Great Smoky Mountains Fall Foliage
The annual Great Smoky Mountains fall foliage show starts in late September and spreads across The Great Smoky Mountains towards early November. While traveling in the Great Smoky Mountains in the autumn there will always be an opportunity to view scenes of leaves changing colors somewhere. This area is fortunate to have about 4-6 weeks in the autumn to undergo this show of nature as the warm days of summer transition into the cold days of winter. Each year the mountains puts on a beautiful show and with all the different elevations in the different mountain regions of North Carolina and Tennessee there are a lot of areas to travel to during October to see the beautiful fall foliage show that nature provides.
Fall Foliage Reports and Updates in the Great Smoky Mountains
10/26/2017 Fall Foliage Report and Update: With the cold night-time temperatures this past week peak colors are well past for the higher elevations of the park but there is still a lot of color to see in the lower elevations. There is still time to visit and enjoy the fall colors in the Great Smokies. The many overlooks in the park offer some beautiful long-range views of the Great Smokies. They are great places to stop, relax and enjoy the views. Lower elevations are near peak now (elevations under 2000ft). Places to still see the fall foliage include the areas of Oconaluftee, Cades Cove, Gatlinburg and Townsend. The Little River Gorge Rd. and Laurel Creek Rd. are still a nice ride to view fall colors as you ride into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and toward Cades Cove. So is the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail near Gatlinburg. Cataloochee Valley and Cherokee still have lots of color due to the lower elevations. There is still a lot of yellow and gold colors in the tulip poplar, black walnut, birch, beech, and hickory trees. The black gum, dogwood, sumacs, and sourwood trees are adding into the mix with the red, maroon and purple colors. This weekend a cold front moves through with clouds and a cold rain. Night time temperatures are forecast to be below freezing in many areas. There is still time this week to enjoy the fall colors in the Great Smoky Mountains and nearby areas. But the next week or so may be the last week to view the fall colors for this year in the GSMNP. The holiday festivities are just around the corner.
10/21/17 Fall Foliage Report and Update: Right now the best color is in the 3000-4000 ft elevations. Above the 5000 ft elevation the leaves are mostly brown and have fallen off the trees by now. The middle elevations are full of yellow and gold colors, with some red. This year’s colors are not vibrant thanks to the warm weather the last several weeks. At least while riding through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park there are so many different elevations there is still a pretty fall foliage show to see. For the next two weeks the color will be developing in the mid and lower elevations in the park. The mid elevations are reported to have about 80% color with the lower elevations about 20% color now. Good places to go are Newfound Gap Road, Roaring Fork Motor Trail, Little River Gorge Rd. and Laurel Creek Rd., Rich Mountain Rd, Little River Rd, Ramsey Cascades, Gatlinburg, Townsend and Cataloochee Valley. Cades Cove and Cataloochee will not be ready for peak colors until late week and into the first week of November. Make sure to go to the webcams to check out the fall foliage colors in and around the Great Smoky Mountains! There is a cold front moving in mid-week with the possibility of snow in the very highest elevations of the Smokies! The blast of cold temperatures will help the mid and lower elevations develop color faster. There is also rain in the forecast mid-week. Due to the warm weather there is still another two weeks or more to see some pretty colors in the GSMNP and surrounding area!
10/12/17 Fall Foliage Report and Update: The highest elevations (over 5500 ft) are past peak. Thanks to Hurricane Irma and the remnants of Nate the leaves either have been blow off or are just dull brown. The areas of mid elevation in the Great Smoky Mountains have plenty of yellow and gold colors. There is some red and maroon colors showing from the sourwood trees, dogwood trees, black gum, maples, beech and birch trees. The lower elevations are still primary green. The recent rain from Nate will be good for the remaining green leaves. A cold front is passing through this weekend bringing less humidity and cooler temperatures. The next two to three weeks should be very pretty in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Newfound Gap Road should have some beautiful views to enjoy between Gatlinburg and Cherokee. Clingmans Dome, Alum Cave Bluff and Chimney Tops are always great places to see the fall colors. The remainder of October should offer some nice color in the mid and lower elevations if the temperatures stay more autumn like.
Color is still developing in the regions between 3,000 to 4,000 ft elevation. The third and fourth week of October should be the perfect time to see widespread color in the park. In late October and early November the lower elevations will begin to show colors. These areas include Gatlinburg, Cades Cove, Tremont, and Cataloochee.
