Best Time to See Fall Colors in the Smoky Mountains
One of the benefits of living so close to the Great Smoky Mountains is getting to enjoy the changing of leaves and partaking in the beauty of nature. The marvelous colors of autumn light up the Smokies for seven weeks as the colors move down the mountainsides to the foothills. The Smoky Mountains are home to approximately 100 species of trees and the majority are deciduous. There are many variables that affect when the peak season of the fall colors will occur. However, higher elevations will peak earlier in the season and the lower elevations toward the end of the season. Discover the best time to see fall colors in the Smoky Mountains and make plans to visit the Smokies this autumn.
Updated: September 2019
Best Time to see Fall Colors in the Smoky Mountains
As September fades away, cooler temperatures and sunny days mix with rainfall to bring the right ingredients together to bring on the amazing fall color display. As the nights grow longer and days shorten, a chemical reaction begins to take place in the leaves and soon the mountainside is covered in colors of autumn. The best place to see the colors change is above the 4,000 feet elevation. To see the best colors during this time hike the Albright Grove and Sugarland Mountain Trail as well as the high elevation hikes to Andrew Bald or Mt. LeConte.
If taking a drive is more your thing you will want to check out the recently reopened Parson Branch Road, an eight-mile one-way narrow, low speed byway. This provides motorists with a scenic drive through a large area of mature second growth forest and experience the peacefulness a backwoods journey has to offer.
This early in the month, most of the trees under 4,000 feet are still primarily green but with elevations ranging from 875 to 6,643 feet there are still plenty of options to see the fall colors. You can also take in the beautiful fall flowers, such as goldenrod and asters.
The Sugarland Mountain Trail and Appalachian Trail are good options for hikes this time of year. These trails are accessible at Clingmans Dome or Newfound Gap. For driving, you will want to check out the following roads (that go into the higher elevations): Newfound Gap Road, Heintooga Ridge Road, Foohills Parkway West and East, and Rich Mountain Road at Cades Cove.
By the middle of October, the fall colors are slowly creeping down the mountainside. With the colors are increasing so is the amount of visitors to the area. When planning to visit during this time make sure to make your plans in advance.
Looking for an easy to moderate hike, check our the following areas: Lower Mount Cammerer, Baskins Creek Falls, Little River, Old Settlers and Porters Creeks Trails. If you are an avid outdoor enthusiasts and are looking for some hikes with scenic overlooks check out the following: Sugarlands Mountain, Low Gap, Appalachian, Mt. Sterling, and Goshen Prong Trails. For a driving tour to take in the beautiful fall colors check out the following: Foothills Parkway segments on the east and west side of the Park; Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441) with its many scenic overlooks; Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail; Balsam Mountain Road; and Cove Creek Road.
By the end of October, the fall colors are taking over the Smoky Mountains. The mid elevations are slightly past peak and are incredibly impressive. The lower elevations are quickly catching up. When the first frost happens, the remaining leaves will change. It is not uncommon for these colors to last into the first week of November and they may last longer if the autumn weather holds out.
Some great options to see the fall colors include the following: Newfound Gap Road from Alum Cave Trailhead to Kephart Prong Trailhead, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Foothills Parkway East & West, and Heintooga Ridge Road to Balsam Mountain Campground. Suggested hikes include the following: Rich Mountain Loop, Chestnut Top Trail, Smokemont Loop, Kanati Fork, and Sutton Ridge Overlook (Lower Mt. Cammerer Trail).
Discover the vibrant reds, oranges and yellows of the autumn foliage during the best time to see fall colors in the Great Smoky Mountains. Check out the seasonal road schedule in the Great Smoky Mountains to help you plan your fall foliage trip.
To take advantage of great views and enjoy a day of family fun during October, you will want to explore Anakeesta Mountain and all the fall festivities that are taking place in preparation for Halloween. The views from the top of the mountain is breath taking and with dining options, extensive seating, free activities, and more; it is a a great place to take in the mountain views and the fall foliage.