Everyone knows about New England’s showcase of vibrant fall colors that draw visitors to its storybook villages and rolling hills. But did you know that the Smoky Mountains puts on its own stunning display of gold, red, yellow and orange as the temperatures cool down and the days shorten? It’s another great reason to venture out to eastern Tennessee and take a break from your hectic everyday life.
Once a fairly well-kept secret, the Smoky Mountain fall colors also now bring waves of visitors to the Gatlinburg and Asheville areas, mostly in October. While not as numerous as the summertime crowds, they are still quite massive and often flock to the most popular areas of the park.
We often hear these questions from our guests about viewing the fall colors. So here are our insider tips to make the most of your visit:
Tips to see the Smoky Mountain Fall colors
When is peak foliage?
The best time to see Smoky Mountain fall foliage is anywhere from mid-October to early November in the mid- and lower elevations. The landscape here is populated with sugar maples, hickories, sweetgum, scarlet oaks, red maples and nearly 100 other species of native trees. This colorful show from Mother Nature will last seven weeks or more, depending on temperatures, the length of the day and other factors. For that reason, it’s always difficult to determine a peak foliage forecast in the Smokies.
How does the mountain fall foliage work?
Like a flowing cascade of autumn hues, the fall colors in the Smoky Mountains start at the highest elevations around mid-September, then spread down the mountains and hills in a matter of weeks. The green pigment in the trees’ leaves start the process of breaking down. Deciduous trees at these higher altitudes, such as American beech and yellow birch, transform into a deep golden. Later on, the leaves’ other pigments, carotenoids and anthocyanins, produce the warm fall colors through exposure to sunlight. So the further up you go in the mountains and the cooler the weather, the more color you will likely enjoy.
How far in advance should you start planning your trip?
The Smoky Mountains National Park area hosts the most visitors in the fall during the last three weeks of October, when the peak foliage is most likely to occur. If possible, plan your trip at least two to three months in advance, or even earlier.
What are the best ways to see the fall foliage?
Not surprisingly, the most popular way to see the foliage is driving. Be aware that Cades Cove and Newfound Gap Road (US 441) in the Park become congested in mid-October. Consider taking a bike on Cades Cove to beat the traffic. Hiking has become an increasingly popular alternative, with the Appalachian Trail, Inspiration Point on the Alum Cave Trail, Look Rock Tower, Oconaluftee River Trail and Sutton Ridge Overlook within the park boundaries. Other ways to travel include helicopter tours, motorcycle rentals and Segway tours in Pigeon Forge.
What are the best views of the foliage?
You will find countless places to enjoy stunning views of the fall colors in the Smoky Mountains around both Gatlinburg and Asheville. Plan on traveling to Clingmans Dome Road, the Foothills Parkway and the Blue Ridge Parkway. If you head into Cosby entrance into the National Park, you’ll also likely encounter less traffic and fewer crowds. Asheville has many options to enjoy the foliage and activities when you are done with your outing. Gatlinburg has plenty of fall-related events as well.
Here is the full view of the fall colors from the back porch here at Christopher Place.