Here are some of the best ways to get out among the fall colors of the Smoky Mountains, with scenic drives and places to observe the colors working their way down the mountain to the lower elevations, here in October, 2020.
On any trip to Gatlinburg you should know about the Gatlinburg Bypass, and the Scenic Overlook along that route. This is where the iconic photos overlooking Gatlinburg nestled in the Smoky Mountains are shot. The Gatlinburg Bypass is a scenic and highly useful road since it bypasses a major part of Parkway.
Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge get a lot of traffic, so be sure to check our guide to some of the best Shortcuts and Back Roads to get around on. And also be sure to see our guide to Taking a scenic drive in the Smokies, filled with great tips and suggestions.
Two more great overlooks to stop and view the scenery from are the Newfound Gap Overlook and the Carlos Campbell Overlook, both along US 441, which is the main route through the national park crossing from Gatlinburg in Tennessee over to Cherokee in North Carolina, on the other side of the park.
The Carlos C. Campbell Overlook is close to Gatlinburg, 2-3 miles along US 441. It’s right on the road and easy to pull into. The overlook offers one of the finest views of Mt LeConte, so it’s one for your scrapbook.
The Newfound Gap Overlook is farther along the highway, about 15.5 miles. It’s the high point on the road, and the pass that crosses the state line into North Carolina. The commanding views from here encompass both states.
Just about a tenth of a mile beyond Newfound Gap is the turnoff to Clingmans Dome Road. This winding, 7-mile long road takes you to Clingmans Dome, the highest point in Tennessee, and with an observation tower that in clear weather offers line-of-sight views to seven states. This is the most panoramic view in the Smokies.
This whole drive along 441 to Clingmans offers some of the greatest views of the fall colors especially in the higher elevations, but there are other places equally inspiring, especially for viewing the colors as they come down the mountain to saturate the lower elevations.
Cades Cove is the most popular destination in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the most scenic way to get there from Gatlinburg is along Little River Road. Check out our guide to this drive because it encompasses numerous scenic spots along the way: Little River Road: Filled With Scenic Wonders.
This road takes you past the Metcalf Bottoms picnic area – which you can also come to from Wears Valley, which lies to the north along the main road from Pigeon Forge to Cades Cove. After this you’ll pass the Sinks and Meigs Falls, all worth stopping to look at, and on to Townsend and the entrance to Cades Cove.
From the Cove, there’s a one-way gravel road worth knowing about, called Rich Mountain Road. This is a quiet and secluded mountain drive that takes you to Townsend, and also includes a scenic overlook that provides an iconic view of Cades Coves and the Primitive Baptist Church. As with everywhere mentioned here, have your camera ready.
If you continue past Townsend on to Walland, this takes you to the recently completed Foothills Parkway. There are some enormously photogenic and gorgeous sights from this highway, and it’s worth the drive for the sheer splendor of the views. You can take it east to Wears Valley and thence to Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg.
Overlooks aside, there are countless smaller roads and journeys in the area, all of which offer great scenery. Remember the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail from Gatlinburg,. and glance over to the east toward the Cosby and Greenbrier areas for less crowds and equally lovely scenery – at any time of year but, like the entire area, especially in Fall.
If the outdoors is what you want in the Smokies, check out our Gatlinburg Hiking Trails, and our Smoky Mountains map page. You can find more great outdoor things to do in our Smoky Mountains Activities guide. And for even more tips, see our Things to Do in the Smoky Mountains guide, and the crucial Things to Do in Gatlinburg With Kids.
And remember we have cabins all over the area, so pick your vacation headquarters from our Wears Valley cabins, our Pigeon Forge rental cabins and our Gatlinburg cabins – and if you’re bringing a pet, review our lists of pet friendly cabins in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.