It’s almost September; soon the temperatures will start to fall, scarves will come out of the back of the closet, and it will be acceptable to have pumpkin-flavored everything! If you’re like us, one of the most exciting things about fall is that the leaves begin to change. Leaf watching is one of the most popular fall activities all across the country, and if you live within driving distance of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, then it’s time to count yourself lucky! Why do you ask? Because Travel and Leisure named GSMNP as one of the best places in the country to go leaf watching.
For some people, leaf watching means a quick drive through the woods to see what beautiful colors they can spot. For others, leaf watching involves a multi-week stay in the park that is filled with scenic drives and impressive hikes. Some people go on these foliage adventures to simply see the sites, while others take advantage of the amazing photography opportunities. Whatever your ideal leaf watching experience is, the Smoky Mountains have something for you.
When To Go
Leaves start changing when the temperature drops to a certain level, which causes the green pigments in the leaves to deteriorate. Since it tends to stay warmer a little longer down here in the South, New England seems to steal the leaf changing show — at first. Even if you have to wait a little longer to see the leaves start changing, we always tell people to never underestimate the beauty of the Smokies in the fall. According to the National Park Service, there are over 100 different species of trees in the park, which is the main reason for the amazing display of colors every year.
Due to the necessity for a certain temperature to be reached in order for the leaves to change, it can be very difficult to predict when, exactly, the change will occur in the Smokies. Typically, the highest elevations of the park will begin to experience color changes in mid-September, and that change will slowly spread down to the lower elevations throughout late October and early November. This time period is referred to as “peak” season, and it provides park visitors with the best leaf watching opportunities.
Where To Go
If you’re considering a visit to the park, and aren’t sure where you should go to see the beautiful changing leaves, do not worry, we have you covered! Our first suggestion for leaf watching is to experience the views from Clingmans Dome. According to the NPS, “at 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is the highest point in Tennessee, and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi.” This incredible elevation will allow park visitors a 360-degree view from the highest point in the park. The extreme elevation will also show signs of leaf change for those park visitors who wish to beat the crowds who are sure to arrive a few weeks later. Cades Cove also offers amazing views of the park from the comfort of your car. The eleven-mile loop can also yield sites of the amazing wildlife in the park. Our final suggestion would be to check out the Blue Ridge Parkway. The 469 mile stretch of highway offers amazing views of the mountains and the foliage and wildlife throughout. The highway is accessible throughout the year, and your drive during the leaf-watching season should be spectacular!
Regardless of how you choose to experience the changing leaves in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there are trails and roads that can provide up-close and beautiful views of the transforming scenery. Planning your trip in advance will provide the best experience, and allow you to maximize your time in the park.