Shades of Autumn in Highlands and Cashiers


“Listen! The wind is rising, and the air is wild with leaves, we have had our summer evenings, now for October Eves!”
         -Humbert Wolfe

The Cashiers Farmers Market boasts a dreamy collection of pumpkins. 828-743-4334

The spirit of fall is scurrying across the Plateau. Though the official autumnal equinox arrived on September 23rd, the urge to don a sweater, make a big pot of chili, and welcome guests with a warm, autumn-inspired porch has been hard to resist since Labor Day. Fall is a remarkable event in Highlands and Cashiers. The farmer’s markets are teeming with a menagerie of gourds and pumpkins: large, small, perfect and irregular, bumpy and smooth, white, orange, and striped.

Fall is full of traditions – including leaf looking. Dr. Kathy Mathews, an associate professor of biology at Western Carolina University, specializes in plant systematics and makes her annual prediction of how foliage around the region will perform this year. Mathews bases her color forecast on both earlier and predicted weather conditions. She says that the formation of higher levels of pigments in the leaves correlates with dry weather throughout the year, most especially in fall.

“This fall could be one of the best leaf color seasons in Western North Carolina in recent memory,” Mathews said. “Three words explain it – unusually dry weather.” Visitors can look for leaves to be peaking in color intensity a few days after the first reported frost in any particular area, she said.

When the “peak color” occurs is dependent upon the decreasing amount of sunlight that comes with the passing days, plus the elevation of a particular location.

When to see the leaves:
• the first and second week of October in the highest elevations above 4,000 feet
• the third week of October in the mid-elevations 2,500 to 3,500 feet

Must-see views:
• Near Highlands and Cashiers, Whiteside Mountain is a can’t miss spectacular with the natural phenomenon known as “the Bear Shadow” during the last two weeks of October, when the sun sets behind Whiteside Mountain and its shadow creates a perfect image of a black bear among the tops of the vibrant trees.
• Dry Falls is a waterfall on the Cullasaja River located in the Nantahala National Forest, just northwest of Highlands. Dry Falls flows over an overhanging bluff that allows visitors to walk up under the falls and not get too wet, hence the name.

If this year’s predictions are correct, autumn might be giving summer a challenge for the title of Highlands and Cashiers’ most beautiful season.