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

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Last updated: by Olha Savych
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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

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.

Newfound Gap Road, Great Smoky Mountains National Park 2020
Newfound Gap Road, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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.

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) north-west of Gatlinburg and 26 mi (42 km) north-west of Knoxville.

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.