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11 Beautiful Spots To See The Fall Foliage In The Smokies

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My favorite time of the year to visit the Smoky Mountains is in the fall because the air is crisp, the leaves are changing colors, and fall festivals are in full swing.

Travelers come from all over the world to see the fall colors in the Smoky Mountains from deep greens to beautiful shades of red, yellow, and orange.

Planning your trip when the November colors peak can be tricky because of when the leave actually change colors.

You don’t want to come too early before the fall colors in the Smoky Mountains change, and you don’t want to come too late when the trees have already shed their leaves for the year.

I want to help you experience the Smoky Mountain fall colors during the best time of the year so I have put together my 2023 Smoky Mountain Fall Foliage report.

Because Tennessee is my home town I can provide you with up-to-date information on the fall foliage schedule and timeline in the Smoky Mountains to help you plan your trip!

Smoky Mountain Fall Foliage

2023 Smoky Mountains Fall Foliage Colors

If you are trying to find out when the fall colors will be at their peak in the Smoky Mountains I am here to help you figure out when to travel to Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge to experience the Smoky Mountain fall foliage.  

According to the Fall Foliage Map from Farmers Almanac, the fall colors are expected to peak around the first week of November.

I suggest taking a road trip to the Smokies shortly after Halloween to see the fall foliage in the Smokies because the colors are in full bloom. 

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The leaves will start to change around the middle of October which is when the Smoky Mountains’ fall colors are the most vibrant. 

The temperatures are in the 70s during the day and drop into the low high 50s and low 40s at night.

As the temperatures in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge get cooler the leaves turn into an amazing array of bright reds, oranges, and yellows!

The highest elevations of the Smoky Mountains will be most vibrant around the end of October, and leaves in the surrounding area are expected to peak about a week later which makes this the perfect time to take a road trip to the Smokies.

You can expect to see the fall colors when they are at their best in early through mid-November!

Guide to the 2023 Smoky Mountain Fall Foliage

This guide to 2023 to the October Color and November Colors in the Smoky Mountains will provide visitors with the best time to visit the Smoky Mountains and the best time to see the fall foliage. 

Newfound Gap Road

Newfound Gap is only one mile high and this is the first stop along the scenic route to see the fall colors in the Smoky Mountains.

The color palette is just as stunning at the beginning of the route as it is at the top of Clingman Dome but I do suggest arriving early because traffic is absolutely horrible as the morning progress.

Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway is on the North Carolina side of the Smoky Mountains and will require a road trip.

This portion of the Smoky Mountains is well worth the drive to experience the fall colors then consider driving this famed stretch of highway. 

Because of the high elevation on the North Carolina side, there are tons of opportunities to take photos because the fall colors are in full bloom pretty early in the season. 

If you have time I suggest stopping at a few hiking trails to get a closer look at the colors and take a few epic photos. 

Foothills Parkway

Avoiding vehicle congestion along the parkway is paramount which can cause miles and miles of cars to back up along the parkway.  Traffic is the last thing you need while trying to see the Smoky Mountains fall foliage.

Once you arrive you will be rewarded with a beautiful and stunning drive that is filled with autumn colors of red, orange, brown, and tints of purple and yellow. 

While Cades Cove is one of the most popular spots I suggest taking the Roaring Fork route and making a few stops to see the fall beauty of the Smoky Mountains which includes a self-guided nature walk, and a 2.6-mile hike to Grotto Falls.  

Clingmans Dome

The highest point in the Smoky National Park offers a phenomenal panoramic view of the entire Smoky Mountain landscape. 

Clingmans Dome sits 6,643 feet above sea level and you will be surrounded by beautiful fall colors if you visit mid to late September. 

The road to Clingmans Dome is filled with tons of photo opportunities and you will be tempted to stop over and over again but don’t stop too many times because you will not make it to the top.

Make sure you dress in layers because it will be cold AF even in the summer! 

Fall colors schedule by month in the Great Smoky Mountains

Fall in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is unlike anything you will ever experience.  The beautiful array of fall colors, the diverse plant life, towering trees that look magnificent, and picturesque and Instagram-worthy.

There are over 100 species of native trees that are home to the Smokies that hover 4,000 feet above the clouds. 

Clingmans Dome allows you to see the leaves turning yellow, American beech, mountain maple, hobblebush, and pin cherry for miles and miles.

The fall color display usually reaches a peak at middle and lower elevations between mid-October and early November.

The Smoky Mountain offers visitors a beautiful display of trees including sugar maple, scarlet oak, sweetgum, red maple, and hickories.


September in The Smoky Mountains

By the end of September when temperatures are cooler at night, mixed with rain will bring a spectacular display of the Great Smoky Mountain fall foliage. 

As fall approaches the days will grow shorter and nights grow longer and become much cooler which will cause the leaves to paint a beautiful portrait of art featuring splashes of nature’s palette across the Smoky Mountains.

Sourwood, dogwood, maple, sassafras, and birch trees are the first to make the change, turning red, orange, and yellow. At this point, there is just a hint of fall color change among those early autumn starters.

