Looking for the best Smoky Mountain hiking trails for fall foliage views? You’ll enjoy breathtaking vistas and be surrounded by awe-inspiring displays of autumnal color on these favorite trails…
The Smoky Mountains are without a doubt one of the best places to be when fall arrives. If you time it just right, you’ll see the fall colors in the Smoky Mountains and you’ll be treated to scenery and color you just can’t find anywhere else.
Scenic drives are a fun way to see the fall colors, but if you enjoy the outdoors, then consider taking one of the Smokies’ spectacular mountain trails. You’ll not only see the colors up closer and at your leisure – you won’t have to deal with traffic jams, and you’ll get some great exercise.
When out on the trail, look for the American beech and birch trees to transform into bright yellow and gold. You’ll spot red, crimson, and orange from sumac, cherry, white mountain ash, scarlet oak, sweetgum, hickory, and mountain maple.
The peak time for fall colors in the Smoky Mountains is mid-October but aim for making your fall hike in the Smokies anytime between mid-September to early November.
Here are 12 of our favorite fall hiking trails in the Smoky Mountains that you’ll have to share with other fall color enthusiasts. Try to wake up early to beat most of the crowds if you want to have your own bit of tranquility and outdoor therapy in the Smoky Mountains.
The Appalachian Trail
Total distance: 3.4-miles round-trip
The granddaddy of all Eastern US trails, this classic 2,200-mile landmark covers 14 states. But you just need to focus on the portion that crosses the Newfound Gap, which displays the most amazing spectrum of foliage in the area.
You can also hike from Clingman’s Dome to the Gap for a longer hike, about 7.5 miles. If you choose to trek this historic trail, it’s certain to be one of if not the highlight of your trip to the Smokies.
Alum Cave Trail
Total distance: 3.5 to 5 miles round-trip
A recent post about this trek to Mt. LeConte mentioned the first half of this hike, which goes to this well-known spot. From this vantage point, you’ll see a blanket of red, gold, and orange from Little Duck Hawk Ridge to Myrtle Point.
A shorter trek takes you to Inspiration Point and incredible views of mountains and old-growth forest. Along the way, you’ll pass through a narrow tunnel on the way to Arch Rock, cross water on log bridges, and look out in the distance to see vibrant fall colors.
Oconaluftee River Trail
Total distance: 3 miles round-trip
This North Carolina-side path is short but sweet. In addition to seeing beautiful late-season colors, you can explore the primitive sites (the Davis House and the Mountain Farm Museum) representing Smoky Mountains life in the late 19th century to early 20th century. Gaze in wonder at the asters that line the river banks and put on a colorful show.
Total distance: 12 miles round-trip
Another classic Smoky Mountain hike, this challenging trail takes its visitors through a six-mile one-way steady climb on the Low Gap, Appalachian and then Mt. Cammerer routes along the Cosby Creek Valley.
Along the way, you’ll see valleys and mountainsides awash in autumn hues. Of course, you won’t have to hike the entire trail, but feel free to do so for bragging rights among your friends. Some locals consider the views on this trail to be among the best in the Smokies, so if you make the journey, you’re in for a real treat.
Porters Creek Trail
Total distance: 4 miles round-trip
If you want to see a little bit of everything that’s quintessential fall colors in the Smoky Mountains, come along on this moderate hike. If this is your first time hiking the Smokies, this is a great trail to pick because you’ll see a lot of color and a lot of sites.
Following the namesake creek, you’ll then come across primitive sites, including the cantilevered Messer barn. To see the 60-foot Fern Branch Falls, be sure to go left on the Brushy Mountain trail fork.
Albright Grove Trail
Total distance: 7 miles round-trip.
This trail first starts out on the Maddron Bald Trail for about 2.5 miles before coming to some of the oldest trees in the National Park. Less than a mile in, you’ll view the small Baxter cabin, given as a wedding present from an area settler to his son.
At Indian Camp Creek, climb the loop trail toward Albright Grove and notice the cove hardwood forest, mostly poplars, and hemlock, showing off the autumn cover.
