Abundant summer rainfall and cool September nights have already launched the fall foliage season in high elevations of western North Carolina state parks. For the first time, travelers can keep track of peak color as it makes its way across the state through park ranger reports available online at www.visitnc.com, according to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.
Regular updates will keep visitors posted on how fall color is progressing through the different types of forests in North Carolina, from the brilliant red of mountain sourwood to the rust-colored cedar in eastern wetlands. The fall season in the state truly lasts from late September into December.
Western state parks will immediately join a list of sites reporting peak color to the N.C. Division of Tourism, which prominently features a fall foliage travel section on www.visitnc.com. As the season progresses, rangers in other regions of the state will submit similar reports.
Here are a few of the most popular state parks for enjoying fall color include:
* Stone Mountain State Park in Wilkes and Alleghany counties, where fall color is peaking just as leaves begin to fall in the higher elevations of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The park offers more than 18 miles of hiking trails.
* Hanging Rock State Park in Stokes County, named in 2012 as one of the 10 best spots for viewing fall color in the South by Southern Living magazine. The park offers trails across nine named peaks.
* Raven Rock State Park in Harnett County, where beech groves and hardwood forests mix with eastern evergreens. The park offers surprisingly challenging terrain in the piedmont.
* Merchants Millpond State Park in Gates County, where swamp cedars and stands of hardwood alternate color palettes. Canoes can be rented for waterborne leaf watching.
Travelers and leaf peepers in the western part of the state may also want to note a new fall color tracking tool for the Blue Ridge Parkway. The folks at Blue Ridge Parkway Daily are providing a unique color-coded map of the BRP which shows the progress of fall colors along the entire route. Here's what the latest update looks like, but to check out updates as the fall season progresses, you should click here: