East Tennessee’s fall foliage is a beautiful site to see. With over 100 species of native trees and a large range of elevation, it’s an over month-long natural show for all of us who live here and a sight worth making the trip for if you don’t.
When to See East Tennessee’s Fall Foliage
The last three weeks in October generally have the prettiest fall foliage with some of the trees at every elevation having changed color. Of course, the weather is a major factor in the color change so it is impossible to predict the best time to see the colors in any particular spot. Days in the 70s and nights in the 40s start most of the transformations.
The trees at the highest elevations in the Smoky Mountains usually start to change late in September. Then they are at their most colorful in mid-October and have started to fade by the end of the month.
The trees in the valley don’t usually start to turn until around the second week of October, reaching their brightest around the end of the month and not fading until mid-November.
Where to See East Tennessee’s Fall Foliage
There are many ways to enjoy the fall views but taking a drive down slower moving roads through the forests or visiting a park with wooded areas and going for a short walk (or a longer hike) are among the best.
Some of our favorite scenic drives include:
Cades Cove – This 11 mile paved loop road is one of the most popular drives in the Smokey Mountains and one of the busiest, especially in October. The views are gorgeous and the cabins and other buildings are interesting places to visit. In the fall be prepared for large crowds and very congested traffic. The Cades Cove Loop is closed for repaving through September 27th, 2021.
Newfound Gap Road – A 30-mile road that runs through the center of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from Gatlinburg, TN to Cherokee, NC. Numerous pull-offs, walkways, and trails can be found along this road. There is also a mill, a farm museum, and the road to Clingmans Dome, the highest accessible point in Tennessee. This road is extremely busy all summer and fall, so plan for this drive to take several hours if you come to see the fall leaves.
Cherohala Skyway – This 46-mile roadway runs from Tellico Plains in Tennesse to Robbinsville in North Carolina. It’s called “a drive above the clouds” since a large portion of this roadway runs along the top or near the top of the mountain ridges. There are several pull-offs with scenic views and a few even have picnic tables.
The Tail of the Dragon – This 11-mile section of US-129 has 318 curves and is a favorite destination of many motorcycle and sports car enthusiasts. It runs from just south of Maryville, TN into North Carolina. It is advised you take this road somewhat slow, for safety reasons as well as giving yourself an opportunity to enjoy the views.
Other scenic drives you might want to consider include the Ocoee Scenic Byway, the Sequatchie Valley Scenic Byway, Little River Road, East Tennessee Crossing Byway, Wears Valley Overlook, Foothills Parkway, and Roaring Fork Motor Trail. Randy and I are going to visit at least a couple of these drives this fall.
East Tennessee’s many national, state, and local parks give visitors a chance to see nature up close. Many have hiking trails, visitors centers, picnic areas, and other things to see and do.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park – The most visited national park in the USA and more people come in October than any other time of year. Beautiful scenery, multiple hiking trails, places to camp, and much more keep people coming back. The three main entrances to the park are located in Gatlinburg TN, Townsend TN, and Cherokee NC.
Fall Creek Falls State Park – Located part in East Tennessee and part in Middle Tennessee this over 29,000-acre park has numerous waterfalls besides the 256 foot one it is named for. Cabins and camping areas, its own golf course, and many other features make it a great place to visit.
Fort Loudoun State Park – This park is centered around a reconstruction of a colonial-era fort and includes a small museum/visitors center. It also has areas for hiking, boating, fishing, bird watching, and picnicking.
Bays Mountain Park – Located near Kingsport, this park is centered around a 44-acre man-made lake that used to be Kinsport’s main water supply. It is now a nature preserve and recreation area that features a planetarium, animal exhibits, and miles of biking and hiking trails.
Other great parks to visit include Big South Fork River and Recreation Area, Rocky Fork State Park, Seven Islands State Park, The Cherokee National Forest, Red Clay State Park, Hiwassee/Ocoee State Park, and Harrison Bay State Park.
East Tennessee is a beautiful place. If you visit in or near October there is wonderful fall foliage to be seen all around you. Making a special drive or visiting a park is the best way to see the colorful trees but many attractions like Anakeetsa, Dollywood, and the Chattanooga and Hiwassee Train Rides offer opportunities to enjoy the colors as well. If you don’t mind the crowds or can find a quiet area making a trip to see East Tennessee’s fall foliage should be on your to-do list.
Do you have a favorite place to go or stretch of road to drive in East Tennessee to see the fall colors? When is it usually at its prettiest? Do you think this year will follow the normal pattern or do you think the colored foliage will show up early or late? Let us know in the comments.