There is no better time of year to visit the Smoky Mountains than during the fall season. The crisp cool air and vibrant hues of red, orange, yellow and gold foliage are a stunning sight to behold and continue to attract throngs of visitors this time of year.
In addition to the brilliant fall colors, the weather is ideal for hiking, camping and many outdoor sporting activities but cool enough in the evenings to still get into the fall spirit.
Ready to plan your fall trip to the Smokies? You will want to get the lay of the land, including when the fall foliage will peak, the weather forecast, what to expect when visiting the Smokies in the fall and the best sights to see.
2021 Smoky Mountains Fall Foliage
If you are trying to catch the over 100 varieties of mostly deciduous Smoky Mountains trees in their most brilliant color, you only need to do a minimal amount of homework. For nearly a decade, Smokymountains.com has published a Fall Foliage Prediction Map. It’s the ultimate visual planning guide for leaf-peeping.
The Smokies’ autumn leaf season spans from mid-September to early November. Given the Park’s elevation change from 6,643 to 875 feet, it has several rolling peaks.
Fall foliage begins as early as mid-September. By the beginning of October, trees in the high country are showing bright yellows and shades of red. The middle to lower elevations usually peak between mid-October and early November.
2021 Smoky Mountains Forecast
Another reason to visit the Smoky Mountains in the fall is the weather. The 2021 forecast predicts warmer daytime temps around the mid-60s—ideal for a picnic, a hike and many other outdoor activities. At night, chillier temps are expected to dip into the mid-to-high 30s, creating the perfect opportunity to gather around a warm fire and toast marshmallows.
This year, the landscape shows more reds than usual thanks to drought conditions. The Gatlinburg CVB’s Fall Color Report, predicts a series of warm, sunny days and cool crisp, but not freezing nights will bring about a vibrant display.
What to Expect When Visiting the Smokies in the Fall
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is part of the Appalachian mountain range and borders Tennessee and North Carolina. There are two main entrances to the park: the northern entrance is at Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The southern entrance is close to Cherokee, North Carolina, at Parkway/US 441 and Blue Ridge Parkway.
This U.S National Park does not charge an entrance fee and has easy-to-follow signs to both main entrances. Since the Smokies fall foliage varies by elevation, expect to see bursts of color at higher altitudes and an array of blooming wildflowers along hiking trails.
Fun Fact: The Smoky Mountains are sometimes referred to as "the wildflower national park."
Best Sights to See in the Smoky Mountains in the Fall
There is no shortage of spectacular views in the Smoky Mountains, especially in the fall. Whether you are picking the perfect spot for a picnic, tracking down a trail to hike or want to experience the “wow” factor of a sunset over the mountains, you are guaranteed to find it in the Smoky Mountains.
So, what are the best sights to see? Here are four not-to-be-missed destinations!
1. Newfound Gap Road
At an elevation of 5,046 feet, this 31-mile pass is considered the lowest drivable gap in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is one of the first destinations where the leaves begin to change. Newfound Gap Road winds through a forest of maples, oaks and verdant evergreens.
This fully paved mountain road stretches from the Sugarlands Visitor Center at the park’s south entrance in Gatlinburg, TN to the north entrance near Cherokee, North Carolina. There are plenty of stops to take in the fall splendor.
2. Clingmans Dome
Clingmans Dome is located on the ridgeline of Tennessee and North Carolina. At 6,643 feet, it’s considered the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You can access it by driving Clingmans Dome Road from Newfound Gap. It has many scenic pullouts with endless views of ridges and valleys along the way.
From the Clingmans Dome parking area, hike the half-mile paved trail to the 54-foot observation tower. You’ll get a 360-degree view of the Park. On a clear day, you can see up to 100 miles. Hiking to the top can be challenging due to the steep climb, but it is worth it.
3. Foothills Parkway
The Foothills Parkway offers great views all year long. But in the fall, this stunning drive bursts forth with colors of red, orange, brown and tints of purple and yellow.
Foothills Parkway West offers 33 miles of fabulous views of the east Tennessee Valley and Great Smoky Mountains. On clear days, you can see the Cumberland Mountains 50 miles away. Foothills Parkway East runs from I-40 to Cosby, Tennessee with several splendid viewpoints as well.
To really soak up the scenery, let Pink® Adventure Tours do the driving. They operate Foothills Parkway and Valleys and Views tours departing from Pigeon Forge. Afternoon and evening times offer the best light for vivid colors.
4. Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
This one-way, six-mile scenic road is not short on views of peaceful streams, historic mills and rising mountain peaks. Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail gets its name from the “roaring” sound of mountain streams. You’ll drive under the forest canopy and find several trails lined with autumn leaves.
Begin your journey at the Noah “Bud” Ogle farmstead to explore historic buildings on foot. Just beyond the farmstead is the Rainbow Falls Trailhead—a 3-mile hike to a breathtaking 80-foot waterfall.
Before you hit this narrow road, be sure to pick up a map showing the sights along the way. Also, only cars, trucks and trailers are allowed—no RVs.
Visiting the Smoky Mountains in the Fall
The Smoky Mountains attract over 11 million visitors annually, with the fall season being one of the most popular times of the year. Since this is the busier season for guests, expect to deal with more crowds than usual.
Plan your visit based on where you intend to go and when the trees at that elevation are likely to produce color. In addition to The Fall Foliage Map other great leaf-peeping guides include Visit My Smokies, the National Park Service and the Gatlinburg, TN Guide.
Since the fall weather in the Smoky Mountains tends to be much cooler at night and mild by day, wear layers to help you stay comfortable during your visit.
Lastly, be sure to plan where you will be staying ahead of time as campgrounds and lodging book up fast!
Ready to go leaf-peeping? Pink® Adventure Tours offers several Smoky Mountain Tours. Book yours today!