The next two to three weeks in the Great Smoky Mountains should result in a nice showing of fall foliage if the weather stays cool. The weather forecast for the next 10 days calls for daytime temperatures in the mid sixties to low seventies with night-time temperatures anywhere from 58 to 38 degrees! This fall foliage season hasn’t been a lot to brag about yet but the rest of October and first of November may just give the Great Smokies a fall foliage season to enjoy yet!
10/6/2017 Fall Foliage Report and Updates: There is still a lot of pretty color to see in the highest elevations. The warm temperatures have slowed things down a bit. And the lack of rain in the last several weeks is now causing some trees to drop their leaves early. If tropical storm Nate heads toward the Great Smoky Mountains it will bring much-needed rain. But the storm could also bring wind that would not be good for the fall foliage showing. Colors of red, gold and plums can be seen from Newfound Gap Road, Clingmans Dome, Alum Cave Bluff and Chimney Tops. Color is spreading down into the mid elevations and will continue to do so for the next few weeks. The fall foliage timing is now about a week behind a typical year due to the warm temperatures. Chimney Tops Trail reopens today. The trail has been closed since the mountain suffered significant damage from the fires of November 2016. The trail does not go all the way to the summit now but the two-mile trail does end at a newly built tiered observation platform. The view from this platform offers a great wide open view of Newfound Gap, Mount LeConte and Chimney Tops.
10/1/17 Fall Foliage Report and Updates:The cooler temperatures of the last several days has really started the fall foliage colors to appear in the highest elevations (over 5,000ft) of the Great Smoky Mountains. There are reports of some pretty colors on Clingmans Dome Road. The mountain ash, beech, and birch trees all are showing their beautiful yellow fall colors. The witch hobble has added their fall colors of red and orange. These colors are of course showing in the higher elevations. The mid elevations are still mostly green but there is a hint of some color change taking place. Adding to the show of color are the fall wildflowers. Wildflowers such as black-eyed Susan, goldenrod, asters and more are adding a nice splash of color along the roads and in the fields. Nice weather is in the forecast for the next 10 days or so. With the warm sunny days and cooler night-time temperatures the fall foliage colors will continue to spread across the mountains and in others places such as Alum Cave Bluff and Chimney Tops. Places to take a trip to view the fall foliage include Newfound Gap Road (between Gatlinburg and Cherokee), Clingmans Dome Road, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and Rich Mountain Road. Access to Clingmans Dome tower is closed for renovations.
9/26/17 Fall Foliage Report and Update: The warm temperatures this week have slowed down the color changes. They have actually made the fall foliage season get back on a more typical timeline. The cold front that will move thru in a couple of days will really get the fall foliage colors showing. So now this year’s fall foliage show is back on track.So not really a lot of color to report for now but next week will be much different.
9/24/2017 Fall Foliage Report and Update: This year the fall foliage season is a week earlier than normal. The highest elevations (over 5000ft) will peak next weekend the first of October. In the highest elevations the yellow birch, American beech and witch hobble will peak next weekend. These includes areas such as Clingmans Dome, Mt. LeConte, Andrews Bald, Balsam Mountain, Cataloochee and Newfound Gap Road. But remember Clingmans Dome is closed for renovations until 2018. The mid elevations are now showing a hint of color in the red maples, sugar maples, buckeyes and sweet gums. Peak for the mid elevations are expected to take place about 10/7 and the second week of October. The lower elevations of the park are still mostly green. Of course the dogwood trees are showing a lot of red and deep purple color and the tulip poplars and showing a lot of yellow and golden color. But this year’s fall foliage colors are showing up earlier by about a week to 10 days! The weather in this area has had sunny warm days and cool temperatures but there is a warm spell forecast for the next several days that may slow down the progression of color. A cold front next week will get the progression in gear again.
Typically trees that show color first in the Great Smoky Mountains are the Yellow Birch, the American Beech and the Witch Hobble. Then the Red Maples, Buckeyes, Sourwood, Sumac and Pin Cherry trees will follow. In addition to the leaves changing colors the autumn wildflowers and bushes are also adding color to the fall scenery.
9/18/2017 Fall Foliage Predictions For 2017!
