The first day of fall is finally here, and with it should come cooler weather, crisper air, and leaves turning auburn, gold, and crimson. 

The North Carolina mountains are famous for the explosion of color that spreads across the peaks each year, especially around the Blue Ridge Parkway. But if you’re looking for a natural haven to enjoy a good book, a place for your kids to play, or the perfect spot for an artistic Instagram photo, Raleigh is also rife with opportunities to spot fall leaves. 

“The beauty of Raleigh’s tree canopy is that you get bursts of fall color all over the place,” City of Raleigh Urban Forester Zach Manor wrote in an email. “But the most spectacular spots are usually those next to water or that have more open viewsheds.”

Manor recommended walking the Neuse River Trail, Reedy Creek Trail at the N.C. Museum of Art, or the loop trails at Lake Johnson to see the city’s best fall foliage. Other good places to watch the leaves include Lake Wheeler, Falls Lake, and Shelly Lake, he said. 

Raleigh also has plenty of parks that help it earn its nickname, the City of Oaks. Pullen, Dix, and Nash Square parks are some of the best places to see towering trees, along with the Durant and Horseshoe Farm nature preserves, according to Manor. 

Oak trees tend to turn later in the season than the red maple, another tree commonly found in the Triangle. The scarlet oak is named for its vivid fall color, but the white, black, Shumard, and post oak trees also turn a brilliant red, bronze, or yellow in the fall. If you’re searching for something a little more unusual, keep an eye out for the sweetgum, bald cypress, or river birch, which turn a lovely variety of colors, even purple.

Peak fall foliage won’t arrive in the Triangle until October 18 or later, so if you’re a true autumn aficionado, head to the mountains. There, trees are expected to start turning in late September and reach peak color around October 11. A local travel website, Blue Ridge Mountain Life, posts weekly updates on the color of leaves in the mountains, so you can check if it’s a good time for leaf-peeping before you hit the road.

Blue Ridge Mountain Life also posts an annual fall foliage forecast, which this year predicts an “on-time” season. Leaves will start changing color at higher elevations, with the color slowly working its way down the slope of the mountain, according to the website. Here’s a guide to where and when you can find peak fall color around the mountains. 

October 1-12: For the best fall foliage, visit Graveyard Fields, Clingmans Dome, Grandfather Mountain, Mount Mitchell, Waterrock Knob, or the higher elevations of the Blue Ridge Parkway between Asheville and Cherokee.

October 12-16: Hike Black Balsam Knob and Sam Knob or climb to the summit of Max Patch Mountain for 360-degree views.

October 17-21: The majority of trees in Great Smoky Mountains National Park will have turned, plus almost everything along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Boone, Blowing Rock, Mount Pisgah, and Bearwallow Mountain are also good places to visit. 

October 21-24: Check out Pisgah National Forest, Linville Gorge, Nantahala Gorge, Maggie Valley, and Cataloochee Valley.

October 24-27: Asheville, Brevard, Waynesville, Cherokee, DuPont State Forest, and Biltmore all have wonderful fall colors. 

October 26-November 8: Time to go to Chimney Rock! 

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