America's Prettiest Fall Drives
Hannah Elliott, 09.07.09, 09:00 AM EDT
With good timing, these excursions offer some of the most vivid autumn colors in the country.
Elevation plays a key role in when and how quickly leaves change color. Higher elevations, like those of the 12,100-foot high Independence Pass, can see leaves change as early as September, while hill sides under 4,000 feet are likely to have leaves that change in October and even November.
Patrick Eisert, the innkeeper at the Berry Springs Lodge in Gatlinburg, Tenn., recommends driving the 5,100-foot Newfound Gap Road in mid-October, and then heading down to Cade's Cove, at less than 2,000 feet, a month later. That extended season is what makes the Smokey Mountains such a draw for fall tourists.
"It's not like up north, where everything changes real quick, and you have to hit it just right within a week," Eisert says. "Here, because there're so many different elevations, you come earlier and the higher elevations are going to give you color. And as time goes on, the color goes down lower and lower."