Best time to travel to Tennessee

Tennessee Fall Colors

Turn on "Rocky Top" and head to the Smoky Mountains to get your fill of fall color

Best time: late September–early November

Tennessee Fall Colors
Tennessee Fall Colors
Fall colors on the way to Gatlinburg.
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While some people could complain about Tennessee's hot and humid summer or snowless winter, no one would dispute the beauty of the state's vivid and crisp fall. The peak fall foliage display time varies depending on elevation and extends from late September to early November. At the highest elevations, the colors develop earliest, later—in the areas at 4,000 ft (1,220 m), and finally—at lower elevations. Anyways, catching up with the latest fall foliage forecast is always a reasonable idea.

Best places to see fall colors in Tennessee

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Tennessee is dotted with state parks providing scenic spots for leaf peeping all across the state. Yet the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has always been the most colorful place due to its amazing diversity of trees. The park hosts up to a hundred native tree species, most of which are deciduous. If you visit the Smokies in September, you'll view the glorious fall foliage of yellow birch, American beech, hobblebush, mountain maple, and pin cherry. But the most spectacular hues appear between mid-October and early November at middle and lower elevations when scarlet oaks, sugar maples, red maples, sweetgums, and hickories turn colors.

Start your stunning adventure with the mountain town of Gatlinburg, which is the gateway to the Great Smokies. You'll be taken away by sweeping views, opening from the 407-ft (124-m) Space Needle observation tower. Another good choice is a trip in the Sky Lift connecting the downtown with the amusement park and ski resort Ober Gatlinburg.

After visiting the town's key attractions, proceed deeper into the park. Take a scenic drive along the Clingmans Dome Road, Newfound Gap Road, or Little River Road from Gatlinburg to Townsend. Other popular destinations are Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Laurel Falls Trail, Greenbrier Picnic Area, and Cades Cove.

Rocky Top

If you're willing to explore the fall colors beyond the Smokies, go on a road trip to Rocky Top to the famous tunes by the Osborne Brothers, one of Tennessee's ten official state songs. The picturesque city located in the hills is only 67 mi (108 km) northwest of Gatlinburg and 26 mi (42 km) northwest of Knoxville.

Chattanooga

Another stunning location outside of the Great Smoky Mountains is the city of Chattanooga in southeastern Tennessee. Its main advantage is its picturesque setting along the Tennessee River in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Discover the charms of the season while walking across the Cumberland Trail. The vast breathtaking panoramas open from the trail's southern terminus at Signal Point. You may also want to book a cruise and view the colors from the Tennessee River Gorge, or jump aboard the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway or Tennessee Valley Railroad for excellent vantage points.

Where to stay

While planning on your fall getaway in Tennessee, check out the fall colors map and opt for the most convenient place to stay. As a general rule, October is the busiest season, so you may want to visit during the weekdays rather than weekends.

Practical info

When is the best time to view the fall colors in Tennessee?

In Tennessee, the display of fall colors reaches its peak from late September to early November, depending on the elevation. The colors develop first at the highest elevations, then later at 4,000 ft (1,220 m) and finally at lower elevations. It's advisable to keep an eye on the latest fall foliage forecasts to plan your trip. Show more

Where is the best place to see fall colors in Tennessee?

If you want to experience the spectacle of fall colors in Tennessee, head to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park boasts around a hundred native tree species, mostly deciduous. Spectacular hues can be seen in mid-October to early November at middle and lower elevations when the sugar maples, scarlet oaks, sweetgums, red maples, and hickories turn color. Show more

What is the most colorful tree species in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

When the leaves start to change between mid-October and early November, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park bursts with colors. You'll see the scarlet oaks, sugar maples, sweetgums, hickories, and red maples turn amazing hues. If you go in September, you can expect to view the yellow birch, American beech, hobblebush, mountain maple, and pin cherry. Show more

Where can you find panoramic views of the fall foliage in Chattanooga?

For breathtaking views of fall foliage in Chattanooga, you can explore the Cumberland Trail, which offers stunning panoramas from the Signal Point southern terminus. A boat cruise along the Tennessee River Gorge is another great option if you want to see the colors from a different perspective. You can also hop aboard the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway or the Tennessee Valley Railroad for spectacular views. Show more

When is the busiest season for viewing fall colors in Tennessee?

October is the busiest month for experiencing fall colors in Tennessee. To avoid the crowds, consider planning your trip on weekdays instead of weekends. Before you set off, take a look at the fall colors map to find an ideal place to stay that's most convenient for your itinerary. Show more

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Last updated: by Olha Savych