The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, located on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, is a popular destination for experiencing the vibrant fall colors of the Appalachian Mountains. The best locations to see the fall colors in the Smoky Mountains include:
End of September
The leaves are starting to turn, but can be a little spotty. Get to elevations above 6,000 feet for best results
- Blue Ridge Parkway: While not within the national park itself, the Blue Ridge Parkway, which connects the Smoky Mountains to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, is renowned for its fall foliage. You can access the Blue Ridge Parkway from the park and enjoy the vibrant colors along the way.
- Graveyard Fields – Near Asheville, NC this hiking trail is just off the Blue Ridge Parkway
- Rough Ridge – This is a 1.2 mile hike just off the Blue Ridge Parkway
Beginning of October
Get to elevations above 5,000 feet for best results
- Clingmans Dome: This is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and offers stunning panoramic views of the fall foliage. The observation tower at the summit provides a fantastic vantage point.
- Beach Mountain
- Mount Mitchell
- Grandfather Mountain
This is usually the prime time in higher elevations for the fall change of colors on the leaves, especially for elevations around 4,000-5,000 feet. You’ll see amazing colors around most of Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
- Blue Ridge Parkway
- Nearly all of Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Newfound Gap Road: This scenic drive through the park offers breathtaking views and many opportunities to see the changing colors. There are pull-offs and overlooks along the way where you can stop and enjoy the scenery.
- Linn Cove Viaduct: This is a concrete bridge and roadway that cuts through part of Grandfather Mountain, making for an incredibly scenic drive during this time.
You’ll start to see areas in 3,000-4000 feet elevation come in with fall foliage in the Smoky Mountains during this time.
- Skyline drive – This runs North and South along the Blue Ridge Mountains, near the Shenandoah National Park. You’ll find fall foliage in the higher elevations along this drive.
- Pisgah National Forest
- Boone, NC
- Banner Elk, NC
- Maggie Valley/Waynesville
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End of October
This is typically the prime time when the fall foliage really starts to explode around Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg areas, around 2,000 – 3,000 feet elevation.
- Cades Cove – This valley is one of the most popular spots in the park, offering a mix of open fields and wooded areas. It’s a great place to see wildlife and fall colors together.
- Chimney Rock/Lake Lure – This is a State park on the North Carolina side.
- Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail: This one-way loop road is known for its dense forest and beautiful fall colors. It’s a great place for a leisurely drive or a short hike to see the leaves up close.
As for the best dates to see the fall colors in the Smoky Mountains, they typically peak in mid-October at higher elevations and in late October at lower elevations. Keep in mind that fall foliage can be somewhat unpredictable and can vary from year to year due to factors like temperature and rainfall. To get the most accurate and up-to-date information, you can check with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website or local visitor centers for fall foliage reports and updates closer to your planned visit. Planning your trip for mid to late October will increase your chances of experiencing the vibrant autumn colors in the Smoky Mountains.
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When have you visited to see the fall foliage in the Smoky Mountains? What viewing spots or scenic drives do you like most? Comment below!