Bummed because you thought you may have missed the start of full color because of the recent rain? Word on the trail is that you haven’t really missed anything, that the rain merely delayed the onset of the fall show. Word also has it that this past week’s mix of warm, dry, sunny days and cool nights has jump-started the change of season, that there are a few spots where color is beginning to show.

We’ve identified five spots in the Piedmont where, if you’re of a mind, you can head out this weekend (Sunday, preferably, since Saturday might, alas, be wet) and see the onset of fall color.  We describe what you might expect, then refer to helpful information (mostly from our online adventure guide) that will help you plan and execute your visit. To keep up with the latest reports from around the state, visit’s Fall Foliage report, here.


1. Hanging Rock State Park
No surprise here, that this dollop of mountain in the midst of the Piedmont would capitalize on its altitude for early color. Hanging Rock, just north of the Triad, tops out at nearly 2,600 feet, some 1,300 feet above the surrounding countryside, which means you not only benefit from early color on high, you also also have the catbird’s seat when the Piedmont below begins to glow. Already, reports the park, sourwoods, oaks and sassafras are flashing reds, yellows and oranges. A favorite hike for enjoying the show: the 4.1-mile Moore’s Wall Loop. Hiked clockwise, there’s a long ascent up the wall, from east to west. Early in the season the carrot of color grows as you near the summit. Then, atop Moore’s Knob, your 360-degree vantage point means you can’t help but see early color somewhere: to the north in Virginia and to the west, at Pilot Mountain or the Blue Ridge beyond.
More info here.

2. Knight-Brown Nature Preserve
Rockingham County

One of the problems with fall color is that everyone wants to see it. Hence, the delays of up to 30 minutes for a parking spot atop Pilot Mountain on fall weekends, or the conga line snaking up to Hanging Rock’s namesake (which is part of the reason we recommended Hanging Rock’s less-crowded Moore’s Wall option, above). Crowds shouldn’t be a problem at this 186-acre gem saved by the Piedmont Land Conservancy in Rockingham County north of Greensboro. Three miles of trail take you into deep ravines carved by two creeks and up the adjoining ridgelines. As you savor the lush hardwood forest brimming with color, give a word of thanks to Cecilia Brown, who inherited the property from her partner, Paul Knight; so taken was she by the land that she donated it to the PLC rather than see it developed.
More info here.


3. Crowders Mountain State Park
Kings Mountain (Charlotte area)

Early color opportunities about at Crowders Mountain for several reasons. First, there’s the elevation: at 1,705 feet, The Pinnacle isn’t Everest, but it is more than 800 feet higher than the surrounding landscape: color comes earlier on high and offers a good vantage point when it flows into the farmland and forest below. Another advantage is the forest composition in this 5,126-acre park, a mix of mature climax forest of hardwoods and less mature sections where the process of succession is seeing red maple, American beech and several varieties of oak emerge. The dwarf Virginia pine along the ridges makes a nice pop of green. Don’t expect to be alone on your hike to The Pinnacle; continue on the Ridgeline Trail into South Carolina, however, and you’ll likely have all that color to yourself.
More info here.

4. Mountains-to-Sea Trail along Falls Lake
Durham and Wake counties

Fall color loves water, so it’s not surprising that the 60 miles of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail along Falls Lake would be rich with early viewing opportunities. The westernmost stretch, from roughly I-85 west to Pennys Bend Nature Preserve, for instance, is rife with round-the-bend surprises of color. Passing through a wetland where the sourwoods and dogwoods flash red, the yellows of beech clinging to a bluff above the Eno River or a sycamore leaning out over shoreline. Falls Lake and its many section-hike options are infrequently tread, making the color that much more personal and intimate.
More info here.

5. Lake James State Park

Lake James resides in that tug of war between Piedmont and mountains that technically places it in the foothills. We consider it Piedmont not for geographic reason, but rather based on accessibility. Located just of I-40 near Morganton, it’s as quick and easy to reach as most western Piedmont state parks. Plus, it’s among the first to experience fall color: according to the most recent Fall Foliage Report from, “poplars have started to turn yellow, with dogwoods and sourwoods adding a deep, rich red. Accented by the fall blooms of the golden rod and narrow-leafed sunflower.” Snuggled up to the Blue Ridge Escarpment, you get an early glance at the colors cascading down from the mountains. And the 6,510-acre lake’s 150 miles of shoreline offers ample opportunity to see fall color at its best, along water. So confident is the park in its emerging color that on Saturday, they’ve scheduled Fall Colors at Lake James, a ranger-led hike in search of color, at 10 a.m.
More info here.