The fall foliage predictions for 2017 are that this year’s fall foliage show will be average to above average due to a summer that had moderate temperatures and no drought conditions. Some even predict a vibrant show of color for this year. But the fall foliage season in the Great Smoky Mountains is always pretty. If the weather for the month of September brings sunny days with lots of sunshine and cool nights then that will help with some good color for this year’s shows. Look for the fall foliage show to begin in the dogwood trees, red maples and sourwoods. In fact the dogwood trees are already showing some red colors to their leaves. Next to appear will be the gold, orange, yellow and red colors to show in the walnut, tulip poplar, maples, beech and birch. The last to show colors are oaks with the dark red and brown colors. The fall foliage season in the Great Smoky Mountains and Western North Carolina ( the Southern Appalachian mountain chain) is one of the longest fall foliage seasons. This is due to the diversity of species of trees in the area. With so many more different species of trees compared to the areas in the north the fall foliage season in the Great Smoky Mountains can last about 6-8 weeks. And with the many different levels of elevation in the Great Smoky Mountains and surrounding area there is always a nice showing of color somewhere during the fall foliage months.
Fall Foliage In The Great Smoky Mountains
First Frost Typically In Late September
Every year the key to the start of peak color changes is when the first frost occurs. Peak colors happened just days after the first frost in any elevation. Frost occurs in the highest elevations first and then progress down to the lower elevations as the month of October progresses. So peak color times happen in the highest elevations (over 4000ft) and work down to the lower elevations. Color changes can start in late September and continue into early November depending on the elevation and the weather. Things to know about where to view the approaching fall foliage show in the Great Smoky Mountains
The highest elevations above 4,000 feet peak first about the first 2 weeks of October. These areas include Clingmans Dome, Mount LeConte, Newfound Gap, Andrews Bald, Alum Cave Bluffs, Chimney Tops, Ramsey Cascades and Balsam Mountain.
Elevations in the 2000-3000 feet range peak about mid to late October or even early November. These areas are Cataloochee Valley and Oconalufee.
Cades Cove has an elevation of 1716 ft and will be one of the last areas to show color and peak in late October or early November.
But the Great Smoky Mountains National Park covers such a large area of land there is always somewhere at peak or near peak. Great Smoky Mountain National Park mountain ranges have elevations from just over 875 feet to 6,643 feet. So a trip to view the fall color show anytime in October will reward you with a spectacular show of color.
Some popular spots to view the fall foliage show in the Great Smoky Mountains are:
Cataloochee Valley (elevation of 2680 ft)
Mt. LeConte (elevation of 6,593 feet and the third highest summit in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park)
Alum Cave Bluffs
Andrews Bald (elevation of 5920 feet)
Clingman Dome (elevation of 6,643 feet and the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park)
Newfound Gap Road (elevation of 5,048 feet)
Blue Ridge Parkway
The Great Smoky Mountains and when the fall foliage show starts
The changes start at the higher elevations (above 5,000 ft.) about the first of October and will work its way down to the lower elevations in late October to early November. Best places to see color are: Newfound Gap Road, Cades Cove Loop Road and Little River Road. Great hikes to see the show are: Albright Grove and Sugarland Mountain Trail and Andrews Bald or Mt. LeConte at the highest elevations.
Due to the varied elevations of the Great Smoky Mountains you can always find the best show of color somewhere in the fall months starting in late September, October and lasting through November. The biggest factors involved in the changing colors of the foliage are elevation and weather. The warmer the weather the slower the progression but colder temperatures will speed up the fall foliage show.
The typical best times to plan a trip to view Tennessee’s peak fall foliage would be:
● Northeastern Mountain Regions – First of October to mid October
● Color Across Middle and Western Tennessee – Peaks from East to West Mid October to Late November
The typical best times to plan a trip to view the Great Smoky Mountains and North Carolina Mountains peak fall foliage would be:
● Western North Carolina Highest Elevations (above 5,000 ft) – Grandfather Mountain, Graveyard Fields, Mount Mitchell. Great Smoky Mountains National Park- Clingmans Dome, Mount LeConte, Andrews Bald. – Late September to First Week of October.
● Western North Carolina Elevations (4,000- 5,000 ft) Mount Pisgah, Devil’s Courthouse, North of Asheville and South of Asheville in Boone, Blowing Rock Highland, Mt. Jefferson. Great Smoky Mountains-Newfound Gap, Alum Cave Bluffs, Chimney Tops. About the Second Week of October.
