Best Time Fall Foliage Great Smoky Mountains

Best Time Fall Foliage Great Smoky Mountains

The Chimneys Fall Foliage Great Smoky Mountains
The Chimneys Fall Foliage Great Smoky Mountains

When is the best time to see Fall Foliage in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? It’s a simple question, but the answer is as far from simple as you can get!

That’s because there are so many factors that affect when AND where the leaves will be changing and the intensity of the leaf color,

Great Smoky Mountains
Great Smoky Mountains

These factors include but are not limited to temperature, the amount of sunlight, rainfall, elevation, exposure, and tree species. Also the amount of wind can directly affect the Autumn Show because leaves may cling to trees for weeks after changing or can be blown off the limb by a single gust of air.

The truth is that it is a rare occurrence  to have broad expanses of profuse color throughout the park. Most years you can employ a hunt and find method of discovering good fall leaf color,

An average leaf year usually begins during the first week of October when the leaves begin changing in the highest elevations in the park. Even though the leaves mat still be green in Gatlinburg Tennessee and Cherokee North Carolina, a climb to over 5000 feet will generally reveal good early leaf color.

But please be aware that these highest trees are also exposed to high winds and extreme temperatures. In some years the leaves can be stripped very early in October in the highest areas of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Autumn leaves in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park 006
Autumn leaves 006

As the leaves “move” down the mountains throughout October, you can observe the belts of color from the overlooks located along the Newfound Gap Road and Clingmans Dome Road. These will offer a good indication of where the best leaves are located.

Typically the best time to see the most color is the third and fourth week of October. Late October is a perfect time to see good color in Cades Cove and Cataloochee.

Keep in mind that there are no guarantees. Winter can arrive early and an October hard freeze can burn the leaves into a mottled mixture of browns and ochres in just a few days. Likewise if temperatures stay warm and there is a lot of bright sunlight the tress can still be green in the lowlands in early November.

But you can always find leaves even in the worst years if you look hard enough! The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a big place and there are many areas that are sheltered from winds that contain some of the more cold-hardy species of trees. All you have to do is keep looking.

And when you find those prime areas get out of the car and get on the trail. With over 800 miles of mapped trails it is easy to experience the park up close and personal. The sweet perfume of the fallen leaves is intoxicating and the sound of crunching leaves under your feet is the music of Autumn.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Autumn is an experience that you don’t want to miss. I heartily encourage any reader of this post that has never visited the park to plan a trip there soon.




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