First Fall Colors: Things to Do in Blue Ridge Mtns

Fall Color at Sugar Mountain NC

September & October Vacations
Get away to our mile-high resort village of Sugar Mountain, the sweet spot for the first fall colors high in the North Carolina mountains. We are the epicenter for spectacular views and things to do in the High Country. Our friendly mountaintop village is the perfect base camp for fall mountain excursions since we are surrounded by Pisgah National Forest, Blue Ridge Parkway and the highest peaks of the Blue Ridge. Stay in a vacation rental home, cabin or condo with panoramic views or tucked away in the forest.

Below, find our fall color forecast, best scenic drives, and top things to do within a 20-mile radius of Sugar Mountain. 

Sugar Mountain Golf Course Fall ColorMid October: Plenty of fall color across Sugar Mountain – including our public golf course.

NC Fall Foliage Forecast: When is Peak Color?

When is peak fall color in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina? The below map was created by the fall experts at nearby Appalachian State University. From the mile-high summit of Sugar Mountain (elevation 5,300) to the nearby valley deep in the Linville Gorge (elevation 1,300 ft), you’ll find autumn colors for many weeks. Since elevation varies greatly in our area, easily drive to find the most vibrant colors. If leaves are past peak in one area, just head down in elevation. Weather controls the exact timeline. If we have a warmer than usual September, colors are slower to turn. 

Oct 2023 Update: Due to warm weather in early October, fall color peak is 1-2 weeks later that usual. 

  • Late September: See the first foliage turning on our highest summits (5,000 ft and above) and rocky slopes including the Rough Ridge hike.
  • Early October: Head to elevations above 4,000 ft including much of Sugar Mountain, Grandfather Mountain and Linn Cove Viaduct area of the Blue Ridge Parkway for the most foliage color.
  • Mid October: Most of the Blue Ridge Parkway in our area (see our Parkway Scenic Loop) peaks in elevations above 3,000 ft – especially the Linville Falls area.
  • Late October: Our valleys and views from the Parkway into the valleys are the most vibrant. Areas of color continue into early November.

Check back here for the latest updates on the peak color forecast and follow us on Facebook for real-time photos and updates.

Fall Color Map, NC Blue Ridge Mountains

Best NC Mountains Fall Scenic Drives

The Sugar Mountain area has of some of the most spectacular autumn scenic drives in the country. Tip: Visit midweek for less traffic. Traveling early morning or late afternoon usually provides best lighting for photos.

Blue Ridge Parkway Fall Color

  • Blue Ridge Parkway Loop: One of America’s favorite drives is the Blue Ridge Parkway, part of the National Park Service. From Sugar Mountain, take a loop drive to see some of the most scenic sections – including the Linn Cove Viaduct, Moses Cone Park, Price Lake and Linville Falls. Stop for hikes, picnics and waterfalls. While the loop is only 55 miles, you should allow a full day for the many places to explore. See our Blue Ridge Parkway Drive Guide.
  • Valle Crucis: From Sugar Mountain, turn left onto NC 184 to Banner Elk. At the stoplight, turn right onto NC 194 for a winding drive through Pisgah National Forest to the famous, original Mast General Store. It’s only about 10 miles, but allow 20 minutes to drive curvy road. Hike to Crab Orchard Falls along the way. Book a tour at Apple Hill Farm to see the animals. On the way back, stop at Banner Elk Winery. From the winery, take a short side trip up Shawnee Road past the Winery for spectacular mountain views.
  • Elk River Falls: Drive 15 miles through the Pisgah National Forest via NC 194 North (Mission Crossing NC Scenic Byway) along the Elk River to the historic town of Elk Park. From town, follow signs to the waterfall. Read more about Elk Falls.

20 Fall Favorite Things to Do: NC Blue Ridge

With those fresh mountain breezes and gorgeous scenery on the mountain, you may not want to leave your porch or balcony at your vacation rental on Sugar Mountain. If you do, here are some ideas within a short and scenic drive. 

Vacation Rentals: Use Sugar Mountain as your basecamp by staying in vacation rental home, cabin or condo on the higher slopes with panoramic views or tucked away in the woodlands. See our top places to find the perfect rental – including large homes for family and friend gatherings. 

