Hiker on a trail in the autumn.

Explore the Kaleidoscope of Autumn Colors Around Gatlinburg

If you’re looking to escape into a world of brilliant colors and breathtaking views of the Smoky Mountains in the fall, then Gatlinburg is the place for you! This idyllic mountain town and its surrounding areas offer an unforgettable autumn experience complete with rolling hills of vibrant reds and oranges, striking sunsets behind towering peaks, and endless outdoor adventures.

Lace up your hiking poots, pack your camera (or charge your phone), and get ready to be swept away by the enchanting autumn charm of the Smoky Mountains.

Fall Colors in all Their Glory

When it comes to putting on a show of autumn brilliance, Smoky Mountain fall foliage is unmatched. In higher elevations, colors start to change from rich and luscious greens to a more colorful palate starting around mid-September. Lower elevations start to show off colors in mid-October.

There are more than 100 kinds of tree species in the Smokies, with most of them deciduous. Higher elevations see leaf changes first, usually starting mid-late September. Around mid-October, you can still see beautiful colors, and overall the season winds down in early November.​​

Sugar maples offer a mesmerizing blend of reds and oranges, while American beech trees contribute their golden yellows to the landscape. Fiery red hues of red maples add a striking contrast, and the delicate yellow birch leaves seem to catch sunlight like drops of liquid gold. Meanwhile, the Mountain maple trees sprinkle their own unique shades into the mix, turning a rich, deep red and orange.

Luckily, there are fun, immersive ways to experience the Smoky Mountains in the fall. Keep up on fall colors on the National Park Services website.

Hiking Trails

While you’re hitting the trails to look at autumn leaves, start at the top of the Smoky Mountains. As you continue reading, find out some of the best places to marvel at the fall colors.

Mount LeConte

Trek up Rainbow Falls Trail to Mount LeConte, taking in all that nature has to offer during this nearly 14-mile hike. Leaf colors are especially vibrant in mid-late Setpember. An added bonus is seeing the waterfalls. Use extra caution when hiking to Mount LeConte, as many consider this a more difficult hike.

The trailhead is accessible from the Historic Nature Trail into Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Pass the Noah “Bud” Ogle homesite, and follow signs for Rainbow Falls parking.

Pets and bicycles are not permitted, and proper footwear is strongly recommended. The area is known to have active black bears, so be on the lookout!

Chimney Tops Trail

This steep climb gains 1,400 feet in 2 miles, so hiking footwear and water are both a must-have. At one point, the trail goes alongside Sugarland Mountain. In total, this trail is 3.5 miles roundtrip. The final quarter of Chimney Tops Trail is not accessible.

Rich Mountain Loop

Another hike that is fairly difficult, Rich Mountain Loop is 8.5 miles of fall splendor in mid-late October. While you’re hiking, you’ll have an elevation gain of 1,736 feet. Rich Mountain Loop is part of Cades Cove, and has several trails that it meets along the way.

Appalachian Trail

For more than 70 miles of a total 2,200 miles (in 14 states), Great Smoky Mountains National Park houses the Appalachian Trail.

Newfound Gap

Following Newfound Gap Road, you’re lead to the parking lot where you can start your hike, going to heights of 1,600 feet. It’s an 8-mile, round-trip hike that is nestled between Tennessee and North Carolina. Beware of wood logs and wet points along the trail.

Clingmans Dome

This is the highest point of the trail, measuring 6,643 feet. There’s an observation tower to help make the most of your hike. Dress and pack accordingly, as the last half-mile stretch of the hike is pretty steep.

Scenic Drives

Stay in the comfort of your own vehicle and drive at your own pace to marvel at the fall foliage.

Clingmans Dome Road

For 7 miles, you can head to that highest point of not only the Appalachian Trail, but also Tennessee. Scenic pullouts along the roadway allow you to stretch your legs while you look at the fall colors on the trees. During severe or dangerous weather conditions, the road is closed.

Cades Cove Loop Road

Block off at least 2 hours during your fall season stay in Gatlinburg and drive Cades Cove Loop Road. It’s an 11-mile, one-way drive that’s also used by bicyclists and hikers. Keep in mind that there are vehicle-free days which are each Wednesday from May through Sepember.

Blue Ridge Parkway

If you’re planning a getaway to Gatlinburg during the fall, consider going through the windy Smoky Mountains in the fall by way of Blue Ridge Parkway. You’ll leave Asheville, North Carolina, and drive toward Cherokee and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park entrance.

Foothills Parkway

Stretching more than 70 miles, you can marvel at leaves on this winding road that connects U.S. Route 129 with Interstate 40. Foothills Parkway goes through the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, with a section going along the Little Tennessee River and Pigeon River. Its location makes this drive great for the fall.

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

A one-way loop measuring 5.5 miles, this driveable trail is accessible just past the Rainbow Falls trailhead. You’ll be in the heart of forest, which is breathtaking during the fall time of the year.

Drive to North Carolina

Head to Oconaluftee by Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441) on this 33-mile roadway. It takes about an hour, and you reach Cherokee.

Visit the quaint Cataloochee Valley by taking Cove Creek Road, or Route 32 from Crosby, Tennessee.

Having fun Outdoors

There are other fun, creative ways to enjoy the high elevations of the Smoky Mountain views in the fall.

Gatlinburg Space Needle

Get a complete 360-degree view of the Smoky Mountains in the fall from the observation tower that stands more than 400 feet tall. Look down on chimney tops, historical buildings, and fall foliage from the structure.

Oktoberfest in Gatlinburg

Enjoy the start of cooler temperatures and all things autumn, including beer and bratwurst, at Oktoberfest. It’s all at Ober Gatlinburg, which you can access by driving to Mount Harrison or by taking the Aerial Tramway. It’s the perfect time to kick off the leaves starting to turn in autumn.

Smoky Mountain Harvest Festival

This festival is a celebration of weeks-long autumn appreciation. Harvest Festival is from mid-September through late November, whether you’re in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, or Sevierville. Various fall-time events are packed into several weeks, giving you the opportunity to look at the Smokies in this colorful time of year.

Taking in Fall Colors and More in Gatlinburg

Experiencing the “light show” from the leaves changing throughout the Smoky Mountains in the fall is a great way to explore Gatlinburg. Don’t forget to check out Relax Gatlinburg for all the best places to eat, explore, and even stay. Get ready to take advantage of surrounding beauty and history of Gatlinburg.