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Scenic drive in the Smoky Mountains during fall

6 Must-See Smoky Mountain Scenic Drives in the Fall

DATE : September 1, 2022

The Smoky Mountains become one of the most colorful places in the US each fall. The area turns into a gold, orange and red paradise as the leaves change color against the backdrop of mountain spires. You can enjoy breathtaking views on an afternoon drive or spend a weekend winding your way through mountain roads. To help you decide where to go, we've made a list of the top 6 must-see Smoky Mountain scenic drives in the fall!

1. Cades Cove Loop Road

From sunrise to dusk you can drive the busy Cades Cove Loop Road for wildlife views, historic farm buildings, and access to hiking trails. This is by far one of the most popular Smoky Mountain scenic drives to enjoy in the fall. The Loop provides access to Abrams Falls, a popular Smoky Mountains waterfall hike. The Loop also intersects with Rich Mountain Road. Follow it to Parsons Branch Road, then enjoy the views while you travel to Tail of the Dragon (more commonly mapped as US 129). You'll love seeing the valley blanketed in oranges, reds, and yellows, and the opportunity to see wildlife!

2. Cove Creek Road

If you're looking for the perfect day trip from our Gatlinburg hotel, try Cove Creek Road. The 11-mile Cove Creek Road winds through the Cataloochee Valley on the NC side of the mountains. Drive slowly so you miss nothing and because this narrow mountain road has no guardrail. You can count on this day trip for colorful autumn vistas, wildlife, and 19th century architecture including a barn, chapel, homes and school. Mornings and afternoons provide the best wildlife views. Although the Cataloochee Valley provides a rare cultural peek into American history, it receives fewer visitors. Explore this quiet mountain valley, but be careful if you drive a large vehicle through its narrow passage.

3. Clingmans Dome Road

Look for Clingmans Dome Road while enjoying Newfound Gap Road. This short 7 mile side road leads you to the peak of Clingmans Dome, Tennessee's and the Appalachian Trail's highest peak. Park at the road's end and hike a half a mile to the observation tower. You'll see Tennessee in a new way, and it's the best spot to take in the fall foliage in the early months!

4. Newfound Gap Road

If you'd like a day trip or weekend in North Carolina, drive Newfound Gap Road, aka US Highway 441, from Gatlinburg to North Carolina. It winds for 33 miles up to Newfound Gap. The road offers a few scenic turn off points providing panoramic views from 5,048 feet above sea level. The peak offers a spruce forest to explore, the Rockefeller Memorial, and much-needed restrooms for your road trip. You can stand where President Franklin D. Roosevelt did when he inaugurated the park on September 2, 1940. You can access the Appalachian Trail from here and enjoy a nature hike.

5. Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

The one way road, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, offers 6 miles of paved driving pleasure. You'll have wildlife views, streams, waterfall access and log cabins to explore. Park and enjoy the 5.4 mile hike on Rainbow Falls Trail to Rainbow Falls, one of the park's most famous waterfalls. The wooded views along this road provide the perfect opportunity to see the changing leaf colors. Keep your eyes out for bears as well — this is a popular place to spot them!

6. Upper Tremont Road

Upper Tremont Road is located near Wears Valley and is one of the best Smoky Mountain scenic drives in the fall. There are a few tree-shaded parking areas along the road where you can park and enjoy a picnic, or you can go for a hike along the Middle Prong Trailhead! You'll love taking in the fall foliage from this less traveled road.

Plan Your Fall Trip

Whether you have a few hours or a few days to explore, these Smoky Mountain scenic drives will treat you to some of the best fall views in the area. Of course, there are plenty of other ways you can enjoy fall in the Smoky Mountains as well, including going for a hike! for more ideas on what to do this fall, take a look at these 4 things to do in Gatlinburg in the fall.