The Smokies in the fall provide a seven week period from late September through early November when you can see trees changing to their beautiful fall foliage around Gatlinburg. It all starts at the higher elevations above 4,000 feet in late September and travels down the mountainsides until it reaches peak season at the bottom between mid-October and early November. Elevation is not the only factor that provides the Gatlinburg area with an extended fall foliage season. The Smoky Mountains are home to over 100 varieties of deciduous trees. So, the colors and the peak viewing time in specific areas also depends on the trees growing there. From mid-October to the first week of November is the time when most people visit Gatlinburg to see the fall foliage, and it appears that will be a good time again in 2017.
Conditions That Contribute to Beautiful Fall Foliage
Here are some tips that you can use to determine how colorful fall foliage will be each year and when the colors might be close to peaking. In the summer, if the weather is mild with plenty of rain but no extreme heat? or wet or dry spells, the trees develop a thick growth of leaves that will contribute to a good fall foliage season. The summer of 2017 has been perfect for a healthy, lush covering of leaves on the trees in the Gatlinburg area. In the fall, when days get shorter and nights get longer, the trees receive less sunlight for the photosynthesis process that keeps the leaves green. For the best fall colors, there needs to be warm, sunny days and cool nights without any freezing temperatures. The leaves will turn brown and fall if the temperatures drop below freezing. In addition, any storms with high winds in the Gatlinburg area can blow leaves off the trees before they have a chance to turn colors. So, pay attention to the weather forecasts for Gatlinburg as you plan your trip.
Late September Highlights
As mentioned, the trees above 4,000 feet are changing during this time. This includes the yellow birch, the mountain maple, the American beech, the hobblebush, and the pin cherry. For a great view during this period, drive along Clingmans Dome Road, Parsons Branch Road, and Newfound Gap Road. These areas actually afford a great view over the area throughout the fall foliage season.
The fall flowers blooming at this time along with fruits and berries on bushes and trees add to the colorful scenery and should not be missed. The flowers include black-eyed Susan, coreopsis, cardinal flower, great blue lobelia, skunk goldenrod, ironweed, asters, and southern harebell. Hikes of this area at this time should include Albright Grove, Andrews Bald, and Mt. LeConte.
Early October Highlights
During this time, in the high country, you will be able to see the leaves of yellow beech, the American birch, and the yellow buckeye turning gold and yellow and the leaves of the pin cherry, black cherry, mountain ash, mountain maple, sourwood, and sumac turning various shades of red. The dogwood, witch hobble, and other maples are also changing color. Taking a drive on Newfound Gap Road, Foothills Parkway West and East, Heintooga Ridge Road, and Rich Mountain Road from Cades Cove will provide a good view.
The goldenrod, asters, mountain gentian, and black cohosh are still in bloom, and blueberry bushes, blackberry bushes and the Virginia creeper are changing color. Hiking the Appalachian Trail from Clingmans Dome or Newfound Gap will provide you a close-up view of the fall colors.
Late October Highlights
During this colorful period, the sugar maple, red maple, sweet gum, black gum, scarlet oak, dogwood, sumac, and sourwood trees provide various shades of red while the birch, beech, tulip tree, black walnut, and hickory trees add golds. For great views, the Baskins Creek Falls, Little River, Lower Mount Cammerer, Old Settlers, and Porters Creeks Trails are easy to moderate hikes. The overlook trails such as the Appalachian, Mt. Sterling, Goshen Prong, and Low Gap Trails are a bit more strenuous.
This is the period when most people schedule their visits to see the Smokies in the fall. So restaurants, accommodations, roads, and trails will be busier. It is less crowded than the summer months but making reservations is suggested.
Areas Affected by the November 2016 Wildfire Around Gatlinburg
If you have concerns about the 2017 fall foliage season being diminished in the Gatlinburg area because of the wildfire in November 2016, you can be assured that less than ten percent of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was affected, There are still 900 miles of trails, and damaged trees have new growth. Many buildings in the Gatlinburg area survived undamaged. Debris has been cleared in areas that were affected, and many of those sites are undergoing new construction. So, come book your stay and see the fall foliage because indications are that the 2017 season should be beautiful.