Milder temperatures coupled with southern hospitality make the South the perfect place to visit during the fall. Moreover, leaves change colors later in the year in the southeastern U.S., so you can enjoy a drive through the scenic mountains and valleys well until mid-to-late November. Base your getaway in some of these charming small towns, from where you can access most pristine Appalachian trails, high waterfalls, and hidden wineries.
BOONE, NORTH CAROLINA
Boone is a small adventure town that sits atop the majestic Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. The High Country offers a number of panoramic spots over steep peaks and overlooks from where you can see different leaf colors sorted by elevation, starting as early as September. Take a scenic drive through the winding backroads of Sugar Grove Valley, bike around Blowing Rock on a crisp autumn afternoon, or canoe on the New River for views from the water.
Boone is also home to the Art of Living Retreat Center, a tranquil hotel, Ayurvedic spa, and a yoga and meditation center set amidst 380 acres of pristine forest.
HIGHLANDS, NORTH CAROLINA
Surrounded by the Nantahala National Forest, this romantic small town is the perfect getaway for families and couples looking for fresh mountain air. You can also hike to the highest mountain (Mount Mitchell), deepest gorge (Linville Gorge), and tallest waterfall (Whitewater Falls) in the eastern U.S. On chilly evenings, relax by the fire at the European-style Relais & Châteaux Resort—the Old Edwards Inn and Spa—and enjoy eclectic shopping and dining on Main Street.
From mid-October through early November and mid-February through early March, you can see a magical naturally occurring phenomenon called Shadow of the Bear on Cashier Valley from behind Whiteside Mountain.
BLUE RIDGE, GEORGIA
For a different perspective of the fall foliage, hop on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway that takes passengers on a 26-mile roundtrip through the Appalachian foothills of North Georgia. The town of Blue Ridge, where the train departs from, offers a row of breweries, restaurants, and boutiques. Nearby, you can take a stroll through vineyards, taste a variety of wines at 40 independent wineries, and harvest seasonal produce at one of the fruit orchards. Stay at the quiet bed and breakfast—the Overlook Inn—for a bird’s-eye view over the Blue Ridge Mountains.
TRAVELERS REST, SOUTH CAROLINA
Travelers Rest (home to the Swamp Rabbit Trail) is a quintessential small town where road-trippers, hikers and bikers like to get away for the weekend. Especially beautiful during fall, you can drive along the 115-miles of the Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway (aka Scenic Highway 11). At the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains is the European style boutique—Hotel Domestique—which offers premier private golf courses, bike rentals, and guided mountain biking tours.
October is the most popular time to catch vibrant fall colors of red, yellow, and orange at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. Start by riding a glass elevator to the top of the Gatlinburg Space Needle from where you can soak in 360-degree views of the surrounding forest. Then, drive or hike the 11-mile Cades Cove Loop to see more colors around historic buildings. The highest point in the park, Clingmans Dome, is also a great place to absorb the scenery before heading out on a drive along the Newfound Gap Road.
The family-friendly mountain town offers plenty of outdoor activities, museums, amusement parks, candy stores, and Southern style restaurants, to entertain travelers of all ages.
This colonial town offers a chance to see vibrant colors from horse-drawn carriages, nature trails, and charming streets. Stroll through the Colonial Gardens, natural tunnels at the Palace Gardens, and oak and champion trees at the Arboretum, all located in the historic area. Surrounded by 3,000 acres of nature, wildlife, and the iconic James River, the Kingsmill Resort is a destination hotel with championship golf, tennis, pools, marina, and spa. There are also fall mixers with sunset views, live music, and seafood specials.