Autumn in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a special time when a glorious leaf season of several weeks is enjoyed by visitors as fall colors travel down the mountainsides from the highest elevations to the foothills. The kaleidoscope of fall colors in the Smoky Mountains is magnificent and varied because of the amazing diversity of trees. The timing of fall color change depends upon so many variables that the exact dates of "peak" season are impossible to predict in advance.
In the Smoky Mountains, autumn color displays above 4,000 feet start as early as mid-September with the turning of yellow birch, American beech, mountain maple, hobblebush, and pin cherry, clearly visible from such vantage points as Clingmans Dome Road.
The fall color display usually reaches peak at middle and lower elevations between mid-October and early November. This is the park’s most spectacular display as it includes such colorful trees as sugar maple, scarlet oak, sweetgum, red maple, and the hickories.
By the later stages of September, the right ingredients are beginning to emerge, the time when cooler temperatures and sunny days mix with some rainfall to bring on a spectacular autumn color display in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The timing of color change and leaf fall is primarily sparked by the calendar; that is, the increasing length of night. As days grow shorter and nights grow longer and cooler, chemical processes in the leaf begin to paint the landscape with Nature’s autumn palette in the Smoky Mountains.
Sourwood, dogwood, maple, sassafras and birch trees are the first to make the change, turning red, orange and yellow. At this point, there is just a hint of fall color change among those early autumn starters. Perhaps more notable now are the autumn wildflowers in the Smoky Mountains, including cardinal flower, black-eyed Susan, coreopsis, great blue lobelia, skunk goldenrod, southern harebell, ironweed, and a variety of asters, as well as the bright fruits on trees and shrubs such as hearts-a-bustin.
Another colorful fall foliage opportunity includes a motor tour of the recently reopened Parson Branch Road, an eight-mile one-way narrow, low speed byway. The road provides motorists an opportunity to drive through a large area of mature second growth forest and experience the quiet and solitude a back-in-the-woods journey has to offer.
By the beginning of October, trees in the Smoky Mountains high country that are now showing bright fall colors are the yellows of American beech and yellow birch and different shades of reds on mountain ash, pin cherry and mountain maple. In the lower elevations, a few early color changing species such as sourwood and sumac are showing bright reds now, but are scattered. Some dogwoods and maples are beginning to turn different colors in some areas as well. Fall wildflowers such as goldenrod and asters are colorful throughout the park and some blueberry and blackberry shrubs are also changing color, as well as the Virginia creeper plant.
Bright golds and yellows of American beech, yellow birch, and yellow buckeye and different shades of reds on mountain ash, pin and black cherry and mountain maple are painting the landscape. The big rounded leaves of witch-hobble are showing fine displays of color ranging from yellow to red.
Sourwood and sumac are showing bright reds; some dogwoods and maples are turning different colors in some areas as well. Fall wildflowers such as mountain gentian, black cohosh, and goldenrod are colorful throughout the park and some blueberry and blackberry shrubs are also in color, as well as the Virginia creeper plant.
Because the Great Smoky Mountains provide a range of elevations between 875 and 6,643 feet in the Park with differing moisture conditions and habitats, many trees will still produce significant color as the Park moves into its peak autumn season. Recommendations: High elevation trails such as Sugarland Mountain Trail and Appalachian Trail, accessed at Clingmans Dome or Newfound Gap, would be good hikes for this time of year. Also, roads leading into the high country, including Newfound Gap Road, Heintooga Ridge Road, Foothills Parkway West and East, and Rich Mountain Road out of Cades Cove, are the best options for seeing fall colors in the Smoky Mountains.
By mid-October at the lower elevations, fall color is coming along. It is the sunny days and cooler nights that instigate the processes in the leaf to begin. The Park continues to experience very dry and warmer-than-normal conditions. These conditions will affect the timing, duration, and intensity of fall leaf season. The peak of color at the lower elevations is over a week away. In the valleys, black gum, dogwood, sumac, and sourwood trees continue to show vivid reds. Golds are coming along on tulip tree, black walnut, birch, beech, and hickories. A few scattered maples and oaks are showing the first signs of fall colors in lower regions of the Smoky Mountains.
Sunny days and cool crisp, but not freezing nights will bring about the most spectacular color display. At this part of the autumn season, some areas of the Smoky Mountains are showing more reds throughout the landscape than in other years.
Fall being our favorite time of year we would love to have you visit with us during this time of year so you too can experience the gorgeous beauty all around us!
Call us or visit our website today and plan your Fall visit with us! You will not be disappointed! We hope to see you very soon!
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