Great Smoky Mountains National Park has had one of its busiest seasons on record as visitors look for outdoor activities amid the coronavirus pandemic. Millions more are expected to make the trip to see the marvelous display of fall colors in the mountains as fall nears.
As air gets cooler and the days get shorter in East Tennessee towns like Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, tourists turn into full-blown leaf peepers. If you’re searching for a socially-distanced escape to take in the stunning sights this fall, here’s the foliage forecast and peak times to visit the Smokies.
Ideal conditions could create bright fall colors in the Smokies
Weather patterns year-round affect foliage colors in the fall. A warm, wet spring and sunny days with cool nights in early fall make for the brightest leaf colors, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Unlike last year’s summer drought, the North Carolina-Tennessee border has received plenty of rain to prime the leaves for peak color. There’s no way to predict how trees at different elevations in the park will change colors, but East Tennessee weather so far has followed the typical patterns for bold yellows, oranges and reds.
Best time to see fall colors in the Smokies
Leaves at the highest elevations in the Great Smoky Mountains, like Clingman’s Dome and Mount LeConte, change colors as early as mid-September. The colors cascade down the mountains and into the Tennessee Valley during the following weeks and months.
Last year’s colors were delayed because of the dry weather, but predictions point to a return to a normal seasonal schedule.
Gatlinburg TN Guide forecasts that the fall colors will be on track to peak from mid-October until mid-November.
The Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau is planning for peak season to be Oct. 1 to Nov. 15.
Fall trail ideas in the Smokies
Visitors pack the park every fall to see fall colors, so expect travel delays on your trip. Luckily, there are many ways to get a glimpse of the colorful mountains.
The Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau suggests September visitors hike high elevation trails like Albright Grove Loop, Sugarland Mountain Trail or the Mount LeConte trails to see fall colors.
If you’re looking for easy to moderate treks in October, the Baskins Creek Falls Trail, Little River Trail and Porters Creek Trail are great options. Experienced hikers can attempt the Mount Sterling Trail or Goshen Prong Trail.
Autumn driving trips in the Smokies
There’s no need to hike for scenic views of the Smokies in the fall.
You can see the colorful displays from your car or an overlook on these roads: Foothills Parkway, Newfound Gap Road, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Balsam Mountain Road and Cove Creek Road.
The Cades Cove Loop is also a fabulous way to see the colors without physical exertion.
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