Fantastic Fall with Natural and Cultural Resources

Fay Mitchell

The breathtaking beauty of undulating mountains bedecked in blazing color draws thousands of visitors to western North Carolina each year. When it’s time to take your fall leaf-peeping trip, be sure to include stops at North Carolina state parks and state historic sites.

The 15 state parks in western North Carolina include Mount Mitchell State Park, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River, and gorgeous Gorges State Park, home to plunging waterfalls, rugged gorges and sheer rock falls. Then there’s New River State Park, centered around the National Wild and Scenic River. It’s the state’s only northward flowing river and its formation predates the mountains. 

Lake Norman State Park in Troutman is home to North Carolina’s largest man-made lake and offers a 30-mile mountain bike trail. The area is surrounded by hickory, southern pine, dogwood and many other tree species, so you’ll want to slow down to enjoy the color. Mount Jefferson State Park is one of the state’s best examples of an oak/chestnut forest and will be vibrant with color. It was named to honor the father of Thomas Jefferson, who surveyed much of the area. 

Each of the western parks will be draped in fall color as a bonus to the usual activities of hiking, fishing, camping, paddling or horseback riding. Learn about the many family activities at North Carolina State Parks.

Fall is also a good time to see how folks lived in areas once considered the state’s western frontier. Horne Creek Living Historical Farm in Pinnacle captures the jubilation of a fall celebration with a Cornshucking Frolic October 20. It will showcase corn shucking, blacksmithing, sorghum syrup, apple butter and many other heritage activities. The site also features an amazing heritage apple orchard having 400 heirloom varieties. It captures farm life in the 1900s all year.

Fort Dobbs in Statesville is North Carolina’s only historic site related to the French and Indian War. It includes nature trails, archaeological sites, and like Phoenix the 1750s fort rises and is being reconstructed. If you’re heading to the Statesville Balloon Fest October 19-20, take a side trip to see this unique bit of colonial history.

If Asheville is your destination, be sure to tour the Thomas Wolfe Memorial, home to one of America’s legendary authors, and “the Old Kentucky Home,” Wolfe’s basis for “Dixieland” in the autobiographical novel, “Look Homeward, Angel.”

Nearby in beautiful Reems Creek Valley is the Vance Birthplace State Historic Site. The October 20 Appalachian Folk Festival there will celebrate mountain crafters, old-time music, and artists, all nestled amid an explosion of color. The bedazzling autumn views will only deepen the experience.

If you’d like to see golden flakes in addition to golden leaves, then Reed Gold Mine in Midland is the place for you. At this site of America’s first gold rush, you can even pan for gold. Or you can visit the boyhood home of the nation’s first dark horse presidential winner at the President James K. Polk Historic Site in Pineville. Polk also declared he would not run for re-election and did not.

Another mountain venue full of history and beauty is Mountain Gateway Museum in Old Fort, which also was once on North Carolina’s western frontier. The rock-hewn museum is the gateway to the Blue Ridge Mountains and the two log cabins also reflect pre-Revolutionary War North Carolina. The in-town museum shares mountain traditions and culture and offers a front porch jam of mountain music every Sunday afternoon.

The state parks, historic sites and museums of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources are open year-round, and most are free or charge a small fee. Many events are planned and you are always welcome. The event calendar is available on the department website.