Enjoying Fall Colors in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
While most of the Northeast, Midwest, Pacific Northwest, Rocky Mountain region, and other popular locations for great fall colors are past peak, we at Anderson Design Group know of one stunning location that still has incredible fall colors through October and even into November. That place is... Great Smoky Mountains National Park!
When is Peak Foliage?
If you live anywhere in or near the Southeast, a trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park any time in October or November is a really good idea! Timing is everything though, depending on what you'd like to see and where you'd like to explore.
According to the National Park Service's Guide to Fall Colors in GRSM:
"The park usually experiences an autumn leaf season of several weeks as fall colors travel down the mountain sides from high elevation to low. However, the timing of fall color change depends upon so many variables that the exact dates of 'peak' season are impossible to predict in advance."
According to the park rangers who work in the Great Smoky Mountains, the leaves begin to change color in the upper elevations of GRSM in late September. By mid-October, fall colors develop around 4,000 feet above sea level, which is the mid-elevation in GRSM. The lowest parts of the park experience color change in late October and early November.
This year, however, because of a long and warm summer accompanied by an ongoing, mild autumn, the fall colors are predicted to extend into late November in the Great Smoky Mountains, giving folks who may have missed out on color tours elsewhere in the States one last place to enjoy vibrant fall foliage!
Another resource, the Great Smoky Mountains Guide, published a fall color report, announcing a particularly long and vibrant color season for the region:
"There is still peak fall foliage to be seen in the Great Smoky Mountains. Areas at elevations below 2500′ are at peak. Cades Cove and Little River Rd have beautiful fall foliage. A ride thru the mountains will still offer great views of the lower elevations that are at peak. Cataloochee Valley is still very colorful, as is Roaring Fork Motor Trail in Gatlinburg."
When Should I Visit the Park?
Unlike other fall color attractions in the U.S. that experience all of their fall colors in a relatively short period, GRSM has lasting fall color for at least eight weeks, sometimes longer. This is mostly because of the park's different elevations. The lowest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is at 876 feet above sea level, and the highest point is at 6,643 feet above sea level. This considerable difference in elevation ensures that visitors will see incredible fall colors, whether they visit the park in mid September or late November.
Another factor to consider when planning a trip is the park's peak visitation numbers. We're not the only ones who know how beautiful GRSM is in autumn, and the park is often packed with visitors in late September and all through October. But by November, when folks are getting ready for the holidays and the chilly weather begins to turn visitors away, you stand a good chance of seeing great fall colors and having the park to yourself!
Last but not least, be sure to check the Park Service's Weather Report before you head into the park. Remember, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is in the mountains, and the weather can become fierce quickly!
Which Park Attractions Should I Be Sure to Check Out?
As any true GRSM aficionado will tell you, anywhere in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a wonderful place to be. Here are six attractions we recommend when visiting the park in autumn. (P.S., we've created vintage poster art of each attraction, if you need some travel inspo!):
Cades Cove. Cades Cove is at one of the lowest elevations in the park, meaning this region retains fall colors the longest. There is also a paved loop road through the cove, perfect for day drives and bicycle rides.
Appalachian Trail. Of course, the famous Appalachian Trail runs through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, offering pleasant day hikes along several sections of the trail.
Alum Cave. The Alum Cave Trail is an enjoyable, 2.5-mile hike, with a rewarding cave mouth at the end of the hike. An excellent way to enjoy the fall foliage and see a black slate cave!
Clingmans Dome. The highest point in the park, Clingmans Dome offers stunning views of fall colors, sights that go on for miles on a clear day.
Mt. Cammerer Tower. Similar to Clingman's Dome in the views it offers, this beautiful and archaic tower was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1937. It offers 360-degree sightline coverage of the park.
Great Smoky Mountains Waterfalls. There is a stunning array of waterfalls throughout the park, and while these beauties are great fun during summer, they're even more incredible during autumn when they're ringed with fall foliage. Check out popular waterfalls like Ramsey Cascades, Big Creek, Grotto Falls, Raven Fork, Rainbow Falls, and Laurel Falls.
Vintage Poster Art Celebrating Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Anderson Design Group's 63 Illustrated National Parks Poster Art Collection has more original illustrations of Great Smoky Mountains National Park than of any other park. What can we say? This beautiful park is in our backyard, and we're often inspired to create vintage poster art of Tennessee's pride and joy. You can click here to view the full collection of National Park art, or click here to see just the poster art of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
In 2015, Anderson Design Group father-son duo Joel Anderson and Nathan Anderson published the Illustrated Guide to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a 128-page coffee table book featuring dozens of original ADG designs, plus maps, fun facts about the park, travel tips, and a detailed history of the park from historian and author Daniel S. Pierce. This book not only functions as an excellent guide to the park, but it makes the perfect coffee table feature and a great gift too!
And last but not least, if you were planning on ordering holiday gifts from Anderson Design Group this year, we encourage you to check out our Frequently Asked Questions page, where you can find valuable insight on ordering, shipping times, and fulfillment.
In the meantime, enjoy those fall colors!
Anderson Design Group Staff Writer