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WNC Fall Leaf Forecast: Expect Vibrant Colors This Year, And Even More Tourists

Jared Gant
Western North Carolina is already starting to get a glimpse of its upcoming fall leaf season in places like this in Jackson County. Photo taken on Highway 215 just south of the Blue Ridge Parkway.


Experts predict the upcoming fall leaf season in Western North Carolina will be considerably betterfrom last year’s, and you can thank all the rain the region received in 2017 for that.  BPR’s Davin Eldridge has more…


The time of year when the mountains finally shed the dark green of their canopy is fast approaching. In early autumn they’ll take on brilliant shades of yellow, red and brown.  The region has long been known for its fall leaf season, and has built a growing tourism industry around it. Western Carolina University gives an official forecast of the season each year, and Dr. Beverly Collins heads it up:

“I think it will actually be a fairly typical season this season. I think it’ll be pretty good color. Obviously the storm that has just come through has knocked off some of the leaves, and so in spots there may be a thinner canopy or less colorful canopy than there would have been. But overall I think it’s going to be a pretty good fall season.”

Even though she describes this year as a “typical” one for leaves, don’t let her fool you—it is different. In the last few previous years, Dr. Collins accurately predicted the seasons would be less-than-colorful, due in large part to prolonged drought and climate change. This year however, the region has experienced adequate rainfall, including a record-breaking hurricane, which she explains makes for a stronger leaf season.

“It's been a very good year for photosynthesis. Some years like this one, we'll get lucky. It will be a good year for leaves."

As usual, this year's leaf season will begin in early October, and will peak by its second to third week. Although the region’s last few leaf seasons proved to be dull, compared with this year’s, the downturn seemed to have no impact whatsoever on its tourism industry. In fact, the mountains enjoyed a record fall season last year, according to Dr. Steve Morse, professor of tourism and hospitality at Western.

Each year, Dr. Morse looks at the total amount of hotel bookings in the region, as part of his ongoing research of its tourism industry. And each year, he finds this industry outperforms the last in terms of growth. He says this year will be no different.

“Whether or not there’s bright colors or not, it’s still a great phenomenon to look at. It’s going to be another strong October, with increases of up to 3.5 percent from last October.” Because the region has seen a steady increase in tourism for several years running, Doctor Morse finds no correlation between the industry and leaf forecasts, although he says with this year’s outlook being good, it certainly couldn’t hurt anything. He adds this also speaks volumes of the reputation the region has earned this time of year.

“The fall foliage phenomenon is more driven by seasonality and tradition. A lot of families want to take their fall weekend trips.”

According to a recent report by the North Carolina Division of Tourism, the top four counties to see an increase in tourism spending from last year include Cherokee, Watauga, Jackson and Macon, respectively—proving that for all of this year’s gray skies, there is a silver lining, and it comes in comes in the form of fall colors. For BPR News, I’m Davin Eldridge.

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