Posted on 7/31/2023

SMOKY MOUNTAINS FALL FOLIAGE GUIDE

WE'RE READY FOR YOU, AUTUMN!

Can I get an amen? After a sweltering summer in the Smoky Mountains, we're more than ready for crisp morning air and crackling campfires. Even pumpkin-spice haters are wishing for some fancy coffee, and maybe a piece of cinnamon bread to go along with it. And of course, the piece de resistance, the fall leaf change.

Every autumn, the Smoky Mountains come alive, boasting one of the most vibrant explosions of color seen anywhere in the natural world. Creation shows off in the very best way, and if you haven't experienced this incredible wonder, make 2023 the year you do it! Our Gatlinburg chalet rentals are booking up quickly for the fall season, but we still have plenty of amazing homes available. Check them out and book your stay now, then start planning all of your excursions using our 2023 Smoky Mountains Fall Foliage Guide below. There are so many great places around Gatlinburg to visit, where you can enjoy epic views of nature's spectacular display.

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO SEE THE FALL COLORS IN THE SMOKY MOUNTAINS?

Experts estimate that the very best window of time to come and catch peak leaf change is mid-October through the first week of November. That said, guests will enjoy beautiful colors from the begining of October through mid-November, so never fear if you can't make the peak change weeks work. Typically, by the second week of November, strong winds have hit at least once, and many leaves have subsequently been blown off the trees, so plan accordingly!

I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT NATURE. WHAT AM I LOOKING FOR?

Glad you asked! Different trees shed their leaves at different times, and not every leaf is the same.

Early to mid October

During early October, you can witness a magnificent display of fall foliage as various tree species change their leaves across the Smoky Mountains. Some of the trees you'll likely see transitioning their colors include:

  1. Sugar Maple: Turning brilliant shades of orange, red, and yellow, sugar maples are famous for their stunning fall colors.

  2. Red Maple: Displaying vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows, red maples add to the fiery autumn landscape.

  3. Sweetgum: Known for its star-shaped leaves, sweetgum trees turn shades of yellow, orange, and red during fall.

  4. Black Tupelo: Also known as the sour gum tree, black tupelo showcases rich red and purple hues in the fall.

  5. Yellow Birch: Sporting bright yellow leaves, the yellow birch contributes to the diverse fall colors.

  6. American Beech: With its smooth, light gray bark and yellow-orange leaves, American beech trees add to the autumn charm.

  7. Mountain Ash: Known for its clusters of bright red berries and colorful foliage, mountain ash trees create a striking sight.

  8. Pin Cherry: Featuring reddish-brown bark and vibrant red leaves, pin cherry trees enhance the fall landscape.

Mid to late October

In mid to late October, the Smoky Mountains continue to dazzle visitors with a new set of tree species transitioning their colors. Some of the trees you can expect to see changing their leaves during this time include:

  1. Oaks: Various species of oaks in the Smokies, such as the scarlet oak, northern red oak, and white oak, display shades of red, russet, and deep brown during late October.

  2. Hickories: Hickory trees, including the mockernut hickory and shagbark hickory, turn golden-yellow and add to the fall beauty.

  3. Dogwoods: The dogwood trees, known for their delicate flowers in spring, put on a show in late October with their burgundy and reddish-purple leaves.

  4. Sourwood: Sourwood trees boast stunning red, purple, and crimson leaves, making them a highlight of the fall foliage.

  5. Sassafras: Sassafras trees offer a unique display with their leaves turning bright yellow, orange, and even shades of red.

  6. Witch Hazel: These small trees or shrubs exhibit vibrant yellow colors, creating a beautiful contrast in the autumn landscape.

  7. Red Maple: While some red maples start changing in early October, others may reach their peak colors in mid to late October, adding more reds, oranges, and yellows to the scenery.

  8. American Hornbeam: Also known as musclewood or blue beech, these trees show off yellow and orange leaves during this time.

  9. Witch Alder: Witch alder trees contribute to the fall palette with their striking yellow, orange, and red foliage.

Late October through early November

In early November, as the fall season reaches its later stages, the Smoky Mountains continue to showcase some tree species transitioning their leaves into vibrant autumn colors. Some of the trees you might encounter changing during this time include:

  1. Tulip Poplar: Often referred to as the "tulip tree," it exhibits brilliant yellow foliage in early November.

  2. American Sycamore: Sycamore trees turn yellow with hints of brown, contributing to the fall splendor.

  3. Black Walnut: The leaves of black walnut trees turn bright yellow in the Smokies during early November.

  4. Witch Hazel: Some witch hazel trees continue to display their yellow colors into early November.

  5. Eastern Cottonwood: These trees, with their heart-shaped leaves, exhibit bright yellow hues during this time.

  6. American Elm: Some American elms may still be showing yellow and golden tones during early November.

  7. Bitternut Hickory: The bitternut hickory's leaves change to shades of yellow and golden-brown.

  8. Winged Sumac: The winged sumac offers a vibrant display of red, orange, and yellow leaves during this time.

  9. Virginia Creeper: While it's a vine rather than a tree, the Virginia creeper turns a stunning red in early November.

SO I'VE MADE IT TO GATLINBURG. NOW WHAT?

As much as you'll love your MLC Gatlinburg vacation rental, you'll obviously want to venture out into the Smokies to see the leaves up close. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee offers numerous breathtaking spots to view the leaf change during the fall season. Here are some of the best places to experience the vibrant autumn foliage:

  1. Cades Cove: This is one of the most popular destinations for leaf peeping. The 11-mile loop road offers stunning views of the changing leaves, along with historic buildings and picturesque landscapes.

  2. Newfound Gap Road: This scenic drive takes you through various elevations, allowing you to witness the progression of fall colors from the lower to higher elevations.

  3. Clingmans Dome: The highest point in the Smokies provides panoramic views, making it an excellent spot to observe the colorful foliage from above.

  4. Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail: This narrow, winding road offers an intimate and up-close view of the autumn foliage, as well as waterfalls and historic buildings.

  5. Foothills Parkway: Known for its stunning vistas, this parkway is a great place to capture sweeping views of the Smoky Mountains' fall colors.

  6. Little River Road: This scenic drive follows the Little River and offers beautiful views of the changing leaves along the riverbanks.

  7. Cataloochee Valley: This remote valley is famous for its wildlife and old farmsteads, making it a picturesque location for fall foliage photography.

  8. Rich Mountain Road: This less-traveled road provides a peaceful and serene setting to enjoy the fall colors.

  9. Oconaluftee Valley: The valley near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center offers lovely views of the fall foliage against the backdrop of the mountains.

WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING IN GATLINBURG DURING THE FALL LEAF CHANGE?

As usual, there's so much going on in the Gatlinburg area. Should you need a break from leaf peeping and nature treks, we've got you covered. Here are some other fun events happening around our area in October and early November:

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We hope this guide helps as you plan your fall trip to the Smokies! Remember to book your stay at a Mountain Laurel Chalets property now, and please let us now if we can be of assistance as you plan your getaway. We're here to serve you!

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