Fall foliage in the Smoky Mountains
September 5, 2023

Fall is one of the most popular times of the year for people to visit the Great Smoky Mountains, and for good reason! The air gets cooler and the weather becomes more pleasant, and most importantly, the leaves change colors! It’s a truly magnificent time of year when you can see fall colors all around you. Here’s everything you need to know about seeing Smoky Mountain fall foliage.

Why Do Leaves Change Colors in the Fall?

smoky mountain road in the fall

Have you ever wondered why the Smoky Mountains are filled with such vibrant colors in the fall? The Smokies are filled with around 100 species of trees, many of which are deciduous. Deciduous trees are the kind that shed their leaves annually. Because of the diversity of tree species in the Smoky Mountains, many shades of colors can be seen throughout autumn. These trees change colors in the fall when the green pigments in their leaves start to deteriorate at the end of summer. As the green fades, carotenoid pigments are exposed, turning the leaves yellow. When sugars in the leaves break down in the sunlight, anthocyanins are formed, making the leaves red and purple. The leaves then fall to the ground in preparation for winter.

When Can You Start Seeing Fall Colors in the Smoky Mountains?

The time you can start to see Smoky Mountain fall foliage depends on the elevation. Because higher elevations experience cooler temperatures sooner, they are the first places where leaves will start to change color. The exact times you can expect to see changing leaves varies from year to year based on weather conditions. However, you can generally start to see fall colors at higher elevations around mid-September. These higher elevations typically reach their peak fall colors in early October. This is when you can see shades of yellows, oranges, and reds high up in the Smoky Mountains. In mid-October, you can usually find Smoky Mountain fall foliage at lower elevations as well. The entire Great Smoky Mountains National Park will be covered in all shades of fall colors from around mid-October through early November.

Where Are the Best Places to See Smoky Mountain Fall Foliage?

Clingmans Dome view with fall foliage

If you want to have the best views of Smoky Mountain fall foliage, you should visit the higher elevations. One of the first places you can see colors change is Clingmans Dome, and you’ll be able to see plenty of fall colors all around you from the observation tower. Newfound Gap Road is another great place to experience beautiful fall foliage right from the comfort of your car. There are plenty of overlooks where you can pull off to take pictures and breathe in the autumn air. If you want to be immersed in Smoky Mountain fall foliage on foot, Alum Cave Trail is a great hiking trail to take. This trail has an elevation change of 1,200 feet, allowing you to experience a range of fall colors along the way, especially from early October through early November. There are lots of other scenic drives and hiking trails you can explore to see all sorts of fall colors.

Ways to Enjoy the Smoky Mountains in the Fall

There are so many great ways to enjoy the beauty of the Smoky Mountain fall foliage. If you want to get out in the Smokies and enjoy the fall weather and gorgeous sights, check out these things to do in the Smoky Mountains in the fall. Make sure you bring your camera to capture it all!