Some say that the fall in Tennessee is like no other fall. That it’s more elegant and graceful, and, at times, unworldly. And they are right! When fall comes, Tennessee feels like the Chosen One! Trees light up with the warm glow of fall, and the state parks turn into whimsical places where fairies and other magical creatures live happily ever after. The forests of Tennessee receive bright orange, yellow, and red dresses to create an awe-inspiring painting right in the land of the Smokies. And you wonder why the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited park in the entire National Park System? Yes, fall has something to do with it for sure!
Since fall foliage varies by elevation, you’ll have plenty of time to admire the colors! When September ends, you’ll notice the leaves changing colors at the higher altitudes and achieving perfection by mid-October. However, in the lower altitudes, fall conquers the land a bit later in October. So, if you want to spot the foliage in East Tennessee, visit in early October, while Middle and West Tennessee is best visited around Halloween.
We’re starting our foliage tour with the obvious choice: the Great Smoky National Park. It is a gargantuan area to explore in only one fall, but it’s simply extraordinary. You’ll get numerous opportunities for hiking and camping and have plenty of charming towns to discover along the way. The number one destination for fall foliage has to be the famous Clingman’s Dome. Reaching an altitude of 6,643 feet, the Clingman’s Dome is the highest mountain in the park and the best place to capture breathtaking views of all that fall has to offer. Now, if you’re not up for a long hike, you can always stop at the Clingman’s Dome Observation Tower. You’ll have a 7-mile hike waiting ahead, but the route is scenic, and the 360-degree views of the Smokies at the end of the road are certainly worth the effort.
Newfound Gap Road
If you’re not into hiking that much but insist on admiring the fall foliage in Tennessee, there’s no better choice for you than the Newfound Gap Road. Newfound Gap is actually a mountain pass between the states of Tennessee and North Caroline, right in the middle of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, and its road is a superb scenic drive. The ride will take you close to Clingmans Dome without requiring too much of an effort and through woodlands adorned with pine-oaks and cove hardwoods. Yes, it may get crowded at times because there are many like you eager to see the fall colors, so hit the road early in the day. Since the Newfound Gap Road is situated at a lower altitude, plan your trip here at the beginning of October.
There’s no talking about fall foliage routes in Tennessee and not including Cades Cove. A superb lush valley surrounded by the Great Smoky Mountains, Cades Cove will take you into a magical land where you’ll find white-tailed deer, coyotes, and even black bears. This 11-mile loop gives you a chance to admire amazing fall views boasting dazzling colors and superb historic buildings. The weather is chill and perfect for hiking on one of the many trails Cades Cove has prepared for you. Don’t miss the five-mile roundtrip to Abrams Falls if you’re eager to go hiking. If you want to stick to driving, follow the Cades Cove Loop road.
Falls Creek State Park
Head to the Falls Creek State Park and you’ll be welcomed by 26,000 acres of fall grandeur. Centered around the upper Cane Creek Gorge, famous for its waterfalls and gorges, this is the destination to visit if you want to combine foliage and lovely water features while spending your nights camping or sleeping at one of the many cabins you’ll find along the way. With 56 miles of trails, we are pretty sure you won’t get bored during your journey of exploration. The park has its own Nature center where you’ll discover fun programs for the entire family. You can enjoy campfires, a variety of games, as well as arts and crafts classes.
Gatlinburg is the ideal destination if you want to admire urban fall. The gateway to the fall splendor in Tennessee, Gatlinburg is a scenic alpine village and the best base one can wish for if one is planning for an incursion into the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. For the best views, take the SkyLift or walk the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America, the SkyBridge. The Space Needle observation tower makes for a great viewpoint too! The town of Gatlinburg is truly picturesque with its tiny cabins and alpine vibes and offers access to numerous outdoor adventures, including water rafting and hikes! A town for the nature lovers and adventurous, Gatlinburg is a great destination for the entire family.