One of the best things about fall is the fantastic foliage. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a better place to look at the leaves than here in Eastern Tennessee. And while we don’t really expect the leaves to start turning before October, now is a good time to plan for trips around the area.
One of the best places to enjoy fall foliage, of course, is in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Some of the trails in the park were temporarily closed after the damaging fires last spring. You’ll want to check the park’s website for updated information about which trails may still be affected. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park will be also be updating information on their Twitter site, so you may want to check there for up-to-the minute updates.
Great Smoky Mountain National Park offers a number of options for viewing fall foliage. There are hiking trails within the park that you can explore or scenic drives for those who prefer staying in the car (although there are options for short hikes).
Options for Hikers
Park at the large parking area at Newfound Gap. Cross the Newfound Gap Road at the crosswalk and look for the trail sign. Follow the Appalachian Trail to Indian Gap (where the trail meets the Clingmans Dome Road). It's 3.4 miles round trip if you hike to Indian Gap and back.
Inspiration Point on Alum Cave Trail
Park at Alum Cave Trail parking area 10.5 miles south of Gatlinburg on Newfound Gap Road (Highway US-441). The 1.8-mile (one-way) hike to Inspiration Point offers a walk through a rich old-growth forest and views of the surrounding mountains.
Oconaluftee River Trail
Park at Oconaluftee Visitor Center. The trail starts near the entrance to the historic buildings area. It follows the Oconaluftee River 1.5 miles to the town of Cherokee, NC.
Look Rock Tower
From Townsend, TN take US-321 to the Foothills Parkway and follow this scenic road to the Look Rock tower parking area. The moderate hike to the top is 1-mile round trip and there are spectacular views from the tower.
Sutton Ridge Overlook
Park in the designated hiker parking area just before the entrance to Cosby Campground. Follow the Cosby Self-guiding Nature Trail past the amphitheater to the beginning of the Lower Mount Cammerer Trail to Sutton Ridge. It's 1.4 miles to the 200-yard spur trail to the overlook.
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
From the Parkway in downtown Gatlinburg, turn at stoplight #8 onto Historic Nature Trail-Airport Road. Go straight at the intersection and continue into Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
A stop at the Noah "Bud" Ogle historic area provides the opportunity for a short walk on the self-guiding nature trail. A brochure introduces you to life on a mountain farm as well as some local flora and fauna.
Continue on to Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, a narrow, steep, paved one-way road that winds through rich forests and offers glimpses of rollicking Roaring Fork creek. Park at stop #3 and enjoy the view of fall colors and rolling mountains. A short stroll on the path to the right takes you to another viewpoint with benches that beckon you to sit a spell and enjoy the scenery. At stop #5 you'll have the opportunity to park and take a 2.6-mile round-trip hike through old-growth forest to Grotto Falls.
A number of historic log and frame buildings can be seen along Roaring Fork. Near the end of the road, you’ll see a waterfall called "Place of a Thousand Drips" on the left.
The Motor Nature Trail ends in Gatlinburg. Turn left to return to downtown via US-321.
The Blue Ridge Parkway
Turn onto the Blue Ridge Parkway, which begins just north of Cherokee, NC, on US-441, near the entrance to Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The scenic parkway follows the crest of the mountains for 469 miles, all the way to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Frequent auto pullouts along the first few miles provide spectacular views of the Smoky Mountains in all their autumn finery.
Other Park Options
Great Smoky Mountain National Park isn’t the only place to catch a glimpse of great fall scenery. You might also want to plan a day trip to Chattanooga and enjoy the beautiful scenery on the way. Or you could head down the valley and check out a quaint small town such as Pikeville. And if you want to avoid the crowds at the park, you might opt for Fall Creek Falls State Park that offers gorgeous trees and waterfalls. Or you could head over to Roan Mountain State Park.
Don’t Want to Walk or Drive?
You have other options than driving or walking. There’s nothing quite like a train ride through the fall scenery!Check out the Three Rivers Rambler. This historic train will take you on an 11-mile round trip “Fall Foliage Ride” that travels from Knoxville to the head of the Tennessee River through spectacular scenery.
There are plenty of great ways to enjoy East Tennessee’s fabulous fall colors. And if you want to keep an eye on how the leaves are progressing, check out the webcams at Purchase Knob (for high elevation changes) or at Look Rock.