My favorite time of the year to visit the Smoky Moutains 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 Smoky Mountains fall colors from deep greens to beautiful shades of red, yellow, and orange.
Planning your trip when the fall color peak can be tricky because you times. You don’t want to come too early before the colors 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 Mountains fall colors during the best time of the year so I have put together my 2020 Smoky Mountain Fall Foliage report.
Because Tennessee is my home town I can provide you up-to-date information on the fall foliage schedule and timeline in the Smoky Mountains to help you plan your trip!
2020 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.
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 70’s during the day and drop into the low high 50’s and low 40’s at night.
As the temperatures in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge get cooler the leaves turn into 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 2020 Smoky Mountain Fall Foliage
This guide to the 2020 Smoky Mountains fall foliage 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 which this 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 out the route as it is at the top of Clingman Dome but I do suggest arriving early because traffic is absolutely horrible as the moring progresses.
Blue Ridge Parkway
Blue Ridge Parkway is on the North Carolina side of the Smoky Mountains and will require a roadtrip.
This portion of the Smoky Mountains is well worth the drive to experience the fall colors from then consider driving this famed stretch of highway.
Because of the high elevation on the North Carolina side there are tons of opportunity 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 takes a few epic photos.
Avoiding vehicle congestion along the parkway is paramount which can cause miles and miles of cars backed 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, tints of purple and yellow.
While Cades Cove is one of the most popular spots I suggest taking the Roaring Fork route and make a few stops to see the fall beauty of the Smoky Mountains which includes a self-guided nature walk, 2.6-mile hike to Grotto Falls.
The highest point in the Smoky National Park offers a pheonomenal 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 Great Smoky Mountains National Park is unlike anything you will ever experience. The beautiful arry of fall colors, the diverse plant life, towering trees that look magnificent and picturesqure and Instagram worthy.
There are over 100 species of native trees that are home to the Smokies that hovers 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 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 the hickories.
September in The Smoky Mountains
By the end of September when temperatures are cooler at nght, mixed with rainy 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.
View this post on Instagram
Patches of fall colors are still visible throughout the park, especially at mid and low-elevation areas. Keep an eye out for Beech and Oak trees that hold onto their leaves late into the season. #FallColorFriday #FindYourPark Photos by: Kristina Plaas; Photo Descriptions: 1) Little River Road surrounded by trees with some greens, reds, and oranges. 2) Oak tree in the forest with orange and yellow leaves. 3) Close-up of deep reddish-brown oak leaves on a tree.
October 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 dogwoods 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 and 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 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 tree, 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.
View this post on Instagram
Though it’s getting cold, rich colors in mid & low elevation areas make it worthwhile to get out! Be cautious with icy conditions & be aware that roads may close in unsafe weather conditions. To stay updated on road conditions, visit: https://twitter.com/smokiesroadsnps. #FallColorFridays Photos by: Kristina Plaas (#1-3) and Warren Bielenberg (#4); Photo Descriptions: 1) Laurel Creek Road with fall foliage surrounding roadway. 2) Middle Prong of Little River with rocks in foreground and fall colors in background. 3) Maple tree with yellow leaves in front of bridge on Laurel Creek Road. 4) Close-up of red and yellow maple leaves.
Late October/Early November
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 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 a 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.
View this post on Instagram
Want an easy stroll in the Park that is also dog friendly? Connecting the city of Gatlinburg to Park Headquarters and the Sugarlands Visitor Center, the Gatlinburg Trail is one of only two trails in the Park that are dog friendly, the other trail being the Oconaluftee River Trail. Other areas of the Park that visitors can walk their dogs include campgrounds, picnic areas, and along roads. Dogs must be kept on a leash, no longer than 6 feet, at all times. Also, remember to bring a bag to remove your pet’s poo and do your part to keep the Park clean. #trailstuesday You may be wondering why pets are only allowed on these two frontcountry trails. It all comes down to the safety of you, your dog, and our wildlife. Dogs can chase and threaten wildlife, they may frighten other visitors, and they could possibly become prey for larger predators such as coyotes and bears. In addition, if your dog disturbs and enrages a bear, it may lead the angry bear directly to you. For more information about pets in the Smokies as well as other federal lands in the surrounding area please visit: https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/pets.htm NPS Photos; Image descriptions: 1) A footbridge crossing over a river on the Gatlinburg Trail. 2) A visitor walking a dog down a hiking trail. 3) View of a river, from a foot bridge, flowing through a forest.
Best Hikes for beginners:
- Lower Mount Cammerer
- Baskins Creek Falls
- Little River
- Old Settlers
- Porters Creeks Trails
Best Hikes for Outdoor enthusiasts:
- Sugarlands Mountain
- Low Gap
- 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 foliage:
- 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 see the fall foliage in the Smoky Mountains.
There are three main entrances into The Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
Gatlinburg, TN entrance
From interstate highway I-40 take 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 park.
From Sevierville and Pigeon Forge: Stay straight on US-441 South and continue into the park.
Townsend, TN entrance
From the north: From 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 interstate highway I-75 take 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 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.
Conculsion of Smoky Mountains Fall Colors
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!
ADDITIONAL ARTICLES FOR EXPLORING TENNESSEE
Are you planning your fall vacation to the Smoky Mountains to see the fall foliage?
ARE YOU ALSO ON PINTEREST?
Why not save this post to your Pinterest board for later? I am also on Pinterest so feel free to follow Passports and Grub boards and get the latest pin directly.