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Why fall colors are muted this year in Georgia — but still worth seeing

The unusually warm fall may have caused fall colors to be muted this year, but colors are quickly bursting now.

Georgia State Parks spokeswoman Kim Hatcher said weather conditions have been less than ideal for intense colors, saying it’s been “far too warm, especially at night.”

That said, vibrant colors are quickly emerging in Georgia, and peak hues are expected during the next couple of weeks. In other words, it’s not too late — and now is a good time — to enjoy the fall foliage.

To help leaf peepers find the best scenery, Georgia State Parks offers an online “Leaf Watch” travel planner, found at Watch tracks bursts of color throughout the state, focusing on about 10 state parks. The site offers weekly color updates from park rangers, recommendations for day hiking trips, calendar listings and availability for lodging for last-minute getaways. On the website, you can even learn about why leaves change color. (It has to do with chemical processes in the plant as the weather cools and the season changes.)

Muted fall colors and a delayed peak are happening not only in Georgia but throughout the Southeast this year.

For those up for traveling a few hours to North Carolina, Whiteside Mountain is in its peak season now.

Here are a few places where the emerging of bursts of fall color is taking place. (Note: All of the state parks offer free admission. Parking is $5 per vehicle.)

Black Rock Mountain State Park — Rabun County.

At an altitude of 3,640 feet, Black Rock Mountain is Georgia’s highest state park. (Brasstown Bald is the state’s highest peak.) Roadside overlooks and the summit visitor center offer sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The 2.2-mile Tennessee Rock Trail is a good choice for a short, moderate hike. For an all-day challenge, take the 7.2-mile James E. Edmonds Backcountry Trail. If driving U.S. 441 north to the park, stop by Tallulah Gorge State Park and quirky Goats on the Roof.

Cloudland Canyon State Park — near Chattanooga, Tenn.

One of Georgia’s most beautiful parks offers easy-to-reach rim overlooks and challenging hiking trails. A favorite hike takes you down a long, steep staircase to the bottom of the canyon, where you’ll find two waterfalls. (Remember, you have to hike back up, but it’s worth it.) The 5-mile West Rim Loop is moderately difficult and offers great views of the canyon. “Glamping” yurts are located off this trail.

Fort Mountain State Park — Chatsworth

This park is best known for a mysterious rock wall along the mountaintop, plus a variety of trails. For the easiest walk, take the 1.2-mile loop around the park’s pretty green lake. For a challenging, all-day hike, choose the 8-mile Gahuti Trail. Mountain bikers have more than 14 miles to explore. Ga. 52 has beautiful mountain scenery and overlooks worth stopping for, if you can.

Georgians looking for fall colors can make a little trip out of it. In Jackson County, N.C., Whiteside Mountain (shown in a file photo) is known for offering glorious colors. It is peaking now. CONTRIBUTED BY MARY ANNE BAKER
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Whiteside Mountain in Cashiers, N.C.

Whiteside Mountain is one of Jackson County’s most recognizable peaks, with its sheer, vertical cliffs. You can scope out the fall foliage while taking a 2-mile trail that crosses the Eastern Continental Divide, which will offer incredible views of the Appalachian Mountains shimmering with vibrant autumn shades. About a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Atlanta. Free; $2 parking. U.S. 64, Cashiers, N.C. The closest accommodation is the High Hampton Resort, a cozy resort with spectacular views.

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