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 Weekly Updates for 2016
10/17/16 Fall Foliage Report and Update: The next two weeks will be the ideal time to see the fall foliage colors that are making a beautiful show of colors in the Great Smoky Mountains this year. Many say this year’s fall foliage colors are much better than years past. The mid elevations are showing a lot of color now (in the 3000′-4000′). There is 40-50% color showing lots of reds, scarlets, golds and yellows in the trees. Peak will be in about 7-10 days in the areas of mid elevations. There is patchy color starting to show in the lower elevations (<2000′). This means Cades Cove and Cataloochee will not be ready for peak colors until late October or even early November. This year’s fall foliage is about a week behind schedule. But the show is well on its way in the Great Smokies. The weather should not be a problem for the next couple of weeks. The rest of this week should be nice with cooler temperature in the forecast for this weekend. Remember fall foliage pictures looks best when taken in the early morning or late afternoon before the sun rises too high in the sky making it too bright.
10/12/16 Fall Foliage Report and Update: The highest elevations (over 5500 ft) are past peak but the areas of mid elevation in the Great Smoky Mountains are really showing some pretty colors. There are plenty of red, maroon, yellow and gold colors showing from the sourwood trees, dogwood trees, black gum, maples, beech and birch trees. The lower elevations are still primary green. The fall foliage show is about 4-7 days behind a typical year.
There are some beautiful views to enjoy along the 33 miles on Newfound Gap Rd (between Gatlinburg and Cherokee), Clingmans Dome, Alum Cave Bluff and Chimney Tops. Color is still developing in many areas below the 5,000 ft elevation. The third and fourth week of October this year should be the perfect time to see widespread color in the park. In late October this year the lower elevations will begin to show colors and areas such as Cades Cove, Tremont, Cataloochee are places to plan to include in a fall foliage trip. The last two weeks of October this year in the Great Smoky Mountains should have quite a display of color with all the different elevations by then showing colors. The weather for the next 10 days calls for mostly sunny days, little rain and daytime temperatures in the 72-80 degree ranges.
10/8/16 Fall Foliage Report and Update: There is lots of color to see in the higher elevations (over 5,000ft) of the Great Smoky Mountains such as Newfound Gap Road and Clingmans Dome. The fall foliage season is about a week behind with peak colors showing later than typical (see map below). Mid elevation areas are showing some color. The lower elevations are still mostly green. Hurricane Matthew has brought some rain and wind to the mountains of NC/TN but should not cause any problems to the area.
10/4/2016 Fall Foliage Update: There is plenty of color to see in the highest elevations. 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 cooler temperatures at night are really helping the fall colors to develop now. Hurricane Matthew appears to be headed toward North Carolina. Its a huge strong with strong winds. If a more westward track takes it toward central NC the rain and winds could reach to the mountains in Western NC and could cause problems for the fall foliage show. Be aware of weather conditions and forecast if traveling in the Great Smoky Mountains later this week and over the weekend.
9/29/2016 Fall Foliage Report and Update: Colors changes are starting to take place in the highest mountain elevations (those above 5000 feet) in the Great Smoky Mountains. This means areas such as Clingmans Dome, Mount Le Conte, Andrews Bald, Balsam Mountain and Newfound Gap have all started to show some color. The now longer nights with the recent cooler night temperatures in combination with the nice sunny days are helping the fall colors to begin their annual transformation. The weather forecast for the next week calls for partly cloudy skies with daytime temperatures in the 70’s and the nighttime temperatures in the 45-50 degree range. 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. Lower elevations (in the 4000 ft range) are also starting to show a little color change. In addition to the leaves changing colors the autumn wildflowers are also adding color to the scenery. This year’s fall foliage season is running just a few days behind schedule. But now with the cooler temperatures the appearance of color will start to speed up and spread down to mountain ranges. The month of October should bring a great show of fall foliage!
9/22/16 Fall Foliage Update: The warm temperatures continue thus the fall foliage season will be delayed this year. Although the dogwood trees have some color changes visible it is due to the shorter daylight and the normal growth season for the dogwood. Other trees remain green in the Great Smoky Mountains. The weather continues to be unusually warm for late September with no chance of frost anytime soon in the forecast. The start of the fall foliage season of color changes begin in the highest elevations of the mountains toward the end of September. Experts are calling for a 4-6 day delay this year. In about 10 days or so look for the fall foliage colors to begin to show up in the elevations above 5,000 ft such as Clingmans Dome, Mt. LeConte, Cataloochee and Newfound Gap Road.
9/12/16 Fall Foliage Predictions For 2016!
The fall foliage prediction for the 2016 season are in! Experts are predicting this year’s fall foliage season will last longer than usual with peaks occurring later than usual by about a week. The fall foliage show always start in the highest elevations in late September and continue to spread down through the lower elevations into early November. The Great Smoky Mountains and the North Carolina Mountain ranges have a wide variety of elevations. These varying elevations spread out the fall foliage show over a 4-6 weeks period. But this years fall foliage show is predicted to last even longer due to the hot and dry summer. The fall foliage 2016 show may last 6-8 weeks!
Biologist and fall foliage forecaster Dr. Beverly Collins from Western Carolina University reports “some trees may respond to drought conditions by slowing photosynthesis and making way for red, orange and yellow pigments earlier than normal, while other species that aren’t as drought sensitive may wait to begin to turn.”
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 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
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 variatiy 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 there 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 mountains of North Carolina, Tennessee and in the Great Smoky Mountains! This year’s show will last longer than usual!
Photos from past fall foliage seasons in the Great Smoky Mountains.