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Finding fall in the Carolinas

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9/20/2011 - Finding fall in the Carolinas
by charlotteobserver.com - Travel

MORE DESTINATIONS FOR THE BEGINNING OF THE LEAF SEASON IN WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA!

Best places for fall in the Carolinas? Because leaf coloration depends on the weather, it varies each year. That said, these spots are prime places to spend an autumn weekend: All offer fun "extras" if Mother Nature isn't cooperating fully.

Blowing Rock

Location: On U.S. 321 in Watauga County

Prime leaves: Usually starting early- to mid-October

See & do: A vacation destination for over a century, Blowing Rock is both comfy and cosmopolitan. There's great shopping and dining; area resorts include the famed Chetola, Crestwood Inn and Hound Ears Club. The town is minutes from the BRP and its Moses Cone Memorial Park (www.blueridgeparkway.org) - the 3,500-acre spread that was once a tycoon/philanthropist's estate. It has 25 miles of trails suitable for hiking, horseback riding and carriages. The Cone family mansion nowadays houses the Parkway Craft Center, where the Southern Highland Craft Guild shows and sells handmade crafts by regional artists.

Prime weekend: Oct. 1 is the last Art in the Park arts/crafts show of the year at American Legion Park; the grand opening of the Blowing Rock Art & History Museum is also Oct. 1.

Area info: 877-750-4636; www.blowingrock.com.

Lake Jocassee, S.C.

Location: Near both the Georgia and North Carolina borders.

Prime leaves: Late October-early November.

See & do: South Carolina's surprisingly wild and rugged upcountry is visually stunning. The 7.500-acre lake is the dammed Jocassee Gorge: It has 75 miles of shoreline, little development and wraps around Mustardground Mountain - making a sublime vista reminiscent of British Columbia or the Alps.

Public access is via Devils Fork State Park (www.southcarolinastateparks.com; use the "Park Finder" window); popular activities include fishing, hiking, boating and camping. DiscoverBoating.com included Lake Jocassee on its recent list of eight top U.S. waterways for viewing fall foliage.

Prime weekend: Most any. Consider driving there via S.C. 11 (Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway); access it from Interstate 85 at Gaffney, S.C., and just head west.

Area info: www.lakejocassee.com.

Bryson City

Location: On U.S. 74, southwest of Asheville and Cherokee.

Prime leaves: Throughout October.

See & do: The quaint attractiveness of the Swain County seat is heightened by the mountains that ring it. Bryson is near Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Pisgah National Forest and Lake Fontana - all incredible places for outdoor recreation that offer spectacular autumnal eye candy. Moreover, it is home of Great Smoky Mountains Railroad (www.gsmr.com), which runs excursion trains down the Nantahala River gorge to the Nantahala Outdoor Center (www.noc.com) - a great destination in its own right. Mondays-Thursdays in October, another route goes from Bryson City to Dillsboro. A "Peanuts"-themed "Great Pumpkin Patch" trip is geared toward kids. Fare for adults start at $53. Make reservations in advance, the earlier the better.

Prime weekends: Oct. 1-2 is when the craft/music festival is held at the John C. Campbell Folk School, in nearby Brasstown. Oct. 8, the Fall Harvest Craft Festival is staged at Old Mill 1886 (www.cherokeemill.com); the Maple Leaf Festival is held on Main Street in downtown Whittier. The NOC's NOCtoberfest is Oct. 28-31.

Area info: 800-867-9246; www.greatsmokies.com.

Black Mountain

Location: Just east of Asheville, off Interstate 40, Exit 64.

Prime leaves: Usually starting the third week of October.

See & do: The picturesque small town has Lake Tomahawk Park; it's good-size pond is ringed by an easy-stroll pathway. On the northern horizon are the Seven Sisters Mountains; beyond them is the section of the Blue Ridge Parkway that has such popular areas as Craggy Gardens and Crabtree Meadows. Access the BRP by driving west on U.S. 70 for 8 miles.

Downtown Black Mountain has many boutiques and cafes. Try the fine Central European fare at Berliner Kindl (www.berlinerkindl.homestead.com)

Prime weekend: Oct. 20-23. The twice-a-year Lake Eden Arts Festival will be is staged on the beautiful grounds of Black Mountain College, an experimental college that operated between 1933 and 1957. (The faculty included architect Buckminster Fuller, who built his first geodesic dome here.)

Music, theater and visual arts are featured. Headliners include Sweet Honey in the Rock, Leo Kotke and Wanda Jackson. Tickets ($42 or $52) must be purchased in advance. Tickets/schedule: www.theLEAF.org.

Area info: 800-669-2301; www.blackmountain.org.

Hickory

Location: On I-40, west of Statesville and (via U.S. 321) north of Gastonia.

Prime leaves: Usually starting mid- to late October.

See & do: The portion of the Catawba River that's nearby was dammed in the 1920s by Duke Power; the result is Lake Hickory, which has five access areas and three waterside parks. Other great outdoor sites include Bakers Mountain Park (189 acres, with close to 6 miles of trails and a chestnut oak forest), Ivey Arboretum in Carolina Park (more than 400 labeled native and rare trees and shrubs) and Lake James State Park, a little farther up the Catawba.

Prime weekend: Oct. 7-9 is the city's Oktoberfest (www.hickoryoktoberfest.com) - a massive downtown celebration with two beer gardens, amusement rides, carnival, arts and crafts fair, and live music that ranges from polka to rock. Hickory's Old Schnitzel Haus restaurant (www.oldgermanschnitzelhaus.com) has its own Oktoberfest, Fridays-Saturdays, Sept. 23-Oct. 15, with live polka music. Last year, it was voted "Best German Restaurant in America" in a 400-eatery national competition.

Area info: 800-509-2444; www.hickorymetro.com.

Read more: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2011/09/16/2612994/finding-fall-in-the-carolinas.html#ixzz1YUrVJepR

Moncks Corner, S.C.

Location: A tad east of I-26 in Berkeley County, just north of metro Charleston.

Prime leaves: Late October and early November.

See & do: The town is on the Catawba-to-the-coast waterway, just south of where it's dammed as Lake Moultrie. The area is flat; Lowcountry swamplands abound. The turn of seasons isn't in the trees as much as it is in seasonal vegetation - and the best place to see it is at Cypress Gardens (www.cypressgardens.info), where 3 1/2 miles of walking/hiking paths wind among blackwater swamplands and gardens, and bald cypress and tupelo tower over everything. The county-owned facility has been filmed in numerous movies; you've seen its tranquil settings in "The Patriot" and "The Notebook." Get on the water in a $5 guided boat ride.

Nearby is Santee Cooper's Old Santee Canal Park (www.oldsanteecanalpark.org),which has 4 miles of trails in addition to other attractions..

Prime weekend: Cypress Gardens holds the Blackwater Ukulele Festival Oct. 15, and its Halloween in the Swamp Oct. 20-22. Old Santee Park's Common Ground Bluegrass Festival is Oct. 1.

Area info: 800-882-0337; www.visitberkeleycounty.com.

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