I love fall in the Smokies. I absolutely love to hike them when I can during the fall.
It can be tricky. depending on the weather the leaves can be green one weekend, at their height by the next and mostly dead a few days later. Still, I’ve never gone wrong trying.
Each year SmokyMountains.com puts out their Fall Foliage Prediction Map — a national map — that estimates when leaves will be at their peak.
Of course it is an estimate, but I have yet to find anything else that is close.
If you love the fall and the outdoors, this is a wonderful map to look at today, to plan your perfect weekend this fall — Oct 2nd, 9th or 16th in the Smokies,
Also worth noting: the elevation change in the Smokies (3,000+ plus) means that at any time different elevations will be at different periods. There are easily three different levels where both the tree types and the leaves change. Generally, the further up you go the more coniferous (pine & fir-like) there are, which makes the heights great places to view, but often less colorful themselves.
Some Great Smokies Viewpoints
This isn’t regurgitated guide books, this is all from my own explorations!
Drive to Newfound Gap — you can drive here, no hiking required. It gives a broad view of the middle Eastview of the Smokies.
Drive or Hike to Clingmans Dome — you can drive all the way there and either look out over the Southern part of the Smokies, or hike up to the viewing tower (0.6 miles, steep but paved) and get a 360′ view.) You literally can’t go wrong.
Hike Alum Trail towards Mount LeConte — The first 2-3 miles of this hike offers excellent views. As you approach the peak there are more amazing views, but you need to prepare to hike higher. Be ready for crowds: this is the most popular trail to Mount LeConte, if you can, go during a weekday to find parking, or park at Newfound Gap and find a way to get down to the trailhead (don’t plan on hiking down.)
Hike Mount Cammerer — This is a long and difficult hike. Somewhere around 10 miles out and back. The reward is a 270′ view from an old firetower, of the mountains, mostly outside of the Smokies. I never think of it as my favorite, but I also can never pull myself away after I’m there.
Drive Cades Cove — the 11 mile loop on the West side of the park, you can get out and hike short trails (0.5 miles +/-) or stay in the car. It’s worthwhile by itself, but during the fall will be amazing.
Drive Little River Gorge Road and 441 — this will take you from Townsend on the Northwest side of the Smokies to the South side of the Smokies and back. Elevation from 1300′ to 5000’+ means you’ll see the lowest point to the highest point.
The drive along the Little River never disappoints. There are multiple short trails you can take at pull-offs, along with viewing areas all along Newfound Gap. Expect this to take the entire day over weekends, pack a lunch and something to drink. (Bathrooms at Metcalf Bottoms, the Gatlinburg Visitors Center, and Newfound Gap).
Drive the Parkway — Two sections of road outside of the main park, East and West of Gatlinburg, each offers pull-offs with amazing views of the mountains.
Drive Greenbrier Road — I’ve only been here once, and during the winter. It’s main advantage is you can drive along it, making it very accessible.
Dozens of easy trails exist throughout the park. The Cosby Campground is full of them, Little River Road has multiple pull-offs with short trails that typically have adequate parking, the Cades Cove campground has accessible trails that can go as short or as long as you’d like, Middle Prong Trailhead near the Tremont Visitors Center also allows you an easy hike along a creek, and there are drivable areas in the East side of the park that I have barely explored.
Edited to show t the Smoky Mountains at their finest.
Want to know before you go? I’d always recommend asking your friends on Facebook first, but there are also webcams that will give you a pretty good idea of the colors.