Hiking: From easy strolls to all day backpacking treks, find a hiking trail for all abilities. Head out early or weekdays to avoid the most crowded times. See our Top 20 Hikes near Sugar Mountain.

Sugar Mountain Golf Club: Our public 18-hole course offers a gorgeous setting to enjoy the fall color. The par-64 layout maximizes every view, every mountain brook, and every stand of rhododendron and forest on the 60-acre site. It’s a popular course, so reserve your tee time well in advance! Green fees start at just $22. Open daily through October 31. Read more about Public Golf.

Sugar Mountain Public Tennis: Located adjacent to our Golf Shop are our six tennis courts meticulously maintained of fast-dry, Har-tru clay. No membership required! Open through mid October. Read more about Public Tennis.

Scenic Lift Rides Fall Color at Sugar Mountain

Scenic Lift Rides: A unique way to watch fall colors arrive! Ride to the peak of Sugar Mountain on September weekends (Fri-Sun + Labor Day) and October 7-8 for Oktoberfest. Take a picnic to enjoy the big views and hike out to the rocky summit. Read about Lift Rides

Williams Park: Our 14-acre public park on Sugar Mountain has a picnic pavilion and a half mile of nature trails through a dense forest and along a cascading stream through a boulder field. See our Park Guide.

Mountain Biking: The Bike Park on the ski slopes at Sugar Mountain Resort is open weekends (Fri-Sun) in September plus Labor Day. Ride the lift to the mile-high summit and ride down 1,200 vertical feet on a network of trails. Read more about the Downhill Bike Park.

Picnics: Pick up some picnic supplies and drive the Blue Ridge Parkway or hike to a mountaintop vista. Possibilities are endless. 

Waterfalls: See five waterfalls near Sugar Mountain – along with details on how to find each. Go waterfall hunting!

Grandfather Mountain: The top scenic attraction in western North Carolina is right next door! The entrance to the famous mountain and Mile High Swinging Bridge is just 8 miles from Sugar’s main entrance. For avid hikers, the trailhead to the famous Profile Trail is 2 miles from the main Sugar Mtn entrance. See our Grandfather Mountain Guide.

Apple Hill Farm: Tour this alpaca farm with a variety of interesting animals – fun for the entire family. It’s just 8 miles from the main Sugar Mountain entrance. Read more.

Sugar Creek Mining Company: Grab a bucket and head to the flume line for gem hunting. They will help you identify your finds and even create jewelry from them. They are located across from the main entrance to Sugar Mountain. Read more.

Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster: Ride the two-person carts down the mountain at speeds up to 27 MPH – complete with three 360-degree loops. It’s located near the main entrance to Sugar Mountain. Book tickets in advance! Read more.

Wilderness Run Adventure Course: An aerial playground for both kids and adults, located beside the Alpine Coaster. Explore the treetops via easy, immediate and advance routes with 28 obstacles to navigate while safely harnessed at all times. Read more.

Mast General Store: Drive a scenic, winding road down to Valle Crucis to explore the original store that dates from the late 1800s. Take a trip back in time with two historic buildings packed with candy, outdoor gear, toys, gourmet cookware, local jams, shoes and much more. It’s 10 miles from Sugar Mountain. Read more.

Art Galleries: Find a big array of works from regional and national artists at many galleries in our area. Read more.

Nearby Small Towns: Explore nearby charming towns of Banner Elk (2.5 miles), Blowing Rock (15 miles) and Boone (15 miles) for quick day trips from Sugar Mountain for shopping, performing arts and even more restaurant choices.

Wineries & Breweries: Toast to fall and friends at their fantastic hang-outs, perfect for relaxing with your special someone, family or group of friends. See our Winery Guide!

  • Kettell Beerworks (567 Main Street East, Banner Elk) is 3 miles from Sugar Mountain.
  • Banner Elk Winery (60 Deer Run Lane, Banner Elk) is 5 miles north of the Sugar Mountain main entrance
  • Grandfather Vineyard and Winery (225 Vineyard Lane, Banner Elk) is 5 miles east from the Sugar Mountain main entrance.
  • Linville Falls Winery (9557 Linville Falls Highway, Newland) is 16 miles south of Sugar Mountain.

