How Best to Enjoy Fall Colors at Great Smoky Mountains National Park - An Insider's Guide

How Best to Enjoy Fall Colors at Great Smoky Mountains National Park - An Insider's Guide

As the summer officially winds down and the temperatures begin to drop, folks all across Tennessee and North Carolina are gearing up for autumn colors and looking for the best places to see fall foliage. At Anderson Design Group, we may have a bit of a bias, but we're convinced that Great Smoky Mountains National Park takes the cake for fall colors in the South East.

We've made dozens of National Park posters for GRSM, and our artists, designers, and creatives have been to the park several times in search of inspiration for their artwork. We feel like the Great Smokies are in our "backyard," so to speak, so we've made a point to take brief trips and excursions into America's most visited National Park several times over the years.

As autumn is just around the corner and fall colors are only a few weeks away, so we thought we'd put together a brief guide on not just when to enjoy Great Smoky Mountains National Park fall colors but also where to enjoy them!

Timing is Everything - When is Peak Foliage?

Timing really is everything, isn't it? Well, at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, fall colors depend on timing and elevation. For example, the best time to see fall colors in the mid and lower elevations is anywhere from mid-October to early November. This region is chock-full of sugar maples, hickories, scarlet oaks, red maples, sweetgum, and dozens of tree species that put on a brilliant display during autumn.

But keep in mind that Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers a considerable range in elevation. The park's lowest point is at just 876 feet above sea level, whereas the highest point in the park is at 6,643 feet above sea level. That's a big difference!

Such a stark range in elevation affects fall foliage. The color change begins at the highest elevations and then spreads down the mountainsides and into the valleys. The wooded peaks of GRSM start their color change in mid-September, but it may be late November before the trees in the lowest regions of the park hit their peak color.

Another point to consider regarding timing is when to travel to the park in relation to the park's peak autumn visitation. From our experience, we've found that the best time to travel to GRSM to enjoy fall colors and avoid crowds is during the last two weeks of September, the first week of October, and the first two weeks of November. While colors are fantastic during the last three weeks of October, the park is often packed with visitors.

Key Attractions - Where to See the Best Colors

As one can probably imagine, one of the best (and easiest) ways to see stunning fall colors in GRSM is while driving through the park. Though the view from behind a car window may not be as glamorous as a mountainside trail hike or river valley bike ride, you're able to cover much more ground in a car and see more colors as a result.

For those who want to get more color than a leisurely drive can offer, here are the best ways we've found to experience GRSM during the fall:

Go for a bicycle ride through Cades Cove. Cades Cove is a broad, verdant valley surrounded by mountains and hills. The fall colors in the valley are simply stunning, and a paved loop trail allows visitors to ride bicycles, hike, or drive a lovely 11-mile loop through the valley.

Hike sections of the Appalachian Trail. The infamous Appalachian Trail runs through parts of GRSM, offering visitors a chance to hike one of the longest trails in the United States and enjoy stunning fall foliage all in one.

Pause to take it all in on the Alum Cave Trail. One of the most popular hiking trails in GRSM, the Alum Cave Trail not only guides visitors through beautiful forests (colors in abundance!), but the path brings folks to the Alum Cave, an impressive cave formation within the park.

Traverse to Clingmans Dome. At 6,644 feet above sea level, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For a far-reaching view over rolling hills and endless mountain ranges, all splashed in reds, golds, browns, and yellows; this is the place to see it!

Enjoy stunning views from Look Rock Tower. Another source for breathtaking views and excellent photo ops, Look Rock Tower is 26 miles away from Clingmans Dome and offers an entirely different angle of views, colors, and landscapes.

Stroll along the Oconaluftee River Trail. For a pleasant stroll along a river and for a trail that's rich in beautiful maple and oak fall leaf colors, a hike along the Oconaluftee River Trail is an excellent choice. The trail has a few small hills, but it mostly follows the river and is just three miles round-trip.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Vintage Poster Art

Our Anderson Design Group National Parks poster art covers all 62 National Parks, but GRSM has received more attention from our poster artists than any of the others. What can we say? Tennessee's National Park will always hold a special place in our hearts.

Here are just some of the attractions in GRSM that we've created vintage National Park posters of:

Mt. Cammerer Tower

LeConte Lodge

Alum Cave

The Little River Railroad

Mt. LeConte

Chimney Tops

Cable Mill

Grotto Falls

Laurel Falls

Clingmans Dome

Cades Cove

Foothills Parkway

Great Smoky Mountains Postcards, Signs, Banners, and More!

In addition to National Park posters, you can also order GRSM vintage poster art as:




Canvas Banners

Metal Signs



Coloring Books

To find your favorite Great Smoky Mountains WPA poster, click on over to our 62 American National Parks poster art collection and navigate to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park poster section (posters are categorized alphabetically). We have over 40 Great Smoky Mountains poster designs, and we add more every time we find something new and inspiring about the park!

To find a product, like a coloring book, coffee table book, set of playing cards, or sticker set inspired by Great Smoky Mountains National Park, click on over to our Products section and navigate our product offerings from there.

And if you'd like to learn more about some of the great conservation work that local volunteers are doing to preserve GRSM for generations to come, check out the Great Smoky Mountains Association.

Vintage National Park poster art is not only a great way to decorate (vintage art matches wonderfully with any design or decor style), but what better way to collect a souvenir or memorabilia item from a trip to the park than with vintage travel art? Not only do our ADG designs make great decor items, but they're lovely conversation starters and reminders of your journeys to the National Parks.

We hope you get a chance to travel to Great Smoky Mountains National Park this autumn for those stunning fall colors, and we hope you'll decorate with Anderson Design Group poster art when you return!

Catch you on the color tour,

-Ren Brabenec

Anderson Design Group Writing Staff

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