gradually glides down a rock face that’s smooth enough that in the summertime, hundreds of people line up for the water slide daily. At the end of the natural water slide, there is an eight-foot deep pool at the bottom. Lifeguards are on duty only during the summer, with an entrance fee of $4. The Sliding Rock area is open 365 days a year, weather and water levels permitting.

Where to Eat

Hawg Wild Barbecue – Brevard, North Carolina

Hawg Wild Barbeque in Brevard

Located at the entrance of Pisgah National Forest, Hawg Wild BBQ in Brevard is the perfect place to have lunch before a drive or even a hike to see the best of North Carolina fall foliage. The restaurant is quite popular with locals and visitors alike. They offer eastern (spicy vinegar) and western-style (sweet tomato-based) barbecue on their menu. I went with the western-style pulled pork sandwich, which was delicious. I also loved the hush-puppy side. Service is quick and friendly, and you can’t help looking at the kitschy pig decor scattered around the restaurant. They are open daily from 11 a.m to 8 p.m. but closed at 4 p.m. on Sundays.

Pulled Pork Sandwich at Hawg Wild Barbeque in Brevard

River Watch Waterfront Bar & Grill – Chimney Rock Village, North Carolina

River Watch Waterfront Bar & Grill

If you are exploring Chimney Rock Village, a great restaurant to eat at is the River Watch Waterfront Bar & Grill. They have a patio where you can enjoy the soothing sounds of the Chimney Rock River while munching down on some delicious hearty food. There might be a long wait for a table during the summer months, but it is definitely worth the wait. I ordered the Mac & Cheese Burger, 1/2 lb Prime Beef Burger topped with creamy Mac & Cheese, melted cheddar, and addition of bacon. You can’t go wrong with bacon! It was a gooey mess but oh so good!

Other Places to Explore

Hendersonville, North Carolina

Pastel-colored bear in Hendersonville

If you have some time at the end of your day, swing by Hendersonville, North Carolina. From May to late October, Hendersonville’s main street has beautiful works of bear art scattered around the town. Each year you will see different creative bears on display, and at the end of the season, they are auctioned off. You must go back year after year to see the new bear art on display around town.

While walking around town and doing a little window shopping, I wandered into the Mast General Store. This large two story-brick building was built in 1909, and when you walk inside, it is a little overwhelming to see how huge it is inside. The second floor has a wonderful selection of active and outerwear, and the main floor has a big selection of old-fashioned barrel candy, kitchen/food goods, and plenty of souvenirs.

Inside Mast General Store at Hendersonville, NC


Heather at the top of Chimney Rock

I hope you find this article helpful on finding the best places to see North Carolina fall foliage. I had a great time exploring western North Carolina, and I can’t wait to get back there to discover more great places. Have you been to any of these places to see the colors changing on the leaves in North Carolina? What is your favorite place to visit?

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Further Reading

If you are exploring the Carolinas, check out these posts for extra travel inspiration:

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