By Darryl Payne
Posted on October 16, 2015
Fall colors in the Smokies are legendary. With more than 100 species of deciduous trees, the mountains put on quite a show as the green pigments in tree leaves change to a riot of colors. Watch for the brilliant yellows and oranges of alder, hickory, ash, maple, poplar, aspen, birch, black cherry, sycamore, cottonwood and sassafras, while reds, purples, and oranges burst from maple, oak, sweetgum, dogwood, cherry and persimmon trees. It's nature's version of a fireworks finale, and you won't want to miss it.
Peak color season changes with the weather, so it's impossible to predict when it will start and end. However, once it starts in the Great Smoky Mountains, fall color season spans about seven weeks. Leaves start to change at high elevations in mid-September, and the change moves down to the foothills through early November. The first trees to change are American beech, hobblebush, mountain maple, pin cherry and yellow birch, followed by sweetgum, scarlet oak, red maple, sugar maple, and hickory. While you're looking at tree leaves, don't overlook stunning mountain wildflowers that are also peaking in abundance in the autumn.
Where to See the Most Colorful Leaves
Great Smoky Mountain National Park is a fantastic place to take in the changing colors, and it also provides many of the best photo opportunities. Note that the busiest areas of the park aren't necessarily the most scenic, so check the park website for their recommendations so you can avoid traffic.
Early in the season, you'll need to visit high elevations to see brilliant colors. Scenic drives are a fine choice for chilly days or for non-hikers. Beautiful drives include Cades Cove and Rich Mountain Road, Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441), Heintooga Ridge Road, Foothills Parkway West and East, and Clingmans Dome Road. The Blue Ridge Parkway spans 500 miles of amazing vistas and has plenty of pull-offs so you can take in the scenery and snap a few selfies.
The recently reopened Parson Branch Road, an 8-mile one-way low-speed byway, gives drivers that rare feeling of driving through an old-growth forest. Good hikes early and midway through the season are Albright Grove, Andrews Bald, Mount LeConte, Mount Cammerer, Baskins Creek Falls Little River, Old Settlers and Porters Creek Trails, and the Sugarland Mountain Trail. For breathtaking scenic overlooks, hike Low Gap, Mount Sterling, Goshen Prong Trails and the Appalachian Trail.
Later in the season, good places to see autumn colors in the mountains are drives along Balsam Mountain Road and Cove Creek Road, Newfound Gap Road from Alum Cave Trailhead to Kephart Prong Trailhead, or any of the long and winding Blue Ridge Parkway. Hikers will enjoy stunning views from Chestnut Top Trail, Smokemont Loop, Sutton Ridge Overlook, and Kanti Fork.
If you're not in an RV, the one-way Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail runs through Great Smoky Mountains National Park and has plenty of pull-offs and hiking opportunities. In the park, be sure to stop by Grotto Falls for a fantastic photo op.
Other creative options for taking in the foliage include Bluff Mountain Adventures, Mountain Memory Tours, and lovely views from Dollywood theme park. Locals and travelers alike are celebrating Mother Nature's finest show right along with you, so take a break from your hikes and drives to visit some of the local fall festivals. You'll enjoy traditional seasonal food and entertainment and plenty of shopping.
Stay Awhile & Enjoy the View
After all of that driving and hiking, you'll need a good night's sleep. Luckily for you, autumn is the perfect time to rent a cabin in the Smokies. Check out Hearthside Cabin Rentals for rental options that range from cozy one-bedroom cabins up to 11-bedroom chateaus that can accommodate your entire family (or neighborhood). Some Hearthside cabins are pet-friendly, and many feature luxurious amenities such as memorable mountain vistas, Jacuzzi tubs, outdoor fire pits, rocking chairs, gourmet kitchens, DVD players, movie rooms and more.
Of course, you may decide the best view of the fall foliage in the Great Smoky Mountains is from the porch of your cabin. It's hard to argue that watching the mountains change color from a rocking chair, coffee in hand and surrounded by birdsong isn't one of the best experiences in the Smokies. You can rent cabins at both high and low elevations, so look for a cabin with a good vista of high elevations early in the season or move down the mountain later in the season.
Watching the mountains change color in the autumn is a wonderful way to recharge at the end of the year and find some peace and quiet before the chaos of the holidays. Whether you drive, hike, or just sit on the porch of your cabin, you'll always remember the spectacular fall colors of the Great Smoky Mountains.
About Darryl Payne
Darryl Payne is a native of East Tennessee in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. He is a web developer with a passion for building great websites. As a local, he can offer a unique perspective on where to stay and things to do while on vacation in the Smokies. To read his latest recommendations, please click the Google+ follow button.