If you are visiting the Smoky Mountains in September I suggest the following scenic drives for seeing fall colors in the Smoky Mountains include:

  • Parsons Branch Road
  • Newfound Gap Road
  • Clingmans Dome Road

September’s suggested hikes for seeing the Smoky Mountains in autumn: Albright Grove and Sugarland Mountain Trail as well as high-elevation hikes to Andrews Bald or Mt. LeConte would be time well spent.

Another colorful fall foliage opportunity includes a motor tour of the recently reopened Parson Branch Road, an eight-mile one-way narrow, low-speed byway.

The road provides motorists an opportunity to drive through a large area of mature second-growth forest and experience the quiet and solitude a back-in-the-woods journey has to offer.

October Colors in The Smoky Mountains

By the beginning of October, trees in the Smoky Mountains high country that are now showing bright fall colors are the yellows of American beech and yellow birch and different shades of reds on mountain ash, pin cherry, and mountain maple.

In the lower elevations, a few early color-changing species such as sourwood and sumac are showing bright reds now, but are scattered.

Some dogwood and maples are beginning to turn different colors in some areas as well.

Fall wildflowers such as goldenrod and asters are colorful throughout the park and some blueberry and blackberry shrubs are also changing color, as well as the Virginia creeper plant.

Bright golds and yellows of American beech, yellow birch, and yellow buckeye and different shades of reds on mountain ash, pin, black cherry, and mountain maple are painting the landscape.

Fall wildflowers such as mountain gentian, black cohosh, and goldenrod are colorful throughout the park and some blueberry and blackberry shrubs are also in color, as well as the Virginia creeper plant.

By mid-October at the lower elevations, fall colors are finally expanding with the sunny days and cooler nights which help the colors begin to change.

The peak of color at the lower elevations is over a week away. In the valleys, black gum, dogwood, sumac, and sourwood trees continue to show vivid reds. Golds are coming along on tulip trees, black walnut, birch, beech, and hickories.

As the leaf color increases, so does the number of people that are traveling to the Smoky Mountains. While scenic drives are a good way to see fall colors in the Smoky Mountains, hiking is also a great way to see and explore the autumn in the Smokies. 

November Colors in the Smoky Mountains

As October begins to fade away up top, autumn colors at mid-elevations, from 3,000-5,000 feet, are at or slightly past peak and are very impressive.

Reds are more pronounced now than in recent years, especially on the North Carolina side of the park. Colors at the very highest elevations (above 5,500) are now past the peak.

At the lower elevations of the Smoky Mountains, fall colors are quickly developing. The first frost of the season occurred this week in the low elevations, so the remaining leaves should begin to change color within a few days.

Black gum, dogwood, sumacs, and sourwood trees continue to show vivid reds. Golds are present on tuliptree, black walnut, birch, beech, spicebush, and hickories.

By mid-November, the fall colors are past peak in the Smoky Mountains and many trees have already shed their leaves there are a small number of trees that might be still showing color.

Oak trees are just beginning to change color, although their hues are somewhat muted compared to maple, hickory, and other trees.

Some pockets of green can still be seen at middle to lower elevations so there is still some new color to appear in these isolated areas if mild weather continues.

Best Hikes in the Smokies for Beginners:

  • Lower Mount Cammerer
  • Baskins Creek Falls
  • Little River
  • Old Settlers
  • Porters Creeks Trails

Best Hikes for Outdoor Enthusiasts: 

  • Sugarlands Mountain
  • Low Gap
  • Appalachian
  • Mt. Sterling
  • Goshen Prong Trails

Additional Hikes to see the fall colors

  • Rich Mountain Loop
  • Chestnut Top Trail
  • Smokemont Loop
  • Kanati Fork
  • Sutton Ridge Overlook
  • Lower Mt. Cammerer Trail

Best Places to see the Smoky Mountain fall colors:

  • Newfound Gap Road 
  • Alum Cave Trailhead
  • Kephart Prong Trailhead
  • Blue Ridge Parkway
  • Foothills Parkway East & West
  • Heintooga Ridge Road
  • Balsam Mountain Campground

Best Driving Routes to See the fall Colors:

  • Foothills Parkway (East and West side of the Park)
  • Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441)
  • Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
  • Balsam Mountain Road
  • Cove Creek Road

Smoky Mountain Webcam:


Driving directions to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Traffic in the Smokies can get heavy, especially along Highway 66 during peak travel seasons (July and October are the highest travel months).

Take one of these less-traveled and scenic routes to Gatlinburg and you’re well on your way to seeing the fall foliage in the Smoky Mountains.

There are three main entrances to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park:

Gatlinburg, TN entrance
From the interstate highway, I-40 takes Exit 407 (Sevierville) to TN-66 South. At the main intersection in Sevierville, continue straight onto US-441 South. Follow US-441 through Sevierville and Pigeon Forge into the park.

From Sevierville and Pigeon Forge: Stay straight on US-441 South and continue into the park.

Townsend, TN entrance
From the north: From the interstate highway, I-40 in Knoxville take Exit 386B to US-129 South to Alcoa/Maryville. At Maryville proceed on US-321 North/TN -73 East through Townsend. Continue straight on TN-73 into the park.

