Fall Foliage

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.

10/27/2015 Fall Foliage Report and Update: Due to the vibrant fall foliage colors this year the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has had an increase in number of visitors this month they report. Officials in the park are expecting peak colors for another week to 10 days. The fall colors have been reported as being quite vibrant this year as compared to the last several years. The colors are now widespread in the mid and lower elevations of the mountains. Cades Cove is quite beautiful, as is Cataloochee, Gatlinburg, Cherokee and Bryson City. For those motorcyclist the The Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap on the Tennessee/North Carolina state line is also showing a wonderful wide range of fall colors. There is still time to enjoy this year’s vibrant fall colors in the Great Smoky Mountains. Clouds and rain are in the forecast but that just makes the colors standout more.

10/22/15 Fall Foliage Report and Update:  This weekend and next week will be the best time to view the fall colors that are really starting to explode across the mountain ranges of the Great Smokies. The highest elevations are well past peak by now. At peak now are areas with an elevation of 3000′-4000′. Near peak are the areas in the 2000′-3000′ elevations. Areas below the 2000′ elevation are showing patchy color.

The best places to view peak or near peak colors for the next several days in the Great Smoky Mountains will be in elevations that range from 3000′-4000′.

These includes Ramsey Cascades and Cataloochee Valley. In spite of the higher elevation being past peak the views will still be pretty since the color is spreading down into the lower elevations. A ride through the mountains on US441 will still be a nice trip. The lower elevations of Newfound Gap, Balsam Mountain Roads, the Foothills Parkway, Chimney Tops and Alum Cave Bluffs are exploding in reds, oranges, golds and yellows as the sugar maple, sweetgum, hickory, scarlet oak and red maple trees go thru the fall foliage changes. Colors continue to develop in Cades Cove and will peak in the next week.  And don’t forget the ares of Bryson City and Cherokee in North Carolina. Gatlinburg and Roaring Fork Motor Trail is another popular area to view fall foliage in later October. The final days of October are prime time for fall foliage viewing in the Great Smoky Mountains with lots of color in the mid elevations and spreading to the lower elevations and valleys.

10/15/2015  Cades Cove Fall Foliage Trip Report with Pictures from Oct. 15, 2015!

10/10/15 Great Smoky Mountains Guide has a planned trip to Cades Cove on Wed. or Thur. with a fall foliage first hand report and photos. The weather forecast is for clear blue skies and sunshine with peak fall colors in the cove. Make sure to come back for the fall foliage report and photos from Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

10/8/2015 Fall Foliage Report and Update: The highest elevations in the GSMNP are now past peak (those over 5,000′). There is still some good colors to see at Newfound Gap, Clingmans Dome, Alum Cave Bluff and Chimney Tops.  Color is still developing in many areas below the 5,000′ elevation. In the next 10 days fall foliage changes should begin to put on a nice showing of color in the mid elevation areas of the Great Smokies. Remember the second and third weeks of October is some of the best days to see widespread color in the park. Areas such as Cades Cove, Tremont, Cataloochee and a ride on US441 between Gatlinburg and Cherokee will be some great places to visit in mid October. Actually anywhere in the Great Smoky Mountains in mid October is a great place to see the beautiful colors of autumn!

fall cades cove 150x150 Fall Foliage

Fall in Cades Cove

10/1/15  Fall Foliage Update: There is some color change starting to take place in the highest elevations. Red, gold and plums colors can be seen from Newfound Gap Road and Clingmans Dome. But the mountains have recently gotten a lot of rain over the last few days with more to come. Heavy rain, fog and storms are predicted for Friday and Saturday. Another 5-8″ or more rain could fall over the next several days (unrelated to Hurricane Joaquin). Flash flooding is possible. Some roads could be unexpectedly closed due to hazardous conditions in the mountains. Be aware of weather conditions and forecast if traveling in the Great Smoky Mountains region.

9/24/15 Fall Foliage Update: The trees remain mostly green in the Great Smoky Mountains as expected for late September. The weather has been relatively warm without any chance of  an early frost yet. There is some color starting to show in the dogwood trees with some leaves having a hint of red. Some maples trees have started to turn a yellowish gold. This early color change is probably a result of the dry weather and not from the true fall foliage color change related to colder temperatures. Typically the start of the fall foliage color change start to take place in about a week in the highest elevations of the mountains. In about a week or so look for the color show to begin in the elevations above 5,000 ft such as  Clingmans Dome,  Mt. LeConte, Cataloochee and Newfound Gap Road.

8/24/2015  Fall Foliage Predictions For 2015

The predictions are out for the fall foliage 2015 season. Kathy Mathews, a Western North Carolina associate professor of biology, predicts this season to be full of color thanks to the dry summer this year. She said it could even be the best in a long time. Apparently there was just enough rain in late spring to keep the trees healthy but since then there has been  little rain. Dry conditions result in more red colors Mathews stated in her prediction. And she continued to state that with little chance of a hurricane for the Southeast US there should be no windy conditions that result in premature leaves falling before peaking.

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.

The Great Smoky Mountains fall foliage 2015 weekly reports by Great Smoky Mountains Guide will be coming in September for this year’s fall foliage season. Check back often.

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. Elevations in the 2000-3000 feet range peak about mid to late October or even 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:

Cades Cove
Foothills Parkway
Cataloochee (elevation of 5,400 feet)
Mt. LeConte (elevation of 6,593 feet and the third highest summit in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park)
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


iStock 000011187931XSmall 150x150 Fall FoliageThe changes start at the higher elevations (above 4,000 ft.) about the middle 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 an early frost will speed up the color change 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 North Carolina’s peak fall foliage would be:

● Western North Carolina Highest Elevations (above 4,000 ft) – (Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Boone, Blowing Rock, Grandfather Mountain and Mount Mitchell)- Late September to First 2 weeks of October
● Western North Carolina – Asheville area ( 2,000-3,000 ft)-2nd or 3rd week of  October
● Western to Central North Carolina – Mid October to Late October
● Central North Carolina – Late October to Early November


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.


A General Guide to the Fall Foliage Season for the Great Smoky Mountains

October 4-10

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, Mount Mitchell, Craggy Gardens, Grandfather Mountain and Rough Ridge.

October 8-18
Fall foliage color will then start to appear in elevations greater than 4,000 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.

October 15-24
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.

October 20-30
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 Ashville 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. Visit Chimney Rock and Lake Lure for a last look at the beautiful fall foliage season in the North Carolina mountains.


Links to Web Cams showing fall foliage: Purchase Knob live view and Look Rock live view. Enjoy!

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


If you miss the fall foliage show this autumn the good news is you can catch it next year

since it happens every fall in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee in the Great Smoky Mountains!

Photos from past fall foliage seasons in the Great Smoky Mountains.


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