Leaf Season in Hot Springs
A lot of folks come to Hot Springs to take in the spectacular fall colors. We are often asked when is the peak time for fall color viewing in the Hot Springs area. The leaf season in Hot Springs is actually quite long. Hot Springs sits at about 1200 feet elevation but the mountains surrounding go straight up to 3500 feet and within a short drive from Hot Springs you can be at either of the two tallest peak east of the Mississippi, Mount Mitchell on the Blue Ridge Parkway or Clingmans Dome in the Smokey Mountains. Because of the broad range of elevation in the area surrounding Hot Springs, the leaf season around Hot Springs can last more than a month.
The First Wave of Hot Springs Colors
The progression of fall colors normally begins with roadside sumacs, the poplar trees in the valleys, and understory purples, which are sourwood trees and black gum trees. This usually commences in late September at the Hot Springs elevation, but at higher elevations these colors can begin to show even by the early middle of the month. The sourwoods and black gum trees, which thrive under taller trees around Hot Springs, usually start to turn a few weeks ahead of the oaks, hickories and maples. These colors are often ignored by the color hungry throng. Unbeknownst to the masses, a drive along one of the wooded roads around Hot Springs or a hike on a trail in late September or early October can reap a huge harvest of color. The understory leaves are best viewed at sunset when the light angles low under the canopy and illuminates the purple hues with golden light.
The Main Crop
Most people consider the main season for leaf watching to be when the canopy turns, and no doubt, this time can provide a dazzling spectacle of brilliant brightness which is viewable from most overlooks in broad vistas. This event usually begin about the middle of October and peaks sometime between the 20th and the end of the month. Weather conditions in the Hot Springs area can push that date forward or back a week or so, and even as much as 2 weeks in extreme years. A general progression for these colors in the area is something like this: first the poplars in the moist valleys turn gold while most of the rest of the mountains are still green. This is also a time when the sumacs around Hot Springs are offering some of the most vibrant splashes of orange to be seen. This usually happens about the same time the understory leaves are turning purple, late September, early October. Next the maples join the chorus with an stunning array of raucous pinks, reds and golds and this frequently happen in early to middle October. Then, usually about middle to late October, the main crop of color arrives for the peak. This is when the oaks and hickories, which occupy most of the canopy join the maples to fill the rest of the spectrum from dazzling yellow to rich red and flame orange. Many of the oaks last until the first wet cold spell in November. The scarlet and black oaks can hold onto their color almost until Thanksgiving.
A Neglected Harvest of Fall Color
Another color season in the Hot Springs area, which is often ignored is the early fall roadside flowers. This starts in mid august and while not as mind boggling as the fall leaves, it can nonetheless be quite breathtaking. This is the blooming of the goldenrods, the Joe Pye weed and the iron weed, with morning glory, clematis and wild sunflowers thrown in for good measure. These blooms together can splash miles of color along the roadsides and fence rows and run down farms on the country roads all around the Hot Springs area.