Vibrant fall colors on the trees. Crisp mountain air. Bountiful harvests. There is nothing quite like fall in North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains.
Typically the season ranges from mid-September to early November, and during this time, visitors can enjoy beautiful foliage, cooler weather for hiking, and fall festivals aplenty!
Waynesville is a perfect base to explore all this region has to offer in one of its most wonderful seasons. Read on for our list of the best fall activities in Waynesville, North Carolina!
Stop by the Barber Orchard Fruitstand
Every year, people count down the days until the Barber Orchard Fruitstand opens in early August. Stop by the stand to choose from over 20 varieties of apples, plus fresh vegetables, delicious baked goods, and homemade apple cider and apple butter.
Attend the Waynesville Apple Harvest Festival
Can’t get enough apples? Stop by the annual Apple Harvest Festival to peruse over 200 booths featuring arts and crafts, food, live music, and of course – plenty of apples, provided exclusively by Haywood County apple farms! This event is in its 35th year and is hosted annually in mid-October in downtown Waynesville.
Enjoy a Craft Beer Pub Crawl in Waynesville
Something about a crisp IPA or a smooth brown ale just feels like fall, doesn’t it? If you agree, you’re in luck! North Carolina has the most craft breweries in the South, and Waynesville is home to several of the best in the area, so it’s a great place to embark on a self-guided pub crawl.
Start at Frog Level Brewing to enjoy their selection of 21 beers on tap alongside the creek before heading to the Boojum Brewing Company for one of their ever-rotating brews and live music. Finish up your tour with a stop at the Blue Ridge Beer Hub, where you can sidle up to the bar and sip on several regional and hard-to-find beers before taking a six-pack or a fresh growler to go!
Spot Wild Elk in Cataloochee Valley
The Cataloochee Valley is one of the best places in the country to see wild elk, and the fall is a great time to witness the elk breeding season, also known as the rut. Cataloochee Valley Tours is a Waynesville-based, award-winning eco-tour company that brings visitors into the heart of the valley to see these majestic animals.
During the tour, you’ll learn about the reintroduction of elk into the valley, as well as a variety of historic buildings that remain standing in the valley. In addition to elk, you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of other wildlife, including black bears, turkeys, foxes, bobcats, and white-tailed deer. The tour finishes with a stop at the Mark Hannah Overlook, allowing you to take in the stunning views over the valley.
Visit the Downtown Waynesville Farmer’s Market
The Downtown Farmer’s Market takes place every Saturday in the heart of Waynesville and is a great place to pick up fresh produce from local purveyors, along with heritage crafts, baked goods, and plants. Stop by to check out the wares!
See the Monarch Butterfly Migration in the Smoky Mountains
Every year, thousands of Monarch butterflies embark on a 2,500-mile journey from the northern states in the US down to Mexico for the winter, and they pass right through the Smoky Mountain region on their way down! The Monarch butterfly migration can typically be seen in September and early October as they make their trek, and they tend to stick to the higher elevation areas along the Blue Ridge Parkway, where there are plentiful wildflowers. Here are some of the best viewing spots:
- Wagon Gap Road (Milepost 412.2)
- Pounding Mill Overlook (Milepost 413.2)
- Cherry Cove Overlook (Milepost 415.7)
- Black Balsam summit (Milepost 420.2)
We suggest packing a picnic before heading out for a day of butterfly spotting and magnificent mountain views. The Lake Junaluska resort, located right in Waynesville, has also been designated an official Monarch Waystation thanks to their Butterfly Garden, filled with flowers, including plentiful milkweed, that creates a safe haven for butterflies on their journey south.
Shop the Fall Leaves Arts & Crafts Festival
Arts and crafts enthusiasts will love the annual Fall Leaves Arts & Crafts Festival, hosted by the Blue Ridge Artists & Crafters Association right in Waynesville. This festival is held in mid-October and features over 40 artisans and vendors selling handmade crafts and goods. It’s a great place to find a uniquely Smoky Mountain gift or souvenir or get a head start on holiday shopping!
Take a hike in the Smoky Mountains to see the fall colors
Calling all leaf-peepers! You won’t want to miss the fall foliage season here. It’s arguably the most beautiful time of year in the Smoky Mountain region, as the rolling hills transform into a palette of vibrant red, orange, and gold. With so many hiking trails to choose from, beautiful views are guaranteed no matter what, but here are a few of our top picks:
- Waterrock Knob sits at just about 6,000 feet in elevation, which gives this location a great vantage point with almost 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains and foliage. More adventurous folks can venture down the trail here to check out the remains of a Cessna plane crash from 1983.
- The Devil’s Courthouse lookout offers incredible views of the surrounding area – thanks to its high elevation and location, visitors can see parts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee from this panoramic lookout. Birds of prey can also frequently be spotted here as they gravitate towards the hot air currents rising from the valley. Take the half-mile hike up to the summit for the best views.
- The Graveyard Fields hiking trail is one of the more popular hiking routes in the area, thanks to its natural beauty and unique features. This moderate 3.2-mile hike takes visitors past scenic waterfalls and rushing streams, plus plenty of places to view the changing colors of the leaves.
You can even check out this handy fall color map, put together by the Department of Biology at Appalachian State University, to discover the peak times to see the fall foliage in the North Carolina mountains!
Stay at a bed & breakfast – like the Red Leaf River Inn!
Whew! With so many things to do during the fall in Waynesville, NC, you’ll need a place to rest your head, and we’ve got just the place. Book a stay at the Red Leaf River Inn Bed & Breakfast – our cozy bed & breakfast is centrally located, making it the perfect launch pad for the best fall activities this area has to offer.
Hike, shop, and explore the Smoky Mountain region during the day, then return to the Red Leaf River Inn to rest by a crackling fire or enjoy a delicious dinner with seasonal local ingredients, prepared on-site by chef and owner Victor Johnston.
With our unique accommodations, you can even opt for a room with your own private balcony to look out over the property and take in the fall colors.
Book a Fall Getaway in the Smoky Mountains
If you’re looking for a fun and festive fall getaway, look no further than the Smoky Mountains. With plenty of activities to choose from, there’s something for everyone in the family. From hiking and leaf-peeping to beer crawls and festivals, you won’t run out of things to do during your stay. So what are you waiting for? Book your trip today!