For the ultimate great American adventure, don’t miss an autumn road trip in Asheville, North Carolina. Not only is scenery incredible and perfect for couples or families, but you can drive through the mountains of the Blue Ridge Parkway and see the leaves changing color, or hike to a scenic overlook to enjoy the views. There are also plenty of romantic places to stop for a picnic lunch by a waterfall or an evening campfire. If you’re looking for an unforgettable experience, a fall road trip through Asheville, NC, is the perfect choice.
Sadly I can’t offer you a tree surgeon-guided trip like I had (benefits of marrying an actual tree expert), but whether you know each tree or not, you’ll be as wowed as we were. Especially if you follow our 5-day fall leaf peeping itinerary from Asheville to Cherokee, North Carolina.
When to visit Asheville, NC, for peak fall color
The trees in the Asheville area are changing color and you’ll be able to see this for yourself when traveling around town. The higher elevations will witness fall first, but by late September all areas should have completed their transformation from vibrant green during summertime into breathtaking hues of orange and red. It varies every year but the last two weeks of October is a safe bet that you’ll see the full fabulousness of fall. Expect vibrant reds, flaming oranges and bright yellow pops of color that change with the elevation. For the latest fall leaves forecast, visit Asheville’s leaf predictor.
North Carolina Fall Weather Forecast
The Blue Ridge Mountains surrounding Asheville make a premier Southeastern destination for autumn leaf watchers. One such place worth checking out while you’re here? The 469-mile ribbon of road weaves around some stunning peaks – connecting Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
Particularly for my southern friends who don’t get to experience full-fledged Autumn, Asheville is easy to get to without hopping on a flight, so provided gas prices aren’t even higher than now (WOW) it’s a bit cheaper than flying to New England and renting a car.
And if you’re from say, New England, you already know how great fall is so maybe the trees won’t blow your hair back, but there’s so much more to the area from amazing restaurants, the Biltmore Estate and the River Arts District.
Getting to Asheville, NC
Asheville is a prime leaf-peeping road trip destination because it’s so close to so many other hubs. If you’re driving in, it’s less than 6 hours from Atlanta, Jacksonville, Savannah, Charleston, Nashville, Lexington and Charlotte.
And if you’re flying in, you can get directly to Charlotte (CLT) from dozens of airports in the US and abroad, then rent a car and make the quick drive over to Asheville. We drove up from Jacksonville, Florida, where it was about 85 degrees and very green. Just six hours later, we were in the middle of some of the prettiest fall colors I’ve ever seen.
DETOUR: If you have time and you’re coming up from the south, check out Chimney Rock.
Day 1 – Get to Know Asheville, NC
Accommodations: The Princess Anne Hotel
Check into your hotel! We stayed at the Princess Anne Hotel, within walking distance of downtown, incredible food and not far from all Asheville’s top attractions. After a gorgeous renovation now it’s a 16-suite hotel with a charming courtyard and free parking. It has all charm of a bed and breakfast with the privacy of a hotel, and it’s historic, comfortable and centrally located without being on the main drag. We loved the complimentary afternoon wine & hors d’oeuvres hour and home-cooked breakfast in the morning. Click here to check rates at availability at the Princess Anne Hotel.
Dinner: Pack’s Tavern
Grab dinner at Pack’s Tavern but be prepared for a lengthy wait of more than an hour. Sadly they don’t take reservations! But go early, get your name on the list and shop around the area or sit in the park and enjoy the people watching. We popped into Mast General Store and found where everyone buys their stylish outdoor hiking clothes plus apple butter, boots and dog apparel. It’s a far more upscale Cracker Barrel, so don’t miss it.
So back to Pack’s Tavern. I ordered the Blackberry BBQ Brisket Mac n Cheese Skillet and HI. I LOVE YOU. I’m so picky about my mac-and-cheese but Rick convinced me and I was wowed. So rich and creamy and amazing.
Can’t wait for dinner? These spots also came highly recommended:
- The Bull and Beggar
- Sunset Terrace
Day 2 – Explore Asheville’s River Arts District
I always hate shopping when I’ve flown somewhere because it’s a beast carting anything large home, but road trips have the opposite issue. If I can fit it in the car, I’m buying it! The River Arts District along the French broad River has such a cool vibe. Artist studios and workshops line a warehouse-like area across from the riverside walking path, breweries, food trucks, picnic tables, a skate park and so much street art. We went on a Sunday in the Fall and it wasn’t busy at all.
Day 3 – Explore the Biltmore Estate
Breakfast: Princess Anne Hotel
While the Princess Anne has everything a hotel does, there’s also a cooked to-order breakfast with a menu that changes daily. You’ll pick a reservation time on arrival day and then just pop down to the dining room to order whatever you like. The avocado toast was our favorite, and you can grab coffee to go before you head out for the day’s big activity.
