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Splash of fall color on the way soon in NE Georgia
Amicalola Falls, Tallulah Gorge parks popular for leaf watching
Water flows over rocks in Wildcat Creek in Rabun County. - photo by Tom Reed

During the summer, visitors flock to North Georgia to splash about in Lake Lanier.

But come fall, it's all about the leaves.

With October arriving, the fall color in the mountains will begin to appear over the next several weeks.

Temperature, light and water availability all impact the brilliance — and time frame — of the changes.

Elevation also plays a role. According to the United States Department of Agriculture's Forest Service, "Whenever the color starts, it's always at the highest elevations first and then gradually moves into the lower elevations throughout the season."

Typically, the leaves in this area are most colorful in mid-October to early-November. With the weather cooling off sooner than usual, and after a hot and dry summer, North Georgia leaf watchers may get a show a few weeks earlier than usual, say experts with the U.S. Forest Service.

For area residents, it's a welcome time of year.

"I'm from South Georgia, so fall was never a big deal down there. Nobody looked forward to it because that meant it was time to rake up pine straw," said Susan Banks, a Gainesville resident.

"When we moved up here a few years ago, it was toward the beginning of October. Once we hit (Interstate 985), I can remember thinking how beautiful the trees by the highway were. I never paid attention to trees before that, but you can't help but notice the reds and golds. It's amazing."

"We never really went out to look at leaves, but I remember my parents pointing out the really pretty ones when they took us kids out trick or treating," said Joanie White, a Clermont resident.

To help folks keep up with the perfect time to take in nature's woodland rainbow, Georgia State Parks has launched its Leaf Watch website,

"Fall is a great time to get outdoors and enjoy Mother Nature's handiwork," said Becky Kelley, state parks director.

"We have short nature trails that are great for kids and longer trails that are perfect for backpackers. We even have roadside overlooks."

According to the parks service, some of the most popular spots for leaf watching are Amicalola Falls State Park in Dawson County; Tallulah Gorge State Park in Habersham and Rabun counties; Unicoi State Park north of Helen in White County; and Vogel State Park in Union County.

Smithgall Woods in Helen also is a must-see destination for leaf watchers.

"The busiest time for us is usually late October or early November. That's usually when we have the best color," said John Erbele, Smithgall general manager.

Vehicle traffic isn't allowed along the Smithgall trails, but Erbele says that won't impact your ability to see the fire-hued forest.

"It's literally just a walk in the park," Erbele said. "You can go anywhere you want and see beautiful color."

Although the color changes seem miraculous, it's scientific - a chemical reaction. In spring and summer, leaves are green because the abundant sunlight spurs the production of food and chlorophyll, a greenish chemical, in leaves.

When the weather cools and there are fewer hours of sunlight, the chlorophyll breaks down and, through a series of chemical reactions, the other hues are allowed to show their true colors.

Fall leaf colors are determined by the tree type.

For instance, the leaves on a white ash tree typically turn a bright, lemon yellow while a sweet gum tree's leaves usually are a reddish-purple.

"They're all beautiful," said Eva Alford, a Gainesville resident.

"I love seeing them all. I even love the crunching sound they make when I drive over the fallen leaves in my driveway. I can't say the same for my husband, though. Yard work is his responsibility, so he doesn't love the leaves as much as I do."