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Fall is finally here, waking to the crisp misty mornings, following into the shimmer of the afternoon falling foliage of leaves. Vibrant colors consisting of red, orange, yellow, and green fill the Appalachian Mountains; telling a farewell story to those blazing summer days, that are gone for now, and begin to share the anticipated weathering conditions to come. Western North Carolina is a popular destination to bask in the wonders of fall, sharing one of the longest fall seasons in the United States, due to its varying range of elevation and significant bounty of biodiversity. Visitors seeking for peak colors have a wide window from mid-late October throughout early November to enjoy the wonderous fall foliage.

Early Fall Colors Along the French Broad

The French Broad River this time of year makes for a memorable journey to enjoy the falling of colorful leaves along WNC’s oldest historic river valley.  While many come to enjoy the breathtaking views and colors that fill this area all around, it’s not only the changing leaves that make this area a place of wonder and beauty. As the season changes, so does the biodiversity of wildlife that thrives in the area. While many species and plants have dwindled off, we begin to welcome in other marvelous wildlife for viewing, many species thrive showing their best throughout the cooler temperatures and shorter days.

Throughout the typical summer days, one could view wading birds like great blue herons, little green and little blue herons, and even egrets known to guide graciously down the river as one floats downstream. These wading birds seek for fish and crustaceans along the moving water, although with fall temperatures moving in, many wading birds are beginning to fly farther south for the colder seasons.

Handful of visitors over the last few months have been spotting the historic southern bald eagle and even the golden eagle nesting along the river, which gives a sense of environmental progression after their diminishing appearance from previous decades. For the avid bird enthusiasts, riparian songbirds sing their tune, swooping and gliding across from bank to bank, making the river one of the best locations for bird viewing. Those in tune to natures surrounding movements can also catch a glimpse of a river otter diving above surface, or a white-tailed deer rustling through vegetation along the river’s edge.

Western Blue Winged Teal Duck

Through the fall many water loving birds remain in the area, such as osprey, the belted kingfisher, waterfowl ducks, and even wild birds, such as turkey, are dependent along the French Broad River valley for feeding, breeding, and developing habitats to thrive locally. This time of year, it is typical to see many ducks fill along the banks of the river, such as mallards, wood ducks, and even blue-winged teal ducks have been spotted. Fall is the season we begin to welcome other adaptive species moving in to share their annual joyous rituals.

Right now, one can expect to see thousands of colorful monarch butterflies fluttering back and forth along the river banks. Throughout mid-September and beyond into October, the mountains welcome the only migrating butterfly, as they make their annual journey traveling around a total of 3,000 miles to Mexico before winter settles in.  These mainly orange butterflies, with black and white patterns, blend in perfectly with the seasons falling leaves. Monarchs migrating in the area usually fly at tree-level and look forward to wildflower patches to take an active rest before they continue fluttering south.


Monarch Butterly

Monarchs are known to migrate and spend their winter in Mexico, and then begin their long journey by springtime, but unfortunately most will die along the way. This means their descendants will finish the long migration, leaving from northern breeding grounds, where eggs are laid on young milkweed plants. Monarchs that migrate throughout WNC area most likely come from eggs on milkweed throughout the Northern parts of the US. Starting their migration from mid-August and traveling around seven miles per hour. This generation of monarchs are meant to travel for eight to nine months to complete the final migration process. Making the best viewing time after the first cold front moves in from the north blowing south.

The last few weeks of the paddling season at Headwaters Outfitters is a wonderful time to get out and enjoy the natural wonders that fall brings to the area. Guest can enjoy a 3, 4, or 7-hour self-guided paddling trip along Section 1 of the French Broad River, all Class I water, perfect for a fun-casual morning or afternoon paddle. Headwaters Outfitters claim of fame this time of year, as published in Southern Living magazine, is the shops Guided Tour “Colors of Fall” Paddle Trip. This guided paddle trip is a terrific way to see the majestic beauty that fall colors bring to the mountains, along with learning the river guides knowledge pertaining to the river features and local history. Headwaters Outfitters “Colors of Fall” guided paddle trip consists of a leisurely 8-mile, 3 hour stretch on the third oldest river in the world, the French Broad River. Now is the time to experience WNC’s peak season of fall colors!


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