Oktoberfest at Sugar Mountain has kind of always served as an unofficial start to content delivery (for me) here on SkiSoutheast.com. Of course we always pop some “August fogs” updates and then as the Sugar maples begin to turn their fall foliage color range from yellow to orange to red – I begin to clear my own plate to enjoy sitting down and sharing some of our annual rituals of Autumn.

Grandfather Mountain Fall Color
Click to Enlarge this awesome photo by Skip Sickler of Grandfather Mountain

One of those early Autumn rituals is monitoring Dr. Howard Neufeld’s Fall Color report. Dr. Neufeld is an Appalachian State University professor of biology who also happens to be the best friend of every fall leaf gawker or leaf looker east of the Mississippi. A few years ago I actually aspired to be a resource to people from the nine or ten southeastern and mid-Atlantic states who head to the mountains when the leaves begin to change. I even bought AutumnTrips.com and took a stab at being “that guy” but quickly found “The Fall Color Guy” (Dr. Neufeld) and it didn’t take but one glance at how detailed his reports are to convince me that I was not worthy 😉

I would love to see some fall color reporting for all of the ski mountain communities up and into West Virginia, Virginia and East Tennessee as well done…but beggars can’t be choosers, right.

I’m one of those people who love every season in its own time. I’m partial to summer because of the awesomeness that IS Watauga Lake, Lakeshore Resort and Marina and all of the memories that my crew and friends have made over the years. Winter is special for yours truly because (A) I love snow, (B) I love riding and playing on it, (C) I love snow, (D) I love to travel to snowy destinations and enjoy all of the unique things about each ski area that I’ve had the pleasure of travelling to and (E) I love snow.

Truth is, the driving force behind why I moved from “Famously Hot” Columbia, South Carolina in 1990 was – snow. So Winters are special for I and my clan. However, Autumn might be my favorite season of the year if it would last a little longer. I know that officially all seasons last about 90 days but the main attraction of Autumn is not the fall festivals that take place to celebrate harvests. It isn’t the fact that its hard to beat that feeling when the mid-day sun bakes off the early morning chill on gorgeously clear, blue sky days in the mountains. Its the slow turn of green leaves to every hue of yellow, orange, red and even some purple, etc. and while the Autumn season might officially last about 90 days, that color-change period usually only lasts about 4-5 weeks.

Usually the Sugar maples change first – beginning sometime in mid-September. Then the rest of the species follow suit in late September and early October to reach peak color around mid-October. Some seasons come and go earlier than others as peak color around the highest elevations in early October.

As you can see in the photo capture below, (click to enlarge it), there isn’t much color left atop the 4848′ elevations of Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia.

Click to enlarge this morning’s capture at Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia.

The highest elevations around Sugar Mountain, Beech Mountain and of course up around Canaan Valley, Timberline and Snowshoe – as well as those around Wisp Resort in Garrett County Maryland are ALL a little bit past peak color already on this mid-October 15th day.

That is a little bit surprising because we’re seeing color that is BEHIND schedule at lower elevations such as around Boone, Blowing Rock, Valle Crucis, etc. That is perfect for the crowds of people I witnessed on the roadways around the High Country this weekend. Blowing Rock is looking awesome as well as Valle Crucis and I’d imagine the same can said for areas of the Western North Carolina mountains that are around the 3000-3500′ elevations. Above that are probably already at or past peak.

Frank Ruggiero, who serves as Director of Marketing & Communications for the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, posted, “Those visiting Grandfather Mountain this weekend can expect peak colors on the mountain, and vibrant hues spreading throughout the valleys below.”

Dr. Howard Neufeld’s “Fall Color Guy” report is best viewed via his dedicated Facebook page where more than 6500 people follow him. (Maybe we can boost his fan base!) Click here> Fall Color Guy Report for more.

 

blue ridge parkway fall color
Click to Enlarge this photo taken by Dr. Neufeld along the Blue Ridge Parkway looking towards Grandfather Mountain!

I and some friends had breakfast on Saturday morning at the Foscoe Country Store and Dr. Neufeld’s assessment seems to support the “word on the street” that we heard from locals and visitors who were there.

The take home message is – although some areas like elevations above 4000′ are past peak…most everywhere else is still a week or so away.

