Smoky Mountains in the Fall: 2024 Festivals and Foliage Guide

Fall foliage in the Smoky Mountains brings dramatic hues and ignites the rugged scenery. Put on your coziest sweater, grab a hot drink, and make your way to a magnificent display of gold, burgundy, and auburn when you visit the Smoky Mountains in the fall.

Follow our guide to make sure you know exactly when and where to visit for the best autumn landscape and festivities.

Leisurely meandering down hiking trails and pulling over to gaze at sweeping vistas is the name of the game during this time of year. Great Smoky Mountains fall foliage is one of Mother Nature’s most impressive displays of natural beauty.

Wondering when is the optimal time to visit Smoky Mountains in fall? The Great Smoky Mountains, located near Pigeon Forge, TN, and Gatlinburg, TN, truly show off from September to November.

This spectacular finale of the year is one last celebration of color before the area drifts into sleepy winter. It’s truly one of the best times to visit the Smokies.
Make sure you make it to the mountain range before the colors fade, by booking your Smoky Mountain excursion today!

When is the Best Time to See Fall Colors in the Smoky Mountains?

First things first. Determine when the best time to see Smoky Mountains’ fall colors is, so you can put in that vacation request at work. Your fall trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park is just around the corner. 

baskins creek falls flowing through the fall autumn foliage trees in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USASeptember

Warm autumn colors dust the treetops in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg mid-September. However, you won’t see much change below an elevation of about 4,000 feet, so this may not be the best time for fall foliage in Great Smoky Mountains.

Related Post: Smoky Mountains Fall: An In-Depth Guide

A few trees do start to show their true colors in September, though! American beech, Mountain maple, and Pin cherry species of tree are some of the first to transform into shades of red, yellow, and orange. 

Pro Tip: This is prime time for driving through the Smoky Mountains. Make your way to high elevation for Smoky Mountain fall colors! We suggest driving on Parsons Branch Road, Newfound Gap Road, or Clingmans Dome Road for the best chance of seeing fall colors. Check out our complete guide to The Best Scenic Drives in the Smoky Mountains for Fall Colors!

Fall Foliage in the Smoky Mountains - Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USAOctober

By October, the Smokies are awash in brilliant color. Mid-October is ideal for visiting Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg! This is the best time to see fall colors in the Smoky Mountains.

Pro Tip: The Smoky Mountains stretch into North Carolina, too! Visit both Tennessee and North Carolina for the complete experience.

Most leaves at lower elevations peak around the third week of October. Colors should stay vivid for the rest of the month. This is truly peak season in the Smoky Mountains.

Related Post: Smoky Mountain Packing List: The Ultimate Checklist

Whether you want to take a scenic drive or go for a hike, you can’t go wrong in October! The best time for fall colors Smoky Mountains is now.

Photo Alert:  If you decide to take a drive, don’t forget to stop at a scenic overlook. Locations such as Foothills Parkway provide miles of scenic terrain and breathtaking views. Snap a photo and let the stunning scenery speak for itself! Once the leaves have finished falling, you’ll be able to look back on the glory of autumn days past.


The leaves will be fading and falling by this time, but traces of fall beauty still linger in Tennessee in early November. Unfortunately, by Thanksgiving, the autumn wonderland will likely be replaced by winter.

Psst..want a more in-depth look at the changes in fall foliage? Sneak a peek at the Smoky Mountains Fall Foliage Map and see the best predictions for these annual autumnal transformations.

fall foliage newfound gap road - - Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USA
photo credit: Great Smoky Mountains Association via Facebook

Best Place to See Fall Colors in Smoky Mountains

Location, location, location. Strategize your fall strolls to see as much fall color as possible! Here are some of the best spots for autumn sightseeing.

Clingmans Dome

The 360-degree view from the observation tower at Clingmans Dome in Gatlinburg is perfect for scouting gorgeous fall foliage. Because Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Smoky Mountains, it’s widely regarded as one of the best places to visit in Smoky Mountains during fall.

Break out those binoculars or cameras, because on clear days you can be afforded visibility of over 100 miles. Indeed, some of our best fall pictures of the Smoky Mountains come from the Climgmans Dome observation tower.

Check out 5 Must-See Smoky Mountain Sights to make the most of your trip!

Laurel Falls with autumn trees in the great smoky mountains near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USAChimney Tops Trail

The fairly strenuous hike to the top of the Chimney Tops Trail pays off with a spectacular scenic view of Smokey Mountain fall scenery. Considered one of the best ‘fall hikes Smoky Mountains’, this two-mile trek will reward you with 1,400 feet of higher elevations and searing sights. This is a great trail to traverse during the best time to visit Smoky Mountains for fall colors.

Endlessly searching for ‘best fall sunset Smoky Mountains?’ Chimney Tops Trail also makes for a romantic evening reprieve for visitors. Catch the glory of an actual Smoky Mountains sunset rising over the West Prong Little Pigeon River and celebrate the day’s end.

Looking for more waterfall trails? We have a complete guide to 12 of the Best Waterfall Hikes: Smoky Mountains!

Rainbow Falls

Hike alongside LeConte Creek to journey to Rainbow Falls in Gatlinburg during the best time to see fall foliage in Smoky Mountains.

Not only will you see fall colors, but you’ll see rainbows in the waterfall mist if the light hits it just right! This 80-foot tall spectacle is a sight in and of itself to enjoy alongside leafy scenes.

yellow and orange trees in autumn in Cades Cove with mountain in the background in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USA
photo credit: Pixabay

Cades Cove

It’s best to visit this valley area, close to Pigeon Forge, near the end of October. Due to its low elevation, Cades Cove is one of the last places to change. Once it does, though, the autumn bliss of the fall in Smoky Mountains is striking here!

Check out our Essential Guide to Cades Cove: Smoky Mountains to discover what you need to know before you go!

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

Those who prefer to take in the views from the comfort of their car will enjoy weaving around the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. This one-way loop road is easy to navigate and includes various overlooks so you can stop and revel in the autumn artistry during the best time to see fall colors in Smoky Mountain National Park!

Pro tip: Feeling like mixing up your standard Smoky Mountains fall foliage plans? Tack on some Tar Heel State charm to your trip, when you complete one of our Nation’s most scenic drives.

Blue Ridge Parkway is America’s longest linear park and runs for nearly 500 miles through both Virginia and North Carolina counties. Attempt this gorgeous drive in fall, and marvel at this National Parkway which links Shenandoah National Park to the Smoky Mountains National Park.

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail Smoky MountainWhere to Stay

Once you’ve had your fill of leaf sightseeing, there’s nothing like drifting off to sleep in idyllic fall temperatures amidst the best time to visit Smoky Mountains for fall colors.

Dive into a pile of crisp sheets and fluffy pillows at one of these great hotels after soaking in the fullness of the Smoky Mountains in fall.

If you’re visiting Gatlinburg, we recommend:

For Pigeon Forge tourists, we suggest:

fall foliage view of the smoky mountainsCome see the Smoky Mountains’ fall foliage for yourself!

It’s the season of bonfires and hayrides. Leaf chasing is another essential autumn activity to add to your list! There’s no better place than the Great Smoky Mountains to soak in the chilly air and dreamy, leafy sights.

When you’re ready to come in from the cold, cozy up at a Pigeon Forge show or Gatlinburg indoor attraction, both cities are classic destinations for the ultimate fall vacation!

What Fall Colors in Smoky Mountains Are You Most Excited to See?

Tell us, when will you visit the Smokies?

Leave us a comment below!

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Written by Isis Maya Nissman

A New York native, Isis-Maya spent most of her professional life working in TV production until a vacation whisked her away to Central...

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