● Western North Carolina ( 3,000-4,000 ft) – Asheville area North and South. Craggy Gardens, Beech Mountain, Boone, Blowing Rock. In the GSM go to Ramsey Cascades, Catloochee Valley, Gatlinburg. About the 2nd or 3rd week of October
● Western to Central North Carolina (2,000- 3,000 ft) – The city of Asheville, Biltmore Estate, Sylva, DuPont State Forest. IN the GSM visit Oconaluftee, Cherokee, Cades Cove, Townsend. Mid October to Late October
● Central North Carolina (1,000-2,000 ft)- Chimney Rock, Lake Lure, South Mountain State Park. Late October to Early November
Here is a Map Showing Typical Fall Foliage Peak Colors Time Table in the Great Smoky Mountains
Here is a Map of North Carolina Showing Typical Fall Foliage Peak Colors Time Table
Fall foliage and the effects of elevation:
Normally about the very last of September or the first or second week of October the leaves start changing in the highest elevations (above 5000 feet). The second to third week elevations above 4000 feet start the change. Mid October the show is well underway and include the 3000-4000 feet elevation areas. By late October and early November the lower elevations of 1300 feet are changing. By the second week in November the peak season and the show is all but past for the mountain regions of North Carolina and Tennessee.
Type of Tree Depends on Fall Foliage Color Display!
The type of tree is what determines the color the leaves will turn during the fall foliage season. It is not just a random process. Different types of trees will turn a specific shade during autumn. All the different variety of trees in the Great Smoky Mountains are what make all the different colors on display during the fall foliage season.
The leaves of these trees will turn a yellow or golden color:
Tulip Poplar, Birch, Black Cherry
The leaves of these trees will turn a red or maroon shade:
Dogwood, Sourwood, Shining Sumac
The leaves of these trees will turn an orange, brown or russet shade:
Hickory and Oak Trees
Different types of Maple trees have their own fall foliage shade:
Sugar Maple leaves turn an orange-red shade.
Black Maple leaves turn a glowing yellow shade.
Red Maple leaves turn a bright scarlet or orange shade.
A General Guide to the Fall Foliage Season for the Great Smoky Mountains
The highest elevations 5,000 to 6,000 feet and above in the Great Smoky Mountains will start to show color first. North of Asheville in North Carolina in the highest elevations above 5,000 feet is where the fall foliage show begins and is where the most color typically occurs. These areas include Clingmans Dome, Mt. LeConte, Newfound Gap, Andrews Bald, Balsam Mountain, Mount Mitchell, Beech Mountain, Craggy Gardens, Grandfather Mountain and Rough Ridge.
Fall foliage color will then start to appear in elevations that are 4,000 to 5000 feet. Areas including the Mount Pisgah, Black Balsam, Devil’s Courthouse, Waterrock Knob and Graveyard Field. Peak color also occurs in this time period for the Highlands area, including Whiteside Mountain and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Try Alum Cave Bluffs, Chimney Tops or Ramsey Cascades to see colors during these weeks.
In the surrounding mountains of Asheville there is plenty of color in the 3,000-4,000 foot elevation range. A ride north or south on the Blue Ridge Parkway from Asheville will be a beautiful site about this week. A ride thru the Pisgah National Forest (Looking Glass Rock or Cradle of Forestry) normally is a great trip. North of Asheville Linville Gorge (Table Rock and Hawksbill Mountain) would be a nice fall foliage hiking trip. Also Boone, Blowing Rock Stone Mountain Park, Cashiers and Hanging Rock.
In the GSM color will be good at Cataloochee Valley and Oconaluftee. Elevations of 2000 to 3000 feet are showing color by now. The city of Asheville at the 2,000 feet elevation have the peak colors during this time period, as well as areas around Hendersonville and Brevard. DuPont State Forest or the NC Arboretum are great places to enjoy the fall foliage colors. The Biltmore Estate in Asheville is also at peak leaf color during the later part of October.
October 24-November 5
The color show nears its end in the Chimney Rock area with an elevation of 1,300 feet although Chimney Rock summit is at 2880 feet.. Visit Chimney Rock and Lake Lure for a last look at the beautiful fall foliage season in the North Carolina mountains. In the Great Smoky Mountains head to Cades Cove and Cherokee.
Links to Web Cams showing fall foliage:
More Resources For Fall Foliage Reports
Travel Blue Ridge Parkway – specific to the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina as well as Skyline Drive in Virginia, Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
North Carolina Travel – fall foliage reports and updates specific to the North Carolina mountains including Asheville, Boone, Blowing Rock, Grandfather Mountain, Cashiers and Highlands and Chimney Rock
The fall foliage show starts soon in the Great Smoky Mountains, East Tennessee
and Western North Carolina!
Get your weekly reports here so you know when and where to go to see the colorful show.
Photos from past fall foliage seasons in the Great Smoky Mountains.