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
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 read 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. Sone 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 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 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
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 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.