From the south: From the interstate highway, I-75 takes Exit 376 to I-140 E towards Oak Ridge/Maryville. Merge onto I-140 E via Exit 376B towards Maryville.

Turn onto US-129 South (Alcoa Highway) at Exit 11A and travel towards Alcoa. Turn onto TN-35 and follow it to US-321 North. Follow US-321 North/TN -73 East through Townsend. Continue straight on TN-73 into the park.

From Pigeon Forge: Turn at red light #3 and take US-321 south into Townsend. Then take 73 East into the National Park.

Cherokee, NC entrance
From the north: From the interstate highway, I-40, take Exit 27 to US-74 West towards Waynesville. Turn onto US-19 and proceed through Maggie Valley to Cherokee. Turn onto US-441 North at Cherokee and follow the road into the park.

From the south: Follow US-441/US-23 North. At Dillsboro merge on US-74 West/US-441 North. At Exit 74 merge onto US-441. Follow US-441 through Cherokee and into the park.

Where to Stay In Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

1. MARGARITAVILLE ISLAND HOTEL

Visitors have been drawn to the unspoiled and protected majesty of the Great Smoky Mountains for generations.

Whether you immerse yourself fully in active outdoor adventures or just sit back and soak up the awe-inspiring scenery, when you travel back home from your getaway, you will take the mountains with you.

A perfect blend of mountain latitude and island attitude, the Margaritaville Island Hotel brings a new perspective to the Smoky Mountains experience with its contemporary, mountain-luxe surroundings, high level of service, and attention to detail.

Inspired by the lyrics and lifestyle of singer, songwriter, and author Jimmy Buffett, Margaritaville Island Hotel is the perfect setting to escape the daily routine, discover a new outlook, and just chill.

Just beyond the lobby seating area is Latitude Bar and guess what?  They offer a FREE complimentary beverage upon check-in.  

The bar shares a giant see-through fireplace with the lobby with additional seating for you to enjoy your cocktail before exploring the Island.

Click here if Margaritaville Hotel is right for you.

2. MARGARITAVILLE ISLAND INN

The Margaritaville Island Hotel is mountain-luxe at its finest with upgraded guestroom amenities that include a Margaritaville Frozen Concoction Maker in every room, fireplaces, private balconies, and spacious walk-in, dual rain showers.

Also featuring a rooftop bar, pool, and comfortable gathering spaces, this premier property is the perfect getaway in the heart of The Island.

Continue your Margaritaville escape in the mountains with a visit to The Island in Pigeon Forge, just a short hop, skip, and a flip-flop away from the Island Inn.

Margaritaville has many offerings on the island that will entertain you from sun up to sundown. We recommend stopping by the Margaritaville Coffee Shop on your way out to seize the day, enjoying a classic dish from the Margaritaville Restaurant.

Click here if Margaritaville Island Inn is right for you.

ColorBlind View Finder

The Tennessee Department of Tourist Development installed a new Colorblind ViewFinder at Radnor Lake State Park and Natural Area in partnership with the Tennessee State Parks.

There are 13 Viewfinders throughout Tennessee:

  1. Big South Fork National River & Recreation East Rim Overlook
  2. Ober Gatlinburg
  3. I-26 Westbound Scenic Overlook
  4. Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park
  5. Chickasaw State Park
  6. Ruby Falls Lookout Mountain – Blue Heron Overlook
  7. Standing Stone State Park
  8. South Cumberland State Park
  9. Fall Creek Falls State Park – Millikins Overlook
  10. Veterans Overlook at Clinch Mountain
  11. TN-111 Sequatchie Valley Overlook
  12. Cherohala Skyway – Lake View Scenic Overlook
  13. Radnor Lake State Park

Conclusion: Smoky Mountain Fall Colors

Do you have a favorite place to view the fall colors in the Smoky Mountains?  

If you have never visited Gatlinburg or the Pigeon Forge area during the fall in the Smoky Mountains, be prepared to be amazed by the beautiful October colors and Novermber colors.

It is truly one of the most beautiful places in the world and this is my special place when I need to get away from my family and reconnect with nature to gain clarity. 

The calmness and beauty of mountains when the leaves change from deep reds to bright oranges with tints of mustards and hints of purple is just what the doctor ordered to disconnect from social media and focus on what’s important in life.

SMoky Mountain Fall Foliage

Ready to plan your trip, grab my FREE  Vacation Planner to help you plan your trip in the time it takes to watch your favorite TV show!

Travel Guide

ADDITIONAL ARTICLES FOR EXPLORING TENNESSEE

The Best Places To See The Fall Foliage in Arkansas

Best Places to Visit in October

Best Places to Visit in November

11 Fall Getaways You Must Visit This Year

Are you planning your fall vacation to the Smoky Mountains to see the fall foliage? 

I would love to hear your thoughts on the Smoky Mountains’ fall foliage and if you plan on visiting Gatlinburg or Pigeon this fall so leave me a comment on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram.

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7 Comments

  1. This guide is pretty helpful. Before planning a trip, you’ve carefully thought of everything you need to know. Thank you for providing this helpful resource. I’m bookmarking this page for later!

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