With few days of respite from the blazing heat this summer, planning a trip to the Smoky Mountains to enjoy the soon blazing colors of fall is a great way to get ready for the cooler days ahead. The intoxicating blend of red, orange and yellow leaves is the perfect backdrop for a fun family hike or a romantic stroll through one of the most beautiful parks in the world. Although the most vibrant colors will appear from mid-October to early November, visitors can soak in the scenery for about seven full weeks, beginning around September 14.
About 100 species of trees, including scarlet oak, mountain maple, and sweet gum, provide not only color, but also, a variety of leaf shapes and sizes. The largest variety of trees is found in the lower to middle elevations of the mountains, and during September, Clingmans Dome, Newfound Gap and Parsons Branch Roads are some of the best drives for checking out the fall foliage. For those who want to get out and stretch their legs, Albright Grove and Sugarland Mountain Trail are some nice hikes, while Andrews Bald or Mt. Leconte allow visitors another vantage point at high elevations.
Once October arrives, wildflowers, like asters and goldenrod, color the ground; blackberry and blueberry shrubs have just begun changing. Mountain ash, pin cherry and sumac give a burst of red, while birch and American beech add a splash of yellow. You can also visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website to learn more about autumn’s changing colors. At the beginning of October, the Appalachian Trail, starting from Clingmans Dome or Newfound Gap, is an excellent way to see the changing leaves. For a nice drive, visitors can head to the high country on Heintooga Ridge Road, Foothills Parkway West and East, and Rich Mountain Road.
Until late October, hikes and drives in the higher elevations are the most promising for taking in the bright colors of fall, because trees in the lower elevations have not yet reached their peak. There are a number of easy hikes to try during the middle of October, including Baskins Creek Falls, Lower Mount Cammerer, Little River and Old Settlers. Low Gap, Mt. Sterling and Goshen Prong trails are more challenging hikes, but all provide some wonderful scenic overlooks. If driving during this time of year, visitors can try Roaring Fork, Cove Creek Road, Balsam Mountain Road and the Foothills Parkway.
While some trees are still full of color during early to mid-November, many more have already begun peppering the trails with their brilliant leaves. The Blue Ridge Parkway and Foothills Parkway East and West are beautiful drives in November, and for a breezy hike, Smoky Mountain travelers can opt for trails such as Rich Mountain Loop, Chestnut Top Trail, Smokemont Loop or Kanati Fork. So, no matter what time of fall you plan to visit, the Great Smoky Mountains is sure to please with the vivid colors of autumn painting the landscape. Be sure to check out www.gatlinburg.com to stay updated on the changes of the season!