Each autumn, the mountains and valleys of Haywood County are set ablaze, as a sea of green transforms into a patchwork of fiery color. Leaf-looking, as it has been called, has for a long time drawn visitors here every fall—and with good reason: There’s no better place to observe and enjoy this annual display of nature’s beauty.
Surrounded by protected wilderness areas like the Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Pisgah National Forest, Haywood County offers leaf-lookers endless panoramas of this natural, magical and awe-inspiring phenomenon. With 13 peaks surpassing 6,000 feet in elevation, the views of the changing leaves are spectacular—and seemingly endless.
Below is a list of some of most beautiful spots for leaf peeping in Haywood County.
1. Waterrock Knob Overlook – Milepost 451.2 on the Blue Ridge Parkway
This overlook has 360 views from its parking area that sits at almost 6,000 feet in elevation. With a visitor center, picnic tables and restrooms, this is the perfect spot to not only take in incredible fall leaves but also offers a chance to relax for a bit and enjoy a picnic lunch. It also offers a fantastic hiking opportunity – a 1.2 mile moderate hike will take you to the summit for even more spectacular autumn views.
2. Cataloochee Valley – Great Smoky Mountains National Park
No Fall trip to Haywood County is complete without an adventure to see the wild elk of Cataloochee Valley. From Hwy 276, take Cove Creek Rd into the remote area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park known as Cataloochee Valley. The elk roam wild throughout the valley (most noticeable at dawn and dusk), and fall signals the height of their rut season. Bull elks can often be heard “bugling” to signal their dominance over other bulls and is a highlight in itself. Besides the wild elk, the valley is home to several historic homesteads that include houses, churches, and even a school house. This serene valley is especially enjoyable in the fall as the surrounding trees and mountains come alive with golden color.
3. Max Patch
Located just off of Interstate 40 West before you cross into Tennessee, Max Patch is another great option for 360 views, but this time in a more remote area. Max Patch is a 4,600 foot mountain bald that offers acres of wide open clearings with offer amazing, unobstructed views of surrounding fall color.
4. Lake Junaluska
Lake Junaluska, located in the heart of Haywood County between Clyde, Waynesville, and Maggie Valley, offers amazing fall views courtesy of its surrounding mountains. Take in the beauty with a leisurely stroll around lake on a paved 2.6 mile trail that is also perfect for riding bikes, walking the dog, or taking a jog. Other activities includes fishing, recreational paddling, mini-golf and more.
5. Graveyard Fields Overlook and Hiking Area – Milepost 418.8 on the Blue Ridge Parkway
This is one of the most popular spots to view fall leaves on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Graveyard Fields offers plenty of opportunities to take in the beauty of the season, including rushing waterfalls and cool, clear streams are a favorite highlight. The unique layout of this trail offers the feeling of being smack dab in the middle of all the fall time beauty. Due to popularity, it is recommended to visit this area early or during the week; the parking area can often be crowded, but it is well worth waiting for a parking spot.
6. Lake Logan
Driving toward Canton, take Hwy 215 S. toward the Blue Ridge Parkway and you will come to the serene area of Lake Logan. Be sure to pull over to take a photo and explore. Recreational opportunities also include fishing, paddling, and even a ropes course that is perfect for groups.
7. Devils Courthouse Overlook and Hiking Area – Milepost 422.4 on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Devil’s Courthouse has a short but strenuous trail climbing a half-mile to its peak with wonderful panoramic mountain views. You can’t miss this sinister-looking rock formation, which is said to have gotten its name from the Cherokee legend of the slant-eyed giant Judaculla, who is said to reside within a cave located on the mountain, this eerie landmark is not to be missed. Photo opportunities at the parking area offer amazing views of the massive cliff but the hike to the top will give you fall color views of four different states – North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee.