Best time to visit Asheville NC: Fall colors, wildflowers & snowy hikes

The best time to visit Asheville NC depends on what you want to do

Picture yourself on top of one of the tallest mountains in the East, watching the sun set on a warm summer night. Imagine walking through a field of wildflowers — pink rhododendrons, white mountain laurels and bright-yellow goldenrod blooming all around. Visualize frozen waterfalls, or mountain slopes covered with fiery red foliage. There is no single best time to visit Asheville, NC — every season offers something special.

However, if you’re trying to plan the best time to go to Asheville, you’ll want to take into account the weather. And certain activities are only possible at certain times of year.

As a local, I truly believe Western North Carolina has the perfect climate. We get four seasons, but no extreme heat or extreme cold. It rains — a lot — but that just makes the mountains super green. In this post, I’ll help you decide when to visit Asheville and the pros and cons of each season.

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The best time to visit Asheville depends on why you’re going

Temperatures in Asheville NC are moderate year-round, but certain activities -- like visiting the Biltmore -- are best in warmer weather.
If visiting the Biltmore is high on your priority list, visit Asheville in spring.

Before deciding on the best time of year to visit Asheville, ask yourself what the priorities for your trip are.

A few examples:

  • Do you want to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway?
  • Is it important to you to see the Biltmore Estate at its peak beauty?
  • Will you spend a lot of time walking around downtown, visiting restaurants and breweries?
  • How much do you want to hike?
  • Are waterfalls one of your reasons for visiting?

All of these activities are better at certain times of year. For example, the Blue Ridge Parkway closes in wintertime, when snow and ice make it dangerous. And many waterfalls slow to a trickle in summer.

What’s more, Asheville can get very crowded at certain times of year. On peak summer and October weekends, there are often more tourists in the city than locals. You may face long lines to eat at the top restaurants and traffic grinds to a halt on the Parkway. Regardless of what season you choose, I’d highly recommend planning your trip to Asheville on weekdays to avoid the crowds.

Do you already know your priorities for your trip? Read on to figure out the best time of year to make it happen!

Winter: Best time to go to Asheville for snowy hikes, sunny days and to avoid the crowds

The best time of year to visit Asheville if you like snowy mountains is winter
Winter is the best time to visit Asheville if you want to see the Smokies in the snow.

Full disclosure: I absolutely hate winter. Once the temperature dips below 50 degrees I want to spend all my time curled up at home with a blanket and a book. But I never regret going out to explore Asheville during “secret season.”

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Winter in the Asheville area runs from December-March. It’s not unbearably cold most of the time — the average temperatures during the day get up to the 40’s Fahrenheit. But mornings can be absolutely frigid. Temperatures in the teens aren’t super unusual overnight, and it often doesn’t warm up until midday. The best time to see snow in Asheville is late January and early February.

That being said, if you don’t mind the cold, this is a great time of year to come to WNC! There are almost no crowds — which means you’ll get into all the best restaurants and breweries with no wait. This is the season when locals flock to our favorite spots downtown.

If you plan to visit the Biltmore, the Christmas holiday season brings extravagant celebrations. The house is beautiful with all the lights on, but be prepared to pay extra for these tickets.

The biggest downside to visiting Asheville in winter is that the Blue Ridge Parkway is closed. That cuts off access to hikes like Black Balsam Knob, Craggy Gardens and Mount Mitchell. But snowy days in the Roan Highlands more than make up for it. And you’ll still be able to explore hundreds of trails below the ridge. You’ll have many of the most popular hikes to yourself.

If you plan to head out to the mountains, be careful on the icy roads. Even the highways get pretty slick in the mornings. Most low-clearance cars can’t handle gravel forest service roads in winter.

Spring: Best time of year to visit Asheville for wildflowers and waterfalls

Rhododendrons at Ivestor Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Rhododendron blooms peak in June in the Carolina mountains

April-June brings springtime to the Carolina mountains. It starts in the valleys and gradually creeps up to the peaks, which don’t start to look green until around the time school lets out.

The weather in Asheville in spring can be pretty hit-or-miss. It rains — a lot. Roughly a third of the month is rainy during this window, and it’s often all-day, cold, dreary rain.

But with rain comes rushing rivers feeding majestic waterfalls. Spring is the time to hike to waterfalls near Asheville if you want to see them at peak flows. Many of the best waterfalls are at lower elevations, which means you can also start enjoying their swimming holes in the later spring. Hooker Falls in Dupont State Forest becomes warm enough to swim by May.

If the waterfalls weren’t enough for you, wildflowers are another huge draw to the area in spring. Mountain laurels bloom first, along with dozens of smaller varieties. The rhododendron bushes are the latest bloomers at elevations above 5,000 feet. You can see beautiful blooms in low-elevation areas like Green River Gamelands as early as the end of March. The rhodo blooms at Roan High Bluff and Pink Beds peak around the second week of June.

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If you’re hanging out in town, spring is the best time to visit the Biltmore. The gardens are in full bloom by May. It’s warm enough to sit outside at restaurants and breweries when it’s not raining — plus, it’s a great time for a longer brewery road trip in the Southeast before it gets too hot.

