3 Ways to Leaf Peep in the Smokies

September 25, 2015

Expedia teamed up with Friends of the Smokies to provide tips for witnessing the fall foliage in the Smoky Mountains this autumn.

It’s fall, y’all, which means the Smoky Mountain foliage is about to transform from bright green shades to warm autumn tones. Trees that are at elevations of 4,000 feet and higher will start changing colors first—as early as September—followed by the leaves at lower elevations. The peak colors often occur in October, but depending on the weather and temperatures, they could last through November.

At Expedia, we wanted to discover the best ways to marvel at the colorful leaves between North Carolina and Tennessee this fall, so we turned to Friends of the Smokies. Whether you like the crunch of crispy leaves under your hiking boots or you prefer to witness the fall foliage from the driver’s seat, we have the inside scoop on the best ways to see the red, yellow, and orange in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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If you’re looking to leaf peep during the middle of September, hit the trails at Clingmans Dome, which is the tallest mountain in Tennessee. Andrews Bald and Rocky Top are also hiking destinations that are located higher up in the mountains, where you’ll see the American beech turn yellow and the pin cherry change to red. Meanwhile, if you’re planning to do some hiking during mid-to-late October, saunter around Alum Cave, Little River Trail, and Bullhead. For those who are late to the game and plan on hiking in early November, you’ll still find bursts of color in the lowest elevations, such as Deep Creek Loop and Indian Falls. By this time, the sumacs and maples will have begun to change colors, too.


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You don’t even need to step outside of your vehicle to witness the majestic fall colors. Simply roll down your windows to smell that fresh mountain air and cruise along the Newfound Gap or Cades Cove Loop roads. These paved passages can get congested though, especially during October, so if you’d rather a scenic drive without the traffic jams, meander along the Foothills or Blue Ridge Parkway instead. Whichever road you choose, you’ll be treated to scenic vistas and rustic mountain ranges decorated in bright autumn colors.


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Horseback Riding
Giddy up! There are four stables in the region, where you can ride horses along the trails, but Cades Cove, near Townsend, Tennessee, is known for serving up especially spectacular views of the fall flora. These guided horseback riding excursions from Cades Cove Stables are available for riders of any skill level. Saddle up and trot along the stream as the orange and yellow leaves envelope the trails. Other nearby horse stables include Smokemont, Sugarlands, and Smoky Mountain Riding Stables.

While it’s sometimes difficult to say goodbye to summertime’s warm and sunny days, the splendor of fall foliage reminds us that the transition isn’t so bad after all. This autumn, venture into the Smoky Mountains to catch the marvelous change in seasons.

Written by Chloe Mulliner