(WJHL) — It may be fair to say the Tri-Cities region has seen the last high of 80 degrees — at least until next year. With the temperatures dropping and leaves changing colors, outdoor enthusiasts, hikers, photographers and sightseers alike flock to natural attractions throughout the region to take in the vibrant scene and appreciate Mother Nature as the trees let go of their leaves for the season.
But where are the best places to go in the Tri-Cities region to admire the wonders of Appalachia in the fall? News Channel 11 compiled a list of treasures in North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia that offer the best views year-round — especially when the colors change.
This fall season will see plenty of sunshine and mild temperatures, so take advantage of the weather by traveling over the state line to North Carolina, where the fall foliage transformation is underway at Grandfather Mountain.
Park leaders say that the best spot to check out this early October is right outside the Wilson Center for Nature Discovery looking up at Linville Peak. Fall enthusiasts will catch a glimpse of a scattered array of colors — from red and orange to yellow and green.
A drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway is another fall favorite and takes travelers on a mountainous journey, bringing adventurers close to areas like Blowing Rock and Boone — just to name a couple. If you’re traveling from Kingsport or Johnson City on I-26, take the Weaverville exit that leads to Ox Creek Road for access to Appalachia’s most well-known drive.
A bit of a longer drive will take adventure seekers to Pisgah National Forest, which is known for its cascading waterfalls — as well as the easy access to them. Whitewater rivers roar through the 500,000-acre park, which is also home to the first purchased land under a 1911 act and led to what later became national forests in the eastern U.S., according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Highly trafficked — but well worth it — waterfalls at Pisgah include Looking Glass Falls and Rainbow Falls. The roaring water is surrounded by color this time of year and makes for the perfect day trip.
Nearby, DuPont State Recreational Forest close to Brevard, North Carolina, boasts a 125-foot waterfall named High Falls. Hikers can reach the falls by parking in the Hooker Falls parking area of the park and hiking a 3-mile loop hike that will reveal three waterfalls nestled in the mountains — Hooker, Triple and High Falls.
Back over the state line in Northeast Tennessee, there are plenty of views that can take your breath away all year round but perhaps even more so during the fall months.
Unaka Mountain’s Beauty Spot in Erwin, for example, is a regional favorite for hiking, nature walks, sightseeing and primitive camping. The gem offers panoramic views of mountains that roll across Northeast Tennessee into western North Carolina. Traveling on I-26 E heading to Erwin and taking Exit 36 will lead drivers to North Main Avenue, where they will turn left onto Rock Creek Road and stay until the North Carolina state line. Taking a gravel road to the left will lead the way to parking areas and a 2-mile gravel trail.
Another go-to destination for fall in the Tri-Cities includes Buffalo Mountain Park, where trails for all skill levels wind across 725 acres and lead to elevated views of Johnson City and neighboring mountains.
In addition to trails that lead to spectacular views, the park offers a picnic area near the gates with various parking spots. Nearby, outdoor enthusiasts looking for a good view can hike about a quarter of a mile up White Rock Trail (elevation of 2,390 feet) to Huckleberry Knob overlook with an elevation of 2,524 feet. This view faces neighboring mountains that continue on toward Greene County as well as a panoramic view of Johnson City.
Those who are capable and looking for a challenge can begin on White Rock Loop and make their way up to Tip Top trail, which features views of North Carolina from an elevation of 3,282 feet — nearly 1,000 feet higher than the White Rock Loop trailhead. A map outlining trail locations at Buffalo Mountain is available above.
One mountain in the region is home not only to 40 miles of hiking trails but also various animal reserve habitats, a planetarium, a lake, waterfalls and more. Bays Mountain covers 3,750 acres that are ready to be explored — by staying on marked trails, of course.
Searching for higher elevations? Look no further than Roan Mountain. An easy way to get to panoramic views of North Carolina and Tennessee would be to travel to the state line and pull over in the Carver’s Gap parking lot off Roan Road.
The highly trafficked trailhead takes hikers to the first panoramic view — Round Bald. The walk from the trailhead to the Round Bald takes about 10 minutes and is not considered a difficult hike. However, it’s important to pay attention to your steps and watch out for tree roots and rocks.
Strenuous hikes are not necessary to catch a view of fall’s beauty in the Tri-Cities. Those looking for a relaxing afternoon stroll can visit one of dozens of parks in the area, including the Erwin Linear Trail. It boasts ponds perfect for fishing, a paved trail perfect for walking or biking and is surrounded by mountains that extend far beyond the eye’s reach. The park, located off North Industrial Drive in Erwin, parallels the Nolichucky River and is riddled with deciduous trees that are close to transforming colors.
For clear views of the mountains, visit Willow Springs park in Johnson City off old Jonesborough Highway. The park features plenty of play areas for the kids, basketball and volleyball courts, a nature trail, a pond and spacious, grassy areas overlooking Northeast Tennessee’s rolling hills. Click here for more information.
Other area parks that will transform as the fall season progresses include Winged Deer Park, Warrior’s Path State Park in Sullivan County, Jacob’s Nature Park in Johnson City, the Virginia Creeper Trail and the Tweetsie Trail — just to name a few.
Those in the mood to hit the trails with their bikes can go to Johnson City’s Tannery Knobs located at 18 Tannery Knob. Upon entering the park, bikers are met with a clear view of Johnson City and its mountainous background.
The park features over 40 acres of wooded terrain. Trails are designed for all skill sets of all ages, making the perfect family outing for those who enjoy the outdoors and staying active.
Now to hop over another state line into Southwest Virginia, which is known as the heart of Appalachia, where plenty of hidden attractions await.
A hidden gem in Duffield in Scott County, Virginia, includes Natural Tunnel State park — the namesake of the Natural Tunnel, a massive hole formed in the middle of a cave that also acts as a tunnel for a railroad.
The attraction is surrounded by trees undergoing their autumnal transformation around the 850-foot-tall cave; that is roughly the same height as a 10-story building. Take on the wonders of the park yourself or join a guided tour.
Breaks Interstate Park in Dickenson County features intertwining short trails through wooded and sometimes rocky terrain that lead to overlooks with breathtaking views. One of those trails — Overlook Trail — winds through the outer edge of the Breaks canyon, and hikers can hear the Russell Fork River roaring almost 1,000 feet below. Click here for more trail information.
In Marion, Hungry Mother State Park is popular for its lakes, woodlands, trails and sights. One trail — Molly’s Knob — leads hikers to an overlook that shows mountains spanning as far as the eye can see. The 1.6-mile path is rated as difficult due to the narrow trail that ascends the farther hikers explore.
West of Hungry Mother State Park near Elk Garden (Northeast of Abingdon) sits Clinch Mountain. A trail known as Channels Trail takes hikers through a series of rock columns and a maze of natural corridors through the canyon. The trail leads to 360-degree views of mountains rolling into the horizon. The 11-mile, out-and-back hike gains 2,600 feet as it progresses from the trailhead off Route 689 across from Fletcher’s Chapel.
Another good location during the fall months is Flag Rock in Norton. A 2.9-mile out-and-back features an overlook perfection for admiring the sunset and transformation of the leaves. The trailhead is toward the back of Legion Park. The trail is described as moderate.
The list of top-rated fall destinations throughout the region is endless, as the Tri-Cities is nestled in what many consider one of the most beautiful regions in the country. For more adventure ideas this fall, a good resource includes AllTrails, which is a free site that provides maps and guides of trails and attractions.
For more coverage of all things outdoors in the region, check out WJHL.com’s Outdoors Appalachia.