Spring is not a very busy time for tourism in Asheville. Crowds pick up a little bit on weekends, but during the week it’s still quiet. It’s also my favorite time to go backpacking in the mountains — you’ll usually have campsites to yourself, even on weekends.

Summer: Peak tourist season in Asheville

Summer in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The best time to visit lakes and swimming holes is summer.

Summer is the only season that I would definitively say is not a good time for Asheville travel. The biggest reason is crowds.

Peak summer weekends downtown get claustrophobic. You may have to wait over an hour to get into the most popular breweries like Wicked Weed. You have basically no chance of getting a table at Curate or Chai Pani unless you plan to eat at 5 pm or 9:30 pm.

Summer is also peak drunk grossness in the South Slope brewing district. The brewery tours and bachelor/bachelorette parties, frankly, get out of control. You aren’t likely to find the city very charming in summer while you’re trying to avoid stepping on vomit on the sidewalk.

If you want to escape the city, summer presents challenges there as well. WNC gets serious thunderstorms every afternoon between 2 and 5 pm in June-August. It’s extremely dangerous to be on an exposed ridge in a thunderstorm — which makes hiking pretty challenging. Definitely don’t travel from out of state to do a backpacking trip like the Art Loeb Trail, with a ridgeline camping spot, in summer. Traffic on the Blue Ridge Parkway is another deterrent to outdoor adventures.

That’s not to say summer is all bad — far from it! If you visit on weekdays, you’ll enjoy the crisp mornings and warm-not-hot afternoons. It’s a great time for swimming holes (although waterfalls slow to a trickle). And if you like paddle boarding, kayaking, or white water rafting, you can find endless opportunities on the rivers. Just stay out of the French Broad.

Summer is also the best time to plan a camping trip to one of the many mountain lakes around Asheville. My favorites are Lake James and Lake Lure. You can rent boats or simply lounge on the beach and forget that you’re a full day’s drive from the coast.

Autumn: See the fall colors in Asheville

Asheville is the best place in NC for fall foliage.
The leaves just beginning to turn in the Roan Highlands in mid-September

If I had to pick a single best time to go to Asheville, I’d say autumn is it.

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Fall runs from September through November in WNC. It arrives early on the mountaintops and late in the valleys — Mount Mitchell often sees single-digit temperatures in October, while Thanksgiving downtown can be 70 degrees. That means we get three glorious months of peak fall foliage at different elevations.

The leaves start to reach their peaks at the highest elevations by late September. Asheville itself sees a peak around the last week of October-first week of November. In between, you can always find gorgeous color somewhere. Two of the best spots in mid-October are Rough Ridge and Graveyard Fields.

But beyond the foliage, NC in the fall is gorgeous. The weather in Asheville in October is sunny and the skies are deep blue, with rarely a cloud in sight. Rain is rare, but temperatures are still warm. And the sun doesn’t set until 7-8 pm.

You’d think crowds would flock to Asheville in fall. And in October, they absolutely do — the second and third weekends in October are the most crowded time to visit WNC. But outside of that narrow window, almost no one is around! Late September is an especially perfect window when you can see foliage at high elevations but you’ll have the trails to yourself.

Downtown Asheville is a pretty hopping place in the fall. The LEAF Festival draws visitors from all over the Southeast to Asheville and Black Mountain (a small town 15 minutes east). Locals love the moderate temperatures for long nights outside at breweries. West Asheville goes all-out with Halloween decorations.

The one downside to Asheville in autumn is waterfalls have very weak flows. But it’s a good time to visit cascades that are obscured by leaves in summer — Logging Road Falls and Twin Falls are worthwhile. Additionally, fall is hunting season. If you plan to hit the trails, make sure you have blaze-orange clothing.

When to visit Asheville NC

Asheville in January in the snow
Anytime is a great time to travel to Asheville — even when it’s 18 degrees and snowy!

As you can see, there is no one best time of year to visit Asheville. It all depends on personal preference. And the best option would be to visit in every season, of course!

If you have to choose, I’d recommend planning your trip for weekdays at the end of September. You have a good chance of dry weather, you’ll be able to get into all the best restaurants without a wait, and the leaves will be starting to change above 5,000 feet.

No matter when you travel to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina, you’ll surely want to keep coming back.

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Planning a trip to Asheville NC? Discover the best time of year to visit Asheville, North Carolina -- is it peak fall foliage? Or winter, for snowy hikes? Do you want to avoid the crowds in Pisgah National Forest and the Biltmore Estate? Or are you looking for warm weather to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway?

 

Read more about Western North Carolina here

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Taylor Taverna
Taylor Taverna
1 year ago

I’m not usually a big winter person but it sounds like thats when I need to experience Asheville for the first time. Thanks for sharing!!

Elena Pappalardo
1 year ago

I loved Asheville, great post! I very much wanted to see the Biltmore Estate but it was so pricey, so we decided to skip. Perhaps next time!

Jennifer Connarn
1 year ago

Asheville looks great! I have friends who just relocated there and it’s on my list to go visit them now. Appreciate all of these tips!

Krista
1 year ago

I would definitely love to visit this area in the spring to see the waterfalls!

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