The Best Scenic Drives in the Smoky Mountains for Fall Colors

August 25, 2022

Eager to see fall foliage in the Smoky Mountains?

Follow along to choose the best Smoky Mountain scenic drive.

Catch the slanted sun as it beckons through jagged cliffs with wavering radiance. The colors shift to gold, burnt orange, and mahogany tones—it's Great Smoky Mountain fall foliage. There's beauty all around us if we know where to look.

The best time for fall foliage in the Smoky Mountains is autumn when the trees burst with vibrant shades of fading sea greens, halo yellows, and bright scarlet in October. We have tips on driving through the Smoky Mountains, capturing the best swaggering views, and taking ridiculously good pictures.

Smoky Mountain Fall Foliage 2022

According to experts in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the fall color display peaks at mid and lower elevations between mid-October and early November. With the most spectacular array of colors among the sugar maples, scarlet oaks, sweetgums, and hickories. Check out our guide on where to see peak Pigeon Forge fall foliage for a deeper dive.

So now that we've determined the best time for fall foliage in the Smoky Mountains, let's start planning!

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

A great adventure awaits you, and it's so simple that you might laugh. Tour Gatlinburg in the fall while viewing the brilliance and auras of mother nature's changing palettes with scenic drives through Smoky Mountain roads.

You'll be able to cover a vast stretch of land, crisscrossing mountains, valleys, and vistas, discovering a new scene at every turn. Follow these Smoky Mountain scenic drives to enjoy the daring, jolly spirit of the great US of A!

Roaring Fork Motor Trail MountainsRoaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

Driving through the Smoky Mountains is a treat for all ages. It's easy, beautiful, and mandatory if you're in the Smoky Mountains National Park. Auto-tour this one-way loop road and take historic and scenic sites from every angle. While cruising this route, stop at the Noah "Bud" Ogle Cabin to see the rustic structure framed in fall color. Then, continue along Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail through thick, dazzling forests.

The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail highlights wildlife watching, historic buildings, log cabins, mountain streams, and countless hikes. It's a one-way scenic loop, six miles long.

Looking for the best waterfall hikes in the Smokies? Available hikes include the 2.6-mile roundtrip Grotto Falls and the 5.4-mile roundtrip hike to Rainbow Falls.

Directions: Turn at Stoplight #8 off the Parkway in Downtown Gatlinburg onto Historic Nature Trail-Airport Rd.

Scenic Drives in the Smoky Mountains

Blue Ridge Parkway Autumn Linn Cove Viaduct Fall Foliage Mountains

Blue Ridge Parkway

This National Parkway, also called the All-American Road in the United States, is noted for its outstanding beauty. It's the country's longest linear park and runs for 469 miles through 29 Virginia and North Carolina counties. The Parkway links the Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It's the longest road in the Smokies with the best Smoky Mountain fall colors. The Parkway has been the most visited unit of the National Park Service every year since 1946.

Related Post: What are the Most Unique Things to Do in Asheville, NC?

Getting to the Blue Ridge Parkway might take some time for Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg visitors, but its excellent vistas are worth it. Starting at the Cherokee Indian Reservation, this auto-tour gives a glimpse of the North Carolina side of the Smoky Mountains. The scenic route follows the crest of the mountains, with frequent parking areas along the way for motorists to enjoy the view. The relaxing drive reveals stunning long-range landscapes and striking close-up views.

Directions: Turn onto the Blue Ridge Parkway, north of Cherokee, NC, on US 441. The Parkway is near the entrance to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Keep reading for more of the best drives in the Smoky Mountains!

fall foliage newfound gap road

Even driving to the best hikes in the Smoky Mountains is beautiful.

Newfound Gap Road

Another phenomenal Smoky Mountains drive is the Newfound Gap Road. This rich mountain road is one of the original scenic drives in the Smoky Mountains. In 1872, it was discovered to be the lowest drivable pass through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Ever since then, people have been traversing this route en masse.

Follow this stretch of river road to travel straight through the heart of the Smoky Mountains. The 33-mile stretch climbs to the top of the Newfound Gap, offering spectacular views along the way. In addition, there are several pull-offs with panoramic views of the mountains dotting the highway. Further, there is an optional hike to Clingman's Dome, Tennessee's highest peak, available on this route. For this reason, and many others, Newfound Gap Road is the most popular auto-tour in the Smokies.

Related Post: Great Smoky Mountains National Park Guide: What to Know Before You Go

The Newfound Gap Visitor Center is also enticing to guests, offering a small museum and 30-minute video presentation that captures peak fall foliage in the Smoky Mountains.

Directions: Take Hwy 441 through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from Gatlinburg. The drive ends in Cherokee, NC, although you can turn around at different locations on Hwy 441.

So, we've established that the Smoky Mountains in the fall is the perfect quest for natural splendor and quality family time. Keep scrolling for even more color brilliant smoky hikes and Smoky Mountain drives!

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

photo credit: Pixabay

Cades Cove Loop Road

A one-lane paved scenic drive through Cades Cove valley offers views of the area before the creation of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The 11-mile loop provides the best drive through the Smoky Mountains with wonderful opportunities to view wildlife, including bears, deer, and historic structures likes old-fashioned churches and a grist mill.

Related Post: 22 Absolutely Free Things to Do in Gatlinburg

Likewise, access to the Abrams Falls hike is located off the loop. All in all, you can make a full day of it as Cades Cove Loop is open from sunrise until sundown. Another hidden treat is Rich Mountain Road which travels one way from Cades Cove Loop Road. Be prepared for gravel roads with rough patches, though the reward is flamboyant fall foliage Smoky Mountains at its finest!

Smoky Mountain Directions: Take the Parkway to the National Park for a Gatlinburg scenic drive. Immediately after the Sugarland Visitor Center, make a right on Little River Road. Stay on this scenic road for about 25 miles of winding, beautiful backcountry. The road dead-ends into Cades Cove, 27 miles from Gatlinburg.

Pro Tip: Keep an eye out for whitetail deer, coyotes, fox, and elk. Black bears have been seen along the Gatlinburg Loop Drive during late summer and fall.

Fall Foliage in the Smoky Mountains - Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USAWears Valley

Another destination brewing with history and culture is Wears Valley. Nestled into a lush basin, this beautiful region runs parallel to the Great Smoky Mountains.

You can still see Smoky Mountains' fall colors too. The Foothills Parkway traverses the foothills of East Tennessee and is becoming a prime attraction in its own right.

road under trees in wears valley near gatlinburg tennessee

Enter the Great Smoky Mountains National Park through Wears Valley to avoid traffic.

Book Your Smoky Mountains Highway Trip Now!

Choose any of these scenic drives in the Smoky Mountains for magnificent views of the highlands and valleys of this one-of-a-kind landscape!

If you're heading to the Smoky Mountains, plan time to hit Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg with great attractions, fantastic restaurants, and fabulous shopping. Tripster offers everything you need for a fun-filled vacation, from show and attraction tickets to your pick of accommodations. And you can't beat Tripster's low prices, convenient e-tickets, and no-hassle bookings.

Which Scenic Drives in the Smoky Mountains Will You Choose?

We'd love to hear your thoughts if you've seen the Smoky Mountains in the fall. What are the best Smoky Mountains driving tours?


close up of Erin smiling on a sunny day

Written By Erin

Erin Poche` is a Utah-based writer and editor for Tripster and contributing writer for BeyondType1. She also writes and edits for an indie publisher of fanta ...

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