Shopping: From antiques to souvenirs, find plenty of shops to browse. See our list of top spots.

Tweetsie Railroad Amusement Park: Experience wild west adventure for kids of all ages with steam locomotive train ride, classic amusement rides, zoo, gem mining and a variety of live entertainment. Ride the Ghost Train on weekend nights from late September through October. Located about 18 miles from Sugar Mountain. See our Tweetsie RR Guide.

Hero’s Axe House: Find six axe throwing lanes with projected targets for exciting games with digital scoring. Try Line-Up-Four, Tic-Tac-Toe, Duck Hunter, and more. Ages 10 & up. 4501 Tynecastle Hwy, Suite 6, Seven Devils. (next to Highlander’s Grill). Go to their website.

Village Visitor Center: Located near the village main entrance and open 24/7, our Outdoor Info Kiosk has plenty of brochures and updates about our area for many other things to do. Also, see our illustrated Village of Sugar Mountain map for a quick overview.

Oktoberfest Sugar Mountain

Fall Festivals & Events

Labor Day Weekend
Top events include scenic lift rides & bike park, Art on the Greene (Sat & Sun) in Banner Elk and Grillin & Chillin finale on Monday night. See our Labor Day Weekend Guide.

 September 8-10, 15-17, & 22-24, 2023: Autumn at Oz
The former amusement park based on the Wizard of Oz comes back to life with the return of all the characters, the largest Wizard of Oz festival in the country. You begin tours at Dorothy’s house – complete with a tornado. Then you walk the Yellow Brick Road to Emerald City with many stops along the way. Read more.

October 7-8, 2023: Oktoberfest at Sugar Mountain
Find a festive Bavarian atmosphere that is very family-friendly with many things to do. Festival admission, parking and shuttles are free. All the fun takes place at the Ski Lodge (1009 Sugar Mountain Drive). The festivities take place 10 AM until 5 PM Saturday and Sunday and include live Bavarian music, costume contest, kids fun center, scenic chairlift rides and beer. Read more about Oktoberfest.

October 21-22, 2023: Woolly Worm Festival
People travel from across the country each fall to watch the woolly worms race to select the winner to predict the winter weather based on the 13 bands of color. No experience needed. Worms and quick lessons available for all. Explore the craft fair with 175 vendors and enjoy live music and rides for the kids. Saturday 9am-5pm & Sunday 9am-4pm at the Historic Banner Elk Elementary School, 185 Azalea Circle, Banner Elk. From the entrance of Sugar Mountain, simply turn left and drive 2.5 miles. Go to our Woolly Worm Festival Guide.

October 21, 2023: Valle Country Fair
Just 10 miles from Sugar Mountain is one of the most beloved, authentic celebration of our Blue Ridge with the best local food, crafts, music and dance. Feast on Brunswick Stew, chili, BBQ and more. Take home fresh baked goods, homemade jams & jellies and apple butter made while you watch. Find a big selection of handmade arts and crafts by the finest regional artists, and tap your feet to bluegrass and country bands on one stage. Go to our Valle Country Fair Guide.

September 22-October 28, 2023: Tweetsie Railroad Ghost Train
Take a 20-minute nighttime train ride in an open-air car behind a Skull-faced steam locomotive, brave the Haunted House, enjoy classic amusement rides and much more. Go to our Ghost Train Guide

Places to Stay High in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Sugar Mountain is home to a big variety of vacation rentals including large homes, cozy cabins and condos with panoramic views. Tip: Due to the popularity of our fall season, be sure to book early. Start looking for a place here!

What’s Our Elevation?

Since fall color changes according the elevation, here is a sampling of altitudes. Peak fall color begins on the highest peaks in early October and ends in the lowest valleys by late October.

  • Grandfather Mountain: 5,946 feet
  • Sugar Mountain Top: 5,300 feet
  • Sugar Mountain Golf Course: 4,000 feet
  • Banner Elk: 3,701 feet
  • Blue Ridge Parkway, Linn Cove Viaduct: 4,300 feet
  • Blue Ridge Parkway, Linville Falls Area: 3,300 feet
  • Valle Crucis: 2,677 feet
  • Table Rock on rim of Linville Gorge: 4,101 feet
  • Linville River at the bottom of Linville Gorge: 1,300 feet

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