The Great Smoky Mountains’ beauty is exponentially increased as it peaks into the fabric and hues of fall colors. In fall, the mountains are awash in brilliant yellows, oranges, and reds as the fall leaf season brings glorious color to Gatlinburg and east Tennessee.
Stretching over 500,000 acres into both North Carolina and Tennessee, the mountains are home to thousands of species of plants and wildlife that have been thriving and diversifying for millennia, as one of the world’s few International Biosphere Reserves.
Take a drive along one of the scenic highways, or perhaps travel down one of the 800 miles of trails or just sit on the deck of your American Patriot Getaways cabin and enjoy the profound lifecycle of trees as they change their summer canopy into a crazy quilt of flaming reds and coppery oranges.
When is the best time to visit? So as not to miss it, plan your visit anytime in the middle of October to early November. Farmer’s Almanac predicts Oct. 12-28 as probable date for peak fall color in Tennessee. American Forests’ Estimated Fall Foilage Map can show you what’s happening where you are going and when.
Visitors to the Foothills Parkway can expect to see breathtaking mountain views and stunning fall colors. The 16 miles between Wears Valley and Walland – completed in 2018 – offer multiple pull offs to hop out of the car, stretch your legs, and take in the scenery. If you’re wanting to see more, continue underneath Highway 321 and drive up the east side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for another 17 miles. The Foothills Parkway ends at US-129, also known as The Tail of the Dragon.
If you can handle 318 curves in 11 miles, continue the drive for more sightseeing! Please note: there are no services, such as gas stations, on the Parkway.
The Blue Ridge Parkway
Located on the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this classic 469-mile drive was built to connect The Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Shenandoah National Park all the way in northern Virginia! You’ll hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway just before entering Cherokee, North Carolina and enjoy driving your way up to the higher ridgelines of the mountains. With multiple pull offs to stop and enjoy the mountains as you go, take in the fall foliage in the smokies from both sides, but Please Note: there are no services, e.g., gas stations, on the Parkway.
Newfound Gap Road:
Newfound Gap Road is also known as US highway 441. This road traverses the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is a classic scenic drive. This 32-mile long highway connects Gatlinburg, TN to Cherokee, NC. Along the way, there are multiple pull off spots for you to hop out, stretch your legs, and take in the stunning scenery. When you reach the state line approximately 15 miles from Gatlinburg, stop and take a walk along the famous Appalachian Trail. Or continue your drive to Clingman’s Dome or even Cherokee!
If you only have one day in the Smokies, we recommend seeing Cades Cove. There’s plenty to see and do there, from hiking to biking to history walks. There is something for everyone! The 11-mile loop road traverses around a large open meadow and is one of your best bets to see wildlife in the Smoky Mountains. Give yourself all day to complete this leisurely and scenic drive. Take plenty of breaks to get out, have a picnic, and learn about the Cherokee and settlers who called this land home before the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a 5.5-mile long, one-way drive just outside of the heart of Gatlinburg. Feel like you’re driving through history while taking in historic buildings, a mountain vista or two, and listen to the babbling streams. You’ll forget you’re only minutes away from town when you see wild turkey, grazing deer, and even the most famous Smokies resident – the American Black Bear.
Looking for the easiest route to get to these scenic roads? Be sure to check out our post on how to avoid traffic while you’re in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.
Colorful Fall Hikes
Hiking in the Smoky Mountains is a great way to take in the stunning colors of fall. Because our elevation ranges from less than 1000 feet above sea level to 6600 feet above sea level, you can see the fall foliage in the Smokies from a variety of locations!
The highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is easy to access. Enjoy driving on the highest road east of the Mississippi River to get to the parking area of Clingman’s Dome. When you arrive, follow the paved trail for a steep half mile to the observation tower. On a clear day, stunning 360-degree views await. Observe the fall color from the high elevation. Depending on your visit, you’ll see that it’s changing slowly on its way up the hillsides.
Make sure to bring a jacket on this hike. Temperatures at Clingman’s Dome are 10-12 degrees cooler than they are in Gatlinburg.
Chimney Tops Trail
The trail to Chimney Tops has been extensively changed since the 2016 wildfires. This hike may be less than 4 miles round trip, but don’t let the distance fool you. This steep hike is a workout! You’ll climb nearly 1,100 feet in less than 2 miles to the overlook. Take in the fall colors of the valley below and look to the Chimney’s “next door neighbor” – famous Mt. LeConte.
Always make sure to obey the signs and never climb past a barrier. The extensive fire damage in this area makes the rock surfaces past the barriers unsafe.
Looking for more fall color hikes? Check out our blog post dedicated to the best hikes to see the fall foliage in the Smokies.
Get your Fill of Festivals
There are plenty of fall festivals to enjoy the cooler weather and beautiful colors!
Dollywood Harvest Festival by Humana is Sept. 23 – Oct. 29 and is one of the most anticipated annual events of the season with music, rides, illuminated pumpkins, sunflowers and more!
Ober’s 13th Annual OktOBERfest kicks off Sept. 23 with German-themed food, drinks and music daily at the indoor/outdoor festival.
The Gatlinburg Craftman’s Fair – Oct. 13-30 hosts Artisans and Craftsmen from all over the nation.
Check out our 2022 Festival Guide for all the details.
To avoid the gridlock that occurs in the most popular areas–including Cades Cove, Newfound Gap Road, and Roaring Fork Motor Trail, get an early morning start and you can enjoy the annual fall color show without so many license plates in front of you.
Booking Your Stay
No matter how you decide to enjoy autumn in the Smokies, you’ll want a cozy place to relax, hang out, lay your head and take in the spectacular views.
There are no rental cabins located within the national park. However, American Patriot Getaways offers a variety of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge cabins, chalets and condos close to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. October is a busy month in Gatlinburg and the park, so it is advisable to book your cabin, chalet or condo with American Patriot Getaways as early as possible.
Whether you want a treehouse experience or one of our many beautiful cabins, American Patriot Getaways can help you decide.
Book a Gatlinburg Cabin with a hot tub so you’ll have the perfect place to unwind under the stars. Be sure you check out all our amazing featured deals so you can get the best price for your Halloween vacation or your own chili cookoff with friends and family.