A Day at the Biltmore Estate
The leaves take on a whole new beauty in autumn, and there’s no better place to see them than at the Biltmore Estate. The estate is located just south of downtown Asheville and it’s the perfect destination for an autumn road trip. The Biltmore House is a magnificent mansion that was built during the Gilded Age, and it’s surrounded by acres of beautiful gardens and forestry. There are also plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy, from horseback riding to wine tastings. Plus, the estate is located in one of the most scenic areas of the country, so you’re sure to have an amazing experience. America’s Largest Home is a can’t miss Asheville experience, especially because it’s such a different vibe from the rest of town. We’re talking the glitz and finery of the Gilded Age vs well, *gestures around wildly,* whatever age we find ourselves in now.
The massive Vanderbilt mansion is set amidst acres of brilliantly colored leaves, and the grounds are perfect for a scenic autumn road trip. Inside the house, visitors can explore the opulent rooms that were once home to the Vanderbilts, and learn about the Gilded Age lifestyle. The Biltmore Estate is one of those places best experienced in every season, but if you only have one, you can’t go wrong with Autumn. You’ll need a ticket and a reserved time even if you just want to access the grounds, so go ahead and tour the house early in the day before heading out to parts afar.
After touring the house, which is just stunning and absolutely enormous, we spent the rest of the day outside on the grounds. There are thousands of acres to traverse including the Rose Garden and Conservatory and we found the trails from the house down to the bass pond filled with fall colors and trees we just don’t get to see in Florida.
PRO TIP: Visit the Biltmore during the week to avoid large crowds. The mansion is incredible but harder to enjoy when there’s 50 people crossing your personal space.
Lunch: Biltmore Estate
There are a variety of options for dining at the Biltmore Estate, so you can grab a little picnic to go to eat as you wander the grounds or there are sit-down restaurants you can walk/drive to like the Village Social or Cedric’s Tavern.
PRO TIP: the end of October is a great TIME to see the fall colors and the beginning of the Christmas season at Biltmore. We were there on the day the big Christmas tree arrived – so that’s how they do it! Watch the video here.
The Biltmore shuts down for offsite guests around sunset, so we reluctantly left as the last color danced in the trees and went back to downtown Asheville for dinner at Bouchon. Rick and I have this weird tradition where we eat escargot on our anniversary, so this homey French spot on Lexington Avenue was just the ticket.
We got escargot to start. Garlicky and buttery. The food was delicious, particularly the lobster ravioli and the steak frites. Heaven on a plate! We had profiteroles for dessert – overkill because we were already so stuffed. A great dish to share.
Service was friendly but super slow, and most online reviews reflect that. Even still, there’s great ambiance and we had a lovely time. Make a reservation here.
More Asheville Tours You Might Like:
- Downtown Asheville Bike Tour
- Breweries of Asheville Tour
- Guided Horseback Ride Through Flame and Fern Forest
- Guided Hike to Blue Ridge Waterfalls
Day 4 – Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway
“America’s Favorite Drive”
One of the best ways to experience autumn is by driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway. As you wind your way through the mountains, you’ll be treated to a kaleidoscope of colors as the leaves change from green to yellow, orange and red. The views are even more spectacular when the autumn sun casts a golden glow over the landscape. Best of all, there are plenty of opportunities to pull over and enjoy the scenery, whether you’re hiking to a waterfall or simply taking in the view from one of the many overlooks. So if you’re looking for a memorable autumn road trip, be sure to add the Blue Ridge Parkway to your list.
PRO TIP: Hit up the visitors center just south of Asheville for maps and brochures for things to see and do along the way.
We had no plan other than to see where the day took us. The leaves just outside Asheville were incredible, fluttering in the sun. This part of the Parkway rises in elevation, so we everything from saw peak fall color to evergreens on the mountaintops. There are so many trails and waterfalls to stop if you’re prepared. We found a couple smaller walks along the way but would budget more time on a return trip. It’s just too pretty to sit in the car the whole time!
The Blue Ridge Parkway speed limit is anywhere from 35-35, so if you’re in a hurry, take the interstate. This scenic byway is meant to be savored.
Accommodations: Vacation Rental in Maggie Valley, NC
We booked a cozy cabin in Maggie Valley. My only stipulation was a hot tub with a view of fall leaves and this place delivered!
Day 5 – Explore Smoky Mountains National Park
One of only a few trails in the national park where dogs are allowed is right at the entrance in Cherokee. First stop: the visitors center to get trail maps and some guidance on where to catch a glimpse of the local elk. Elk were hunted to extinction in this area, but reintroduced into the park in 2001 with about 50. Now there are nearly 300, and they can be seen from Maggie Valley to Cherokee and points in between.
We missed the rut by about a week, and really if you want to see the big bucks, that’s the best time to visit. Still it’s pretty thrilling to see a herd of cows in a field as you drive a long. (Just put a leash on your husband so he doesn’t jump out of a moving vehicle to see them.)
On the way back to the Airbnb, check out BearWaters brewery for yummy flatbreads and a host of local beers right on the river.