So travelers who made it up this weekend will see some spotty, but great patches of color. Those of you who are heading up for the Valle Crucis Country Fair or for the always popular Woolly Worm Festival in Banner Elk NEXT WEEKEND…you will probably luck out and see peak color around October 21-22nd.

As I was driving back from Sugar Mountain’s OktoberFest on Saturday, I DID witness some awesome color that is probably only a few days from peak on Highway 105 right across from Smoketree Lodge as you look out over that expanse of mountain falling away from Grandfather Mountain. I’ll try to get up and fly the drone there today and see if I can get some nice color. (If so, I’ll post it later.)

Sugar Mountain’s OktoberFest Finally Catches Some Great Weather!

If you’ve attended OktoberFest at Sugar over the last four years you no-doubt know that the weather hasn’t been very supportive with foggy, misty rain and/or not-so-great weather on one or both days of the event. That was NOT the case for the 2017 version of the popular event as Saturday and today (Sunday) could not have provided better weather for the event.

Click to Enlarge!

We got there pretty early (around 10:30am) and were able to find parking in the top parking lot – which was surprising to me. I hung around the deck area as early attendees were already taking in large mugs of beer. I really wish our cameras had “smellavision” because the smell of kettle corn, elephant ears, fried potatoes, kielbasa and bratwurst was wonderfully intoxicating…and “no” I was not among the early, keen imbibers of ale!

Click to Enlarge! The atmosphere was awesome on Saturday!

There were plenty of people who were though – and I had a few myself a little bit later when I put down my camera and enjoyed some of Sugar’s authentic kielbasa and sauerkraut…and more.

We took the obligatory (for me) Summit Express chairlift ride to the top and back. That ride used to take a LOT longer before they replaced the lift a couple of years ago. What used to take 30 minutes or more only took ten minutes up and then back down and they even had the speed turned down slow to allow riders to take in the surrounding mountains.

Click to Enlarge the view from the top

There was some color to be seen – particularly lower on the bottom of the mountain – but regardless of fall color or the lack of it…the view from the top of Sugar Mountain is always pretty special.

We left the mountain around 1pm or so and I can only imagine how crowded things got because the roadway from the top parking area all the way back to Highway 184 was bumper-to-bumper and at a standstill. So it is safe to report that the 2017 version of Sugar’s Oktoberfest was a record setting one! That bodes well for will be a lot of pent up desire for a great ski and snowboarding season.

Some Added Insight for Fall Leaf Lookers…

There is still a lot of green, which means that next weekend (October 21st-22nd) should be even better. Color is color and while we should see more vivid color in another week – the bad news is I don’t think this will be a great fall color year. We had plenty of good rains that would normally set things up for a great color season. However, the “heat wave” that we’ve seen over the last two weeks, with temps 10-15° above normal, is doing a number on the leaves. Many trees have already lost leaves even before they have turned color. At Price Lake, for example, it went from no color to no leaves. It’s still pretty there, but the colors are fairly dull.

Rustic color is the norm this season. Click to Enlarge!

The photo above shows a lot of rustic color around the new Grandfather Mountain Profile Trail parking area.

Dr. Neufeld shared, “This is our second year in a row with an exceptionally warm October, and high temperatures are not conducive to great fall colors.”

He added, “Sassafras trees are peaking (orange, red, yellow, all on one tree), as are magnolias, birches, and witch hazel (all yellow). Red maples are coloring up, while sugar maples (mostly yellow) are losing their leaves. Tulip poplars have dropped most of their leaves, retaining only those on the exterior portion of their crowns. Sourwoods are still a nice burgundy, as are huckleberrys and black gums.

So, if you’re still planning to come to the mountains, you have still have plenty of time.

If you’re stuck in the flatlands and want to visit our beautiful mountains virtually…always remember that you can do that in no better place that on our sister website www.ResortCams.com.

Mountain Cams

Be sure to share SkiSoutheast.com, ResortCams.com and HighCountryWeather.com with your mountain and snow-loving friends. We’d appreciate it.

Until next time…email me with anything you’d like to share at [email protected]

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Mike Doble
Mike is the Editor and founder of SkiSoutheast.com, SkiNC.com and ResortCams.com. Since September 1996 he has posted close to 14,000 posts, articles, photos and videos promoting all of the ski areas of North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland.Mike is the father of four daughters, is an avid skier and enjoys golf, tennis, kayaking and hiking in the mountains. Winter snowsports and Summer boating on Watauga Lake are among his favorite pastimes.