The days are getting shorter. The nights are getting cooler. Fall in the Smokies is approaching. Soon the rolling hills of East Tennessee will transform into undulating waves of warm hues - mountainsides set aflame by red, orange, and yellow leaves. Scenes of the Smoky Mountains in the fall cannot be described accurately in words, which is why thousands of vacationers flock to East Tennessee from late September to November, hoping to catch a glimpse of the scenic natural beauty of fall colors in the Smokies.
However, many plan their Smoky Mountain cabin vacations to see Tennessee's Smoky Mountains fall colors only to find they've arrived just short of the vivid peak colors or too late to catch fall in the Smokies at it's heights. While Mother Nature tends to be unpredictable (particularly here in East Tennessee), there are ways to predict when the leaves will begin their brilliant transformation this fall in the Smokies.
Smoky Mountains in the Fall:
A Bit of A Science Lesson
While it may seem that determining the best time to visit to see fall in the Smokies is akin to a game of chance, meteorologists measure several factors to determine how and when leaves will begin to change their hue. While there is no way to pin point the exact dates of peak coloration during each individual fall in the Smokies, the primary elements that trigger this process can be evaluated to give a rough guess as to when you might spot the strongest fall colors in the Smoky Mountains.
Firstly, the wonderfully dazzling array of fall colors in the Smoky Mountains has it's roots in the over 100 species of native trees in the area, most of which are deciduous. Each species of tree offers up its own distinct shade to add to nature's palette. While not comprehensive, here is a brief overview of how to identify a tree based on its color:
- Oaks: red, russet, brown
- Hickories: golden bronze
- Dogwood: purple-red
- Birch: bright, brilliant yellow
- Poplar: warm, golden yellow
- Sugar Maple: red-orange
- Red Maple: bright scarlet
One of two primary factors in determining when Smoky Mountain fall colors will peak is elevation profoundly. Since the climate at high elevations resembles New England, trees in this region of the mountain begin the cascade of colors that moves down the mountain as fall in the Smokies progresses. So, look into the elevation of what sights you plan on seeing on your Smoky Mountain vacation to ensure that the Smoky Mountain fall foliage is the brightest when you'll be visiting.
Additionally, weather and moisture impact when the leaves will start to transition into their autumnal shades. A series of warm, sunny days and cool, crisp nights above freezing temperatures produces most spectacular Smoky Mountain fall colors. Additionally, the amount of moisture in the soil also affects autumn colors, so excessively dry or wet weather leading up to fall can disrupt usual patterns of fall in the Smokies
For Fall in the Smokies 2014, the forecast seems to point towards peak colors arriving later than usual in the later part of October as we've seen a lot of rain and warm weather throughout September and there doesn't seem to be the necessary cool down for the leaves to begin changing. Additionally, because of the excess of rain within the past month, fall colors in the Smoky Mountains may not last as long this year. However, as soon as the temperatures consistently stay with highs in the 60's and lows in the 40's and 50's, fall in the Smokies will be in full force!
Fall in the Smokies:
Mid to Late September
Most vacationers to the Smoky Mountains in the fall think of the peak of fall colors as when middle to lower elevations are bright with color. While the greatest diversity lie in these region, the sourwood, dogwoods, sassafras and birch trees that make elevations above 4,000 feet there home lead the parade of fall colors into the valley.
Hikers can catch glimpses of the rich reds of sourwoods, dogwoods, and maples on high elevation trails. So far this year, we've only caught faint glances of Smoky Mountain fall colors, but wildflower enthusiasts will enjoy the black-eyed Susans, cardinal flowers, great blue lobelia, southern harebells, and more that line the trail. Suggested trails and roads for seeing fall in the Smokies during this time include:
- Albright Grove - A splendid example of an old-growth cove hardwood forest where you can enjoy early fall in the Smokies
- Sugarland Mountain Trail - A great place to enjoy the solitude of the Smoky Mountains in the fall at high elevation.
- Andrews Bald - Leading to a beautiful high elevation meadow, this trail is great for spotting the first of the fall colors in the Smoky Mountains.
- Mt. LeConte - The 3rd highest mountain in the Smoky Mountains offers the perfect chance to glance some of the first Smoky Mountain fall colors.
