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. Fall colors in the Smoky Mountains are magnificent and varied because of the amazing diversity of trees. Some 100 species of native trees live in the Smokies, the vast majority of which are deciduous. 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.
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.
September’s suggested hikes for seeing the Smoky Mountains in autumn: Albright Grove and Sugarland Mountain Trail as well as high elevation hikes to Andrews Bald or Mt. LeConte would be time well spent.
Good places to see fall colors in the Smoky Mountains include Newfound Gap Road from Alum Cave Trailhead to Kephart Prong Trailhead, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Foothills Parkway East & West, and Heintooga Ridge Road to Balsam Mountain Campground. Suggested hikes include Rich Mountain Loop, Chestnut Top Trail, Smokemont Loop, Kanati Fork, and Sutton Ridge Overlook (Lower Mt. Cammerer Trail). Watch www.gatlinburg.com for weekly fall colors updates beginning in mid-September.