Champion Trees: The Estate’s Finest Fall Foliage

Today, Biltmore is home to a variety of Champion Trees—but when George Vanderbilt purchased the acreage that would become his estate, much of the land was overworked and actually vacant of trees due to activity from the previous settlers. Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted made the following recommendation:

“Make a small park into which to look from your house; make a small pleasure ground and garden, farm your river bottom chiefly to keep and fatten live stock with a view to manure; and make the rest a forest, improving the existing woods and planting the old fields.”  

Landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmsted, George Vanderbilt, and other key Biltmore figures, 1892
Landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmsted (seated, center) and George Vanderbilt (standing, center-right) with other key Biltmore figures, 1892.

NC Champion Tree Program

Several of the trees handpicked by Olmsted are now recognized as North Carolina State Champion Trees. According to the NC Forest Service, the Champion Tree Program highlights native or naturalized species that have garnered attention because of their size, age, or historical significance. 

Naturally, these trees are some of the superstars of our historic gardens. Let’s take a look at a few and discover why there is no better time to seek out these estate beauties than leaf season.

The golden-rain tree (right) can be found in Biltmore’s Shrub Garden.
The golden-rain tree (right) can be found in Biltmore’s Shrub Garden.

Golden-Rain Tree

Perhaps one of the more unusual Champion Trees, the golden-rain tree in the Shrub Garden lends grace and charm to the landscape. Its showy fall color generally includes various shades of yellow and chartreuse. If you look closely, amid the autumn foliage you’ll find inflated seed pods, reminiscent of Chinese lanterns, hanging elegantly.

The katsura tree lives in the heart of Biltmore’s Azalea Garden.
The Katsura tree – which has a scent like cotton candy – lives in the heart of Biltmore’s Azalea Garden. The Katsura was one of the trees hand-picked by Biltmore landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. This Katsura is on the NC Forest Service Registry of Champion Trees. Photo credit The Biltmore Company.

Katsura Tree

Among the larger Champion Trees is the Katsura tree, found in the Azalea Garden. This tree has magnificent fall color with hues ranging from gold to apricot, accompanied by an unusual, sweet fragrance that permeates the area around the tree. Some describe the smell as cinnamon-like, while others think it is more similar to cotton candy—either way, it’s sure to satisfy the senses!

The dawn redwood is located in Biltmore’s Azalea Garden.
The dawn redwood is located in Biltmore’s Azalea Garden.

Additional Champion Trees

Other Champion Trees of note on the estate are the dawn redwood in the Azalea Garden with its lush bronze fall color and the Persian ironwood boasting brilliant warm autumnal hues between the Conservatory and the Gardener’s Cottage.

The Persian ironwood can be found next to Biltmore’s Conservatory.
The Persian ironwood has a showy fall leaf color, and can be found next to Biltmore’s Conservatory. Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted hand-picked tree species including the Persian ironwood as part of a plan to reforest overworked farmland purchased by George Vanderbilt for the construction of Biltmore House. Photo credit The Biltmore Company.

Fall is a favorite season for strolling the gardens and grounds of the estate. During your next visit, we invite you to explore our Shrub Garden, Azalea Garden, and beyond to catch a glimpse of these Champion Trees at their finest: bursting with rich fall color.

Feature image: Persian ironwood with peak fall color

Top 8 Spots for Fall Color at Biltmore

Biltmore’s 8,000-acres of Blue Ridge Mountain beauty is hands down one of the best places to view dramatic fall color. An autumnal palette begins just inside the Lodge Gate and continues around every turn. But where exactly are the best places on the estate to find views of spectacular fall color?

Fall view from Diana
The view from the top of the Esplanade is certainly worth the hike.

1. Top of the Esplanade

Found at the top of the Esplanade near the statue of Diana is a “signature shot” of Biltmore House, framed by enormous hemlocks, pines, and rhododendron, with a majestic view of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background.

Fall Color from South Terrace
The South Terrace offers sprawling views of Biltmore’s Deer Park area and beyond. Image by @ahuntforhealth.

2. South Terrace

The wide open terrace on the south end of Biltmore House offers long-range views of the Blue Ridge Mountains with dramatic ever-changing fall color.

Rooftop fall color
Fall is the perfect time to check out this behind-the-scenes tour.

3. Rooftop

The Rooftop Tour of Biltmore House provides you with a bird’s-eye view after a climb up the Observatory’s spiral staircase and onto the balconies and rooftop of America’s Largest Home®.

Mums in the Walled Garden
The dramatic mum display is different each year, but never disappoints.

4. Walled Garden

The fall color continues as this formal garden is transformed with hundreds of vibrant mums in autumnal shades. Our landscaping crew does an incredible job with this display every year.

Bass Pond fall
The reflection off of the Bass Pond boasts fall’s glorious palette. Image by @dailysojourns01.

5. Bass Pond

Follow the Azalea Garden path to the Bass Pond path and discover vivid leaves reflecting upon the water. The geese and other birds and wildlife around the water also add excitement to the season.

Lagoon Biltmore House in background
The Lagoon is a guest favorite year-round, but the views during autumn are epic. Image by @bbansen.

6. Lagoon

Any spot near the Lagoon offers dramatic fall color from the wide variety of hardwoods that surround it, but the Boat Ramp towards the middle provides particularly vibrant hues with a view of the west façade of Biltmore House in the distance.

From view Inn's Terrace
The Grand Terrace at The Inn offers a relaxing setting for leaf peeping.

7. The Inn on Biltmore Estate

Set upon a hilltop near Antler Hill Village, grand panoramic views at The Inn on Biltmore Estate™ are not to be missed. Relax on the Grand Terrace and enjoy a glass of Biltmore Wine as you take it all in.

Estate trails during fall
From easy walking paths to more intense hikes, each of our estate trails is a unique fall experience. Image by @mattvanswol.

8. Estate Trails

Lastly, Biltmore’s more than 22 miles of trails offer spectacular views throughout each season, but fall provides full immersion of color as your stroll through the beautiful woodlands of the estate.

Don’t miss these special must-see estate locations to experience fall color at its absolute finest. The beauty of autumn is fleeting. Plan your visit today!

Feature image by @selery_is_good