- Newfound Gap Road - Enjoy a pleasurable drive through high elevations and catch glimpses of the early fall in the Smokies.
- Parson Branch Road - Drive through this eight-mile one-way narrow, low speed byway to experience a large area of mature second growth forest's early Smoky Mountain fall colors.
Fall in the Smokies:
At the first of October, the typical high-altitude foliage of Smoky Mountains now shows bright Smoky Mountain fall colors. Visitors will find the bright yellows of American beech and yellow birch and varied shades of red and scarlet on mountain ash, pin cherry, and mountain maple. Fall in the Smokies begins to arrive in the lower elevations, with sourwood and sumac displaying their distinctive bright reds. The big round leaves of witch-hobble display the reddish-purple hue on their round leaves while some dogwoods begin to display similar colors. Goldenrod and asters add bits of yellow and people to the this landscape of the Smoky Mountains in the fall. While the majority of deciduous trees below 4,000 feet elevation have still yet to show their fall colors in the Smokies, the season nears its peak.
To get a glimpse of the a more mature fall in the Smokies at higher elevations, check out these trails and roadways for gorgeous Smoky Mountains fall colors:
- Sugarland Mountain Trail - The best place to enjoy peace, quiet and mature fall colors in the Smokies at high altitudes.
- Appalachian Trail - Accessible from the Sugarland Mountain Trail, fall in the Smokies is the perfect time to trek parts of the Appalachian Trial, where you'll find colors in the higher elevations.
- Clingman's Dome - See high-altitude Smoky Mountain fall colors at the highest peak in the Smokies (6,643 feet!)
- Foothills Parkway West and East- Encounter scenic views of the Smoky Mountains in the fall on this higher-elevation roadway.
- Rich Mountain Road - Heading out of from Cades Cove vacationers can enjoy fall in the Smokies along this roadway and enjoy the only overlook of the picture-worthy Cades Cove Primitive Baptist Church.
Fall in the Smokies:
Now fall in the Smokies begins to creep into the lower elevation, attracting more visitors to the scenic roadways and trails. Dogwoods, sumac, oaks, and birches begin to display their beautiful signature Smoky Mountain fall colors. Visitors hoping to enjoy the Smoky Mountains in the fall should come around this time, but don't expect to be the only one looking to enjoy the splendors of autumn.
At this point in time, the fall colors in the Smoky Mountains can be seen along most of the Appalachian trail. To enjoy the warm yellows, bright oranges, and deep reds of fall in the Smokies look at this trails and roadways as well:
- Lower Mount Cammerer Trail - Located in Cosby, this trail offers panoramic views overlooking Cocke County and the nearby Smokies and is perfect for guests staying in Sevierville cabins to enjoy fall in the Smokies.
- Baskins Creek Falls Trail - This easy hike provides vacationers to the Smoky Mountains in the fall a chance to enjoy the scenic autumnal beauty surrounding a waterfall.
- Little River Trail - This trail follows the river by the same name and offers a chance to enjoy the crisp fall area and the solitude of fall in the Smokies.
- Old Settlers and Porters Creeks Trails - Near the old Greenbrier settlement, these trail allow vacationers to photograph Smoky Mountain fall colors along with interesting artifacts including old stone walls, cabins, and cemeteries that rest along the path.
- Roaring Fork Motor Trail- This roadway surrounds you with the bright hues of fall colors in the Smokies and also provides a chance to glimpse some authentic settlers cabins along the trails that surround it.
Fall in the Smokies:
As October draws to a close, mid-elevation (3,000-5,000 feet) are either at their peak or slightly past it and offer intense fall colors in the Smokies. Sumacs and sourwoods show of their brilliant scarlet, while birches boast their golden hues. Now, visitors to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge can glimpse Smoky Mountain fall colors as they browse shops. In the background of their Smoky Mountain fall vacation rests hills alight with peak fall colors in the in the Smokies.
Any of the previously listed trails would boast even more pronounced colors, but at this point in the season any trail or roadway will be a delightful display of fall in the Smokies.
Regardless of what time you plan on enjoying a Pigeon Forge cabin rental stay or Gatlinburg cabin getaway in the Smoky Mountains in the Fall, you can enjoy fall colors in the Smokies with this helpful guide of when and where to find Smoky Mountain fall colors
Written by Brittany Tipton