Gregory Bald Trail
Total distance: 11.3 miles round-trip
High above Cades Cove, Gregory Bald is a great spot to see the fall colors as they come in. From here, you’ll get magnificent, unencumbered views of Cades Cove and the mountains in the southeastern part of the national park.
As you traverse the trail, you’ll make your way through a mature hardwood forest that just pops with color as fall arrives. Be warned, this trail is very strenuous, but the views you’ll get are worth the trek to get up the mountain.
Rich Mountain Loop
Total distance: 8.5 miles round-trip
Located in Cades Cove, this is the perfect way to explore this breathtaking valley and see a wide spectrum of color. This trail is a short loop that takes visitors through sections of forest while offering memorable views of Cades Cove.
If you’re planning a late fall visit, October is perhaps the best time of year to see fall foliage at its best. If you’re up for a little exploration, stop by the John Oliver Cabin or the Primitive Baptist Church.
Cades Cove is always a popular destination, so park in the campground parking lot and walk a short distance to the start of the trailhead.
Middle Prong Trail
Total distance: 8.3 miles round-trip
This relaxing, low-elevation hike started in the Smokies’ Tremont region and is a little bit different from other trails. You won’t get mountain views, but you will get to see lots of beautiful cascades and waterfalls.
These are a sight to see in the fall as the beautiful reds, yellows, and oranges are the perfect compliments to the already stunning waterfalls.
A nice short hike is the one-mile Spruce Flats Falls Hiking Trail, which takes you up to see a 20-foot tall waterfall and views of the mountains.
Total distance: 2 miles round-trip
This just might be one of the coolest trails you’ll find anywhere in the Smokies! It’s a tough one to be sure, but the effort is well worth it.
This steep trail climbs about 1,400 feet to the Chimney Tops rock outcropping and passes through some colorful stretches of forest. You can also find great panoramic views of the Smokies along the way. If you’re up for the challenge, visit in early to mid-October for peak fall colors.
NOTE: Fire severely damaged the upper section of the trail leading to the Chimney Tops pinnacles. Visitors should avoid the higher stretch of the trail and the rocky pinnacles. The final .25 miles of the Chimney Tops Trail has been closed to protect public health and safety and to avoid resource harm.
Ramsey Cascades Trail
Total distance: About 8 miles round-trip
This hike is considered very strenuous, but if you can make the journey, this trail offers something for everyone. It passes by the tallest waterfall in the National Park, but you can also travel through beautiful sections of old-growth forest.
In the forest, you’ll see a variety of trees, including tulip poplars that are at least 100 years old. October is a great time to hike this trail and you’ll see exquisite beauty along this route.
Andrews Bald Trail
Total distance: 3.5 miles round-trip
For years, this was considered one of the Smokies’ most rugged trails and was marked by a rugged pathway, loose boulders, and uneven services.
Today, this trail is considered to be of moderate difficulty, but the Trails Forever program has taken steps to make it easier for visitors to travel.
Along the way, you’ll climb rock stairs that make the trail easier and safer to walk. Once you get to the bald at the end of the trail, the views are totally worth it. It’s a great place to stop for a picnic and snap a few pictures.
Start Planning Your Fall Hiking Trip to the Smokies Today
Fall driving color tours are a great way to experience fall in the Smokies, but there’s something magical about getting outside and seeing all those pretty colors up close and personal.
No matter what hike you take in the Smokies, you’ll be treated to some of the most breathtaking fall colors in the area, if not the entire country. Whether you’re a first-time hiker or an experienced hiker with hundreds of miles under your feet, there’s a trail in the Smokies that everyone can enjoy.
There’s no better time to start planning your trip to the Smokies than right now. With careful planning, you’ll catch the fall colors in the Smokies at just the right time, no matter which trail you take.
Staying at a Gatlinburg bed and breakfast, ensures that you’ll have a comfortable place to rest and relax after your day on the trails.
So start planning your trip now and let us know what your favorite Smoky Mountain hiking trail is to see the fall colors!