If you’re on the hunt to see colorful foliage this fall, the Smoky Mountains offer an incredible spectrum of color, including vibrant gold, crimson, amber, and red leaves that blanket the mountains and hills.
One of the best things about fall foliage in the Smokies is that it moves like a magnificent wave.
The colors first appear in mid to late September, but only at the highest elevations. Gradually as the fall season passes along, they will spread down the hillsides, reaching peak beauty in mid-October to early November.
No matter when you visit the Smokies, you’ll need to find those places where you can take the best pictures, enjoy a delicious picnic in the cool mountain air or just simply stand in awe at the sights before you.
Where to Find the Best Fall Colors in the Smoky Mountains
Stretching nearly 400 miles across two states, there’s a lot of space to explore and so many great places to see the fall colors in the Smokies.
Here are 10 of our favorite places to see fall colors in the Smoky Mountains; where the “wow” factor is practically guaranteed.
- Newfound Gap Road
- Blue Ridge Parkway
- Foothills Parkway
- Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
- Rainbow Falls Trail
- The Jump Off
- Ober Gatlinburg
- Gatlinburg Space Needle
- Great Smoky Mountain Wheel
- Clingman’s Dome
See Some Early Foliage at Newfound Gap Road
The elevation at this lowest pass through the Smoky Mountains is nearly a mile high, which means this spot is one of the first places that fall colors appear.
You’ll notice both cooler temperatures and dramatic changes in ecosystems as you ascend 3,000 feet from Gatlinburg to Cherokee, North Carolina.
Because of the incredible foliage palette that you’ll gaze in wonder here, be sure to get out on the road early to avoid as much traffic as possible.
We visited during the fall when the leaves were changing colors. It was fantastic. Be aware that the Great Smokey Mountains National Park is the most visited National park in the United States with over 12 million people annually and the traffic reflects that. Check your gas gauge before you enter the park. Overall we had an excellent experience. A “must do” when you visit the area.Dan via TripAdvisor
Take a Road Trip Along Blue Ridge Parkway
If you’re willing to go road tripping east to North Carolina to the edge of the Smokies, then consider driving this famed stretch of highway.
The proliferation of sugar maples along the way ensures that you will have plenty of photo opportunities.
As with anywhere in the Smokies, the higher elevations show off their color early, then roll down to the lower as fall progresses.
Try to stop at a few trails on the Parkway and get an even closer look at the colors, especially Graveyard Fields Loop or Max Patch.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is not really a destination, it’s miles and miles of adventure and discovery especially in the fall as the trees change color. There are many places along the way to stop and enjoy the view or just drive casually with the windows down. Also nearby towns just off the Parkway with food, motels, fuel, and attractions to enjoy. You can make your trip as long or as short as you would like. Relax and enjoy the tranquility of the mountains.Arthur J. via TripAdvisor
Take a Scenic Drive on the Foothills Parkway
Avoiding massive crowds and vehicle congestion can be a challenge when you want to view the Smoky Mountains fall foliage.
But you just may be able to accomplish that elusive goal if you take this less-traveled road that you can enter from two sections, either from Cosby in the east or Walland in the west.
You’ll be rewarded with a beautiful drive abundant in autumn colors but without the endless line of cars. This way you can have peace of mind and stop to really enjoy the beauty of a Smoky Mountain fall.
Get an Unbeatable View on Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
Many people will head to Cades Cove, one of Great Smoky Mountain National Park’s most visited spots, and if you have the time and the patience to brave the crowds, go for it.
But on Roaring Fork, you can take this suggested route and make a few stops to see unbeatable scenic fall beauty, including the self-guided nature walk, the namesake creek a short 2.6-mile hike to Grotto Falls.
Make the Journey Along the Rainbow Falls Trail
Located near the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, this trail is somewhat demanding. It’s an almost 14-mile route to Mount LeConte, the third-highest summit in the mountains.
But the journey is well worth it if fall foliage is what you’re after. Not only will you get an incredible view of the mountains as you hike, but you’ll see lots of fall colors in the rich forests along the trail.
Get a Breathtaking Fall View at the Jump Off
Hikers in the Smokies will tell that the cliff ledge on Mount Kephart, known as the Jump Off is one of the most scenic spots in the entire mountain range.
You can hike along the Appalachian and Boulevard trails to the Jump Off, where you’ll be rewarded with quite a view. From here, you can see Mount Guyot, Charlies Bunyon, and, of course, waves of fall color that are astounding and breathtaking all at once.
Ride the Scenic Chairlift at Ober Gatlinburg for an Incredible View
How would you like to see the majesty of fall colors in the Smokies without having to hike?
You can do just that at Ober Gatlinburg. It’s one of the most peaceful activities you can do in the area. You can see all the beautiful green, yellow and red colors from more than 3,000 feet, all from the comfort of your seat.
Experience Panoramic Views From the Gatlinburg Space Needle
Some of the best views of the Smoky Mountains fall foliage can be seen from downtown Gatlinburg.
Go up 407 feet above the busy streets of Gatlinburg to the observation deck of the Gatlinburg space needle. From there, you’ll see Gatlinburg and be able to see into Smoky Mountain National Park.
What’s even better is that the Space Needle is open 365 days a year and offers 360-degree views of Gatlinburg and the Smokies. It’s not the same as being up close and personal on a hike, but you’ll still get an incredible view during peak color season.
We were in Gatlinburg right has the fall leaves were entering peak season. There was no way we could resist this attraction. And it was no disappointment. The views were beautiful and we took some really nice photos. It’s inexpensive and fun.Meekos via TripAdvisor
Have Some Fun and See Foliage on the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel
Arguably one of the most unique places you can see fall foliage in the Smokies is to go to Pigeon Forge and ride the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel, which sits at the foothills of the National Park.
From your glass gondola, you’ll be able to look out over the city and look out into the Smokies. This is one of the tallest attractions in the region and may just be one of the most fun ways to see the beautiful fall colors.
Take in a Panoramic View of the Fall Colors at Clingmans Dome
Along with Cades Cove, this is one of the most popular spots to visit in the Smokies. It’s the highest point in Great Smoky Mountain National Park also affords visitors a fantastic panoramic view of the entire Smokies landscape.
With an elevation of 6,643 feet, colors will likely surround you if you visit in mid to late September.
The road to its observation tower will also tempt you to stop countless times to stand in awe and take pictures, but make sure you do actually go all the way to the top.
Be sure to dress in layers, as the temperatures change significantly. Don’t discount comfort as it will make your trip that much more enjoyable.
Plan Your Trip to See Fall Colors in the Smokies Now
Mother Nature’s vivid showcase of fall foliage color always provides a treat for those lucky enough to see them and, as you’ve read, there are several places in the Smoky Mountains where the view is beyond incredible.
So what are you waiting for? Start planning your trip to see the majesty of fall colors in the Smokies today! Exact dates for fall colors are hard to pin down, but if you plan it just right, and you’re up for exploring, you can follow the fall colors down the mountains.
You’ll catch some of the most amazing color displays you’re likely to find anywhere and you don’t always have to go to the high-traffic tourist spots to see the beauty of nature in the Smokies.
Do you have a favorite place to view the beautiful colors of the Smokies in the fall? Let us know!