The Best Fall Hikes in the Smokies
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the best places in the country for viewing fall colors. Due to the diversity of trees and its broad elevation range, leaf peepers and hikers can usually enjoy the beauty of fall colors for several weeks in the Smokies.
The timing of the fall color season depends on many variables, making it virtually impossible to predict the exact dates of "peak" colors far in advance. One of the most important variables is elevation. At the higher elevations in the Great Smoky Mountains fall color displays begin as early as mid-September when American beech, mountain maple, yellow birch, pin cherry and hobblebush begin to show their autumn colors. If you're looking for good fall color hikes during this time period you'll want to be at the highest elevations in the park. However, you'll also want to avoid hiking in areas that pass through predominantly spruce-fir forests.
During the early to mid-October time period, during most years, fall colors in the Smoky Mountains usually begin to reach peak above elevations of 4,500 feet. Trees such as the American beech and yellow birch begin to turn bright yellow, while mountain ash, pin cherry and mountain maple show-off their brilliant shades of red.
In the lower elevations you may notice a few dogwoods and maples that are just beginning to turn. You may also see a few scattered sourwood and sumac just beginning to turn bright red as well.
Suggested early-mid October hikes: You'll still want to hike in the higher elevations. In addition to the suggestions above, check out Gregory Bald, Mt. Cammerer, Spence Field, Albright Grove or the Sugarland Mountain Trail starting from Clingmans Dome Road.
Autumn colors usually reach their peak at the mid and lower elevations in the Great Smoky Mountains between mid-October and early November. This is usually the best time to visit the park, as you will see the spectacular displays of color from sugar maples, red maples, scarlet oaks, sweetgum and hickories. Your hiking choices will have greatly expanded during this time period as well. You can continue to hike at the higher elevations to take in the fall colors from above, or you could walk amongst the autumn colored trees at the lower elevations.
Suggested mid-late October hikes: If you wish to hike at elevation for spectacular fall views try exploring the Rich Mountain Loop, Alum Cave, Hemphill Bald, the Shuckstack Fire Tower, Bullhead, Charlies Bunion or Mount Sterling trails. If you wish to hike among the trees, check out Baskins Creek Falls, Little River Trail, Old Settlers Trail, Grapeyard Ridge Trail, or the Porters Creek Trail.
Suggested early November hikes: As the fall color season begins to wind down in early November, you'll probably want to hike at the lowest elevations in the park. Check out Meigs Mountain Trail, Schoolhouse Gap, Abrams Falls, Curry Mountain Trail, Oconaluftee River Trail, Indian Falls, or the Deep Creek Loop.
Monitoring Fall Color Progress:
To get a general idea of when leaves are approaching peak colors you can follow the map published on SmokyMountains.com.
For a birds-eye view on changes in fall colors, check-out the four webcams on our Great Smoky Mountains weather page.
For periodic on-the-ground reports, visit the Fall Color page on the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website.