The largest factor in why leaves change color is the length of day and night. As the night becomes longer in autumn, the "aging" process becomes apparent through color changes of the leaves, leading the tree into winter dormancy. There is no particular time or day this process takes place. It relies on the type of tree, amount of light and shade and their health. Many are more responsive to temperature and rainfall changes. By the autumn equinox on September 22nd, days and nights are almost equal. At the onset of color changes, towards the end of September, the day length decreases at a rate of about two minutes a day. Typically, changes begin in the higher elevations due to weather conditions.
The elevation in McDowell County ranges between 900 feet above sea level to 5,665 feet above sea level. The diverse topography creates multitudes of opportunities to enjoy our 4-6 week fall leaf season! Take advantage of this unusual landscape by visiting frequently between the middle of September and the first two weeks in November. Traditionally the peak week for leaves at the higher elevations is the third weekend in October. However, in recent years, magnificent colors have remained well into the first week to two weeks in November.
Remember, to enjoy peak times in the higher regions visit the Blue Ridge Parkway communities of Little Switzerland, Altapass, Linville Falls and North Cove. Back roads and hiking trails at the lower elevations reveal luxurious colors as well. Whether you're hiking, bicycling or driving there are interesting treasures to be found throughout the countryside. Refer to our section on hiking and the area map. Consider visiting the Lake James area, Curtis Creek Recreation Area, the Glenwood and Montford Cove communities and the back roads of Old Fort and Marion.