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The kids are back in school and the weather is about to cool down ever so slightly.  With a hint of fall in the air, many are already wondering when the leaves change in Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains.  If you want to know when you’ll see fall foliage in the Smokies, and where you can go for the most colorful views in Gatlinburg, you’ll want to read this!

When Will the Leaves Change in Gatlinburg in 2021?

If you’re planning a trip to see fall foliage in the Smokies, timing is everything. Just a couple of weeks too early or too late makes all the difference in whether you get to see what you came for.  As we know, Mother Nature’s, nature is fickle, so an exact date is impossible to pin down. However, according to the Farmer’s Almanac for 2021, it looks like Tennessee will be at the peak of its transformation beginning the 2nd full week of October – October 28th.

If a Halloween trip to Gatlinburg is in the cards for your family this year, a vibrant display is likely to be seen!  So, what if you’re planning your trip into early November? Fear not, because you’re still going to see some beautiful colors!

Where can I see the fall foliage in Gatlinburg?

Sunset in Gatlinburg in the Fall

An autumn drive is the perfect way to take in the endless rows of gorgeous scenery our area has to offer!  The Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the surrounding areas have gorgeous places to see the fall colors without walking or hiking a mountain peak.  A few of our favorites include:

Foothills Parkway

This years-in-the-making scenic drive outside of Pigeon Forge, TN has recently been extended to reach Wears Valley.  Visitors to the Foothills Parkway can expect to see breathtaking mountain views and stunning fall colors in October and November in 2019. These 16 miles between Wears Valley and Walland were only completed in 2018 and offer multiple pull offs to hop out of the car, stretch your legs, and take in the scenery. If you’re wanting to see more, continue underneath Highway 321 and drive up the east side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for another 17 miles.  The Foothills Parkway ends at US-129, also known as The Tail of the Dragon. If you can handle 318 curves in 11 miles, continue the drive for more sightseeing! Please note: there are no services, such as gas stations, on the Parkway.

The Blue Ridge Parkway

smoky mountains in the fall

Experience America’s Favorite Drive by taking a trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway to see the leaves change in 2019.  Located on the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this classic 469-mile drive was built to connect The Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Shenandoah National Park all the way in northern Virginia!  You’ll hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway just before entering Cherokee, North Carolina and enjoy driving your way up to the higher ridgelines of the mountains. With multiple pull offs to stop and enjoy the mountains as you go, take in the fall foliage in the smokies from both sides, but Please Note: there are no services, e.g., gas stations, on the Parkway.

Newfound Gap Road

Newfound Gap Road is also known as US highway 441.  This road traverses the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is a classic scenic drive.  This 32-mile long highway connects Gatlinburg, TN to Cherokee, NC. Along the way, there are multiple pull off spots for you to hop out, stretch your legs, and take in the stunning scenery.  When you reach the state line approximately 15 miles from Gatlinburg, stop and take a walk along the famous Appalachian Trail. Or, continue your drive to Clingman’s Dome or even Cherokee!

Gregory Bald looking down into Cades Cove.

Cades Cove

If our visitors only have one day in the Smokies, we would most certainly recommend seeing Cades Cove.  There’s plenty to see and do here, from hiking to biking to history walks.  There is something for everyone! The 11-mile loop road traverses around a large open meadow and is one of your best bets to see wildlife in the Smoky Mountains.  Give yourself all day to complete this leisurely and scenic drive. Take plenty of breaks to get out, have a picnic, and learn about the Cherokee and settlers who called this land home before the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Roaring Fork

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a 5.5-mile long, one-way drive just outside of the heart of Gatlinburg, TN.  Feel like you’re driving through history while taking in historic buildings, a mountain vista or two, and listen to the babbling streams.  You’ll forget you’re only minutes away from town when you see wild turkey, grazing deer, and even the most famous Smokies resident – the American Black Bear.

A young black bear standing and grasping a tree.

Colorful Fall Hikes 

Hiking in the Smoky Mountains is a great way to take in the stunning colors of fall.  Because our elevation ranges from less than 1000 feet above sea level to 6600 feet above sea level, you can see the fall foliage in the Smokies from a variety of locations!

Clingman’s Dome

The highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is easy to access.  Enjoy driving on the highest road east of the Mississippi River to get to the parking area of Clingman’s Dome.  When you arrive, follow the paved trail for a steep half mile to the observation tower. On a clear day, stunning 360-degree views await.  Observe the fall color from the high elevation. Depending on your visit, you’ll see that it’s changing slowly on its way up the hillsides.

Make sure to bring a jacket on this hike.  Temperatures at Clingman’s Dome are 10-12 degrees cooler than they are in Gatlinburg.

Clingmans Dome

Chimney Tops Trail

The trail to Chimney Tops has been extensively changed since the 2016 wildfires.  This hike may be less than 4 miles round trip, but don’t let the distance fool you.  This steep hike is definitely a workout! You’ll climb nearly 1100 feet in less than 2 miles to the overlook.  Take in the fall colors of the valley below and look to the Chimney’s “next door neighbor” – the famous Mt. LeConte.

Always make sure to obey the signs and never climb past a barrier.  The extensive fire damage in this area makes the rock surfaces past the barriers unsafe.

Get your Fill of Festivals

Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge always have great festivals taking place.  Fall is no exception! Visiting a festival during your vacation in the mountains is a great way to take in the local flavors and get into the fall spirit.

Smoky Mountain Harvest Festival

Starting September 16th and running all the way through November 21st, the city of Gatlinburg is transforming into a quaint fall wonderland.  The town has seasonal displays all throughout the city, with plenty of Instagram-worthy photo ops! This year, they even have 3D Scarecrow people.

OktOBERfest at Ober Gatlinburg

The 12th Annual OktOBERfest takes place from September 24 through October 31st, and is a continuous indoor AND outdoor festival.  Styled after traditional Bavarian festivals, OktOBERfest has a variety of beer and food to choose from.  Sample a variety from the Bier Garden.

OktOBERfest Bier Maid

What festival would be complete without food?  The German and Bavarian-inspired menu offers a little something for everyone from appetizers to full entrées.  Try the Neujahrsbrezel – Bavarian pretzels served with cheese and multigrain mustard. Feeling more adventurous?  The Brat n’ Kraut Balls are a deep-fried and breaded combination of beef, sausage, bratwurst, sauerkraut, onions, and special seasoning.  If an entrée is more your style try the kohlroladen – a cabbage roll stuffed with seasons beef and rice with tomato sauce, sauerkraut & German potato salad.  The Jägerschnitzel – your choice of chicken or pork – served with a mushroom wine sauce, red cabbage, German potato salad, and a side of grain mustard. They even offer a variety of desserts as well! Find out more about OktOBERfest by check out their website.

Places to Stay

Of course, the best place to experience the fall in the Smokies is a private luxury cabin in the Smoky Mountains! Mountain Modern Lodges has great options for lodging in the Smokies. Check out our website and specials today!