It is almost that time of year again – when the weather cools down, leaves change color, and you’re itching for a great autumn road trip. For terrific fall color, there is no place like the East. Some can argue that the New England states are the best, but not in our opinion. We have found the perfect trip with guaranteed eye-popping fall foliage. Of course, we should first mention the disclaimer comments about weather, dryness, and not all fall foliage may be at peak when you roll your Winnebago into the recommended area. But, here’s our recommendation: just plan a couple of weeks there and you will experience blazing color!
Touring Blue Ridge Parkway
Between October 4th and 8th, begin your journey at the starting point of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Afton, VA. Take a week to drive south along the entire 469 miles of the Blue Ridge. Along this drive, enjoy the many stops at historical buildings and mills, the lodges and their beloved fried chicken, and some bare bones (yes, the pun is intended), but also beautiful campgrounds. Just make sure to check that you will be able to clear all of the tunnels before heading out, and make route adjustments as needed.
Our favorite place to stay was Rocky Knob Campground in Floyd, VA. This was also close to the iconic and beautiful Mabry Mill – one of the most photographed structures on the Parkway.
While on your trip, make sure to get out of your RV often, too! While driving along the parkway offers great views, the numerous hikes are great for getting immersed into the fall color and seeing some incredible waterfalls, like Linville Falls pictured above.
A Side Trip to Asheville
Near the end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, get off the road and visit Asheville, NC, with a couple of overnights at Powhatan National Forest Campground (hookups available). Take a day to walk on the wooded campground trail that heads to the North Carolina Arboretum. With multiple trails and gardens, the Arboretum has even more to offer than just great fall foliage on display; it’s worth an extra day.
Asheville could be a destination by itself with an old town to walk and the Biltmore Estate to tour, but we were traveling for fall color, so we continued our trip. (Read more about visiting Asheville from a fellow contributor here).
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
To complete the second week of this color odyssey, head into Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one of our nation’s most-visited national parks.
We first drove our Winnebago to Cades Cove at the western side of this park and camped for a few nights at Cades Cove Campground. This is an NPS campground without hookups, but it is situated in a valley surrounded by hills of color. We weren’t alone at this campground, as word must have gotten out about the fall color.
A Cycling Tour of Cades Cove
While in the Cades Cove area, we took many of the hikes, but even better was biking the 11-mile loop road into Cades Cove. Along the route, we stopped to check out the cottages, churches, and all the historical buildings. At the Visitor Center, we watched a psaltery being played and listened to a Park Ranger’s interpretive history of Cades Cove.
We knew we had struck it rich with the fall color, as we were joined by a slow-moving line of cars along the loop ride. Fortunately for us, our bikes allowed us to enjoy the views without the challenges of driving in traffic.
Exploring Near Gatlinburg
We completed our travels with a few days at Elkmont Campground, near Gatlinburg. Another NPS campground without hookups, but again situated near hiking trails into the surrounding Smoky Mountains. Nearby is the Sugarlands Visitor Center which has some great displays and historical information about the surrounding area (and a dump station).
Final Fall Road Trip Tips
We batted 100% on our fall color travels. With the two weeks of travel, and the changes in elevation along the route, we were guaranteed great fall foliage color.
Since this is not a secret, arriving before 3 p.m. at Blue Ridge Parkway campgrounds is a must (or make reservations at the select campgrounds that accept them). Also, make campground reservations at Cades Cove and at Elkmont. Reservations can be made up to six months in advance, and we recommend making them as early as possible to ensure a good selection of sites.
Enjoy the incredible color display this fall!