If you’re planning a trip to the Orange County area over the next several months, make it a priority to scope out the changing fall colors before they’re gone for the winter. From state parks and trails to botanical gardens and the university, we’ve highlighted the top spots to visit to see the best display of reds, oranges and yellows that nature has to offer. Not to mention they serve as the perfect backdrop for some Insta-worthy snaps.
1. Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area
Head to Hillsborough if rhododendron thickets and high points in a riverside forest excite you. Start at the Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area for a fall picnic under the oaks and take in the beauty of the Eno River bank. If you’re looking for the view to beat all views (and we know you are!), you can hike either the Brown Elfin Knob or Overlook Trails, depending on desired difficulty. Bonus: Downtown Hillsborough is a site to see in the fall with its myriad of deciduous trees.
2. The North Carolina Botanical Garden
Located on the UNC Chapel Hill campus, the North Carolina Botanical Garden is home to amazing sights year-round, but you’ll fall all over yourself during this beautiful season! Changing leaves and autumn perennials make this location perfect for a picturesque walk. It also makes for a beautiful backdrop for their annual Sculpture in the Garden which runs through early December.
3. The Davie Poplar
Make your next stop the Davie Poplar, a 350-year-old tree on campus. It’s in the center of the action and provides the best sense of what it’s really like to be in Chapel Hill during the fall. Not only that, but you’ll catch a glimpse of the historic Old Well in the background.
Bonus -- before you head off campus, make time to stroll through Coker Arboretum, named for Dr. William Chambers Coker and home to five acres’ worth of unique displays and North Carolina native plants. We can guarantee that your fall campus visit will deliver striking landscapes far beyond your expectations.
4. Johnston Mill Nature Preserve
The Johnston Mill Nature Preserve boasts trees that date back past 150 years, and hunter-gatherer history through the gristmill ruins along New Hope Creek. Compared to some of the larger natural attractions in the area, this preserve is smaller in size, so it draws smaller crowds. But don’t underestimate the park – it’s every bit as beautiful and worthy of exploration as any in the state.
The trails in this region are too great to mention just one, but we’ll let you discover that for yourself. That is the fun of a good trail, after all. One great option might be Morgan Creek Trail, which crosses through both Chapel Hill and Carrboro (two awesome cities for the ‘price’ of one!). Bolin Creek Trail also boasts fall beauty you won’t believe – even better, it connects to Battle Branch Trail, which brings you right to UNC’s campus. It’s no mistake that a lot of these destinations can be hit on one trip. Happy hiking!
We want you to see as much of Orange County as possible, but if for some reason you can’t hit them all, there’s always next year. See you soon!