Where are the best places to see the Fall Colors of the Smoky Mountains? Here’s our guide to some of the best ways, places and times to see the fall colors in the Smoky Mountains around Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.
The leaves start turning first at the highest elevations and work their way down the mountain slopes to the lower lands as the season progresses, all told over about a 7-week period. For a more detailed sequence and to get the latest color reports, see our guide to Fall Colors in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Take a Scenic Drive
This is one of the easiest things to do in the area because practically anywhere you drive is scenic. Here are some of the best drives, and for a more detailed view, check out our guides to Scenic Drives in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and also the best Scenic Drives and Easy Hikes in the Smoky Mountains.
Some of the more special roads and places include Newfound Gap out on Hwy 441 to the south of Gatlinburg, and the drive to Elkmont to the west.
A western drive along Little River Road: Filled With Scenic Wonders will take you past the Metcalf Bottoms picnic area, then past the Sinks and Meigs Falls, all worth stopping to look at, and on to Townsend and the entrance to Cades Cove. This is the Quiet Side of the Smoky Mountains, so called, and deserving of the name. Check our our guide to Wears Valley Cabins in this area.
If you continue past Townsend on to Walland, this takes you to the Foothills Parkway, only recently completed. This highway offers stunning views of the Smoky Mountains at any time of the year. You can drive it east to Wears Valley and either keep on to Pigeon Forge or cut south back into the national park, and Fighting Creek Gap Road to Sugarlands visitor center. From Sugarlands, head back into Gatlinburg, or get on the Gatlinburg Bypass to avoid the strip and stay in the scenery of nature to Pigeon Forge.
And staying closer to town, don’t forget the scenic loop road that hosts the Arts & Crafts Community Trail. This is a fine, and full, day out at any time, to explore studios, shops and galleries, but fall now also features a Scarecrow Trail, following Gatlinburg’s 2019 attempt to win the Guinness world record for most scarecrows in one town (which it won).
Driving these few main roads would always be a useful orientation to the area, and the scenery is stunning, with views of the higher elevations, and immersion in the lower foothills. Also be sure to see the Roaring Fork special loop road from Gatlinburg mentioned below under Walks.
Take a Walk
Hiking is the way to get places the automobile can’t go, but not everyone is able to get around on foot, either having pets or small children or a disability. But fortunately there are countless ways to get out into nature and enjoy the fall colors without a strenuous hike or even leaving your car.
For the hikers, check our our guides to Hiking Trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park as well as our tips on the Best Hiking Trails in Gatlinburg: Favorite Hikes, Dives and Easy Walks as well as our guide to Pet Friendly Hiking in Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains. In general for the fall colors especially, don’t be surprised when you see recommendations for Metcalf Bottoms Trail to Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse, Sutton Ridge Overlook on the Lower Mt. Cammerer Trail, and Lephart Prong Trail.
Breathless yet? For less strenuous activity, try some of the very easy and fairly flat trails created by the park, such as Little River Trail: An Easy and Fun Walk for all the family. Be aware of the Nature Trails that are mostly quite easy – one is even wheelchair accessible – and also check our guide to the best Easy Walks.
For an amazing drive that also offers multiple walks and opportunities to get out of the car, take the one-way loop road out of Gatlinburg called the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail – this is an astonishing trail experience that you can drive, with many overlooks, trailheads and stopping places.
And don’t forget the very lovely Public Parks of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Both towns are in such scenic settings already that a little open space or a river running by offers a tranquil respite all in itself. Some of these parks offer fishing opportunities for kids, and there are scenic strolls and adventures for the whole family.
If you play golf you may just want to do your walking out on the course to view the colors. Our multiple guides to Golf in the Smokies: Top Courses Near Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge keep their eye on that ball for you too, pointing out where the views are as stunning as the play. And if casting the rod is how you get outside, check out our guides to Fishing in Gatlinburg, Fly Fishing n the Smoky Mountains and Fishing in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
And finally, be sure to check out our guide to Easy Outdoor Adventures in the Smoky Mountains, which offers even more ways to get outside, or up and down the mountain, and to have some fun while chasing the fall colors. Some of these ways are included below – read on!
Take a Mountain Ride
Fun is in the air, and above the ground, in several ways in the Smokies. The mountains were made for adventure, but it can be a lot of fun without breaking a sweat, and our guide to Mountain Rides: Up and Down in the Smokies will show you all the ways to take rides up or down the mountain, as well as just hang in the air or play in the tree tops.
For an uplifted view and to get above it all, take one of the lifts up the mountain. See our feature on the Gatlinburg Sky Lift – which now has the country’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge to give you an even more thrilling view.
Take the Aerial Tramway up to Mt. Harrison leaving from downtown Gatlinburg. Stick around a while at Ober Gatlinburg and enjoy the views, or go even further up and take the ski lift, open all year round – beautiful in summer and fall.
Anakeesta offers a similar experience, with its own world up on Anakeesta Mountain. Take the lift or the Chondola (an enclosed cabin gondola), or ride up in the Ridge Rambler. Up on the mountain you’ll find a treetop village playground, shopping and dining, and numerous ways to have fun and gaze at the stunning views.
Ziplines will fly you above and through the treetops for unique views of the fall colors. See our Ultimate Guide to Smokies Ziplines for everything you need to know. There are also ropes courses and treetop adventures throughout the area, and you can count on our guide to Ropes Course in Gatlinburg & Pigeon Forge to detail all w the ways and places.
TIP: our cabins currently offer a complimentary coupon worth $99 for one zipline adventure with Legacy Mountain Premier Ziplines – part of the more than $400 in Free Tickets in our Trip Cash gift with each cabin booked – see our page on Gatlinburg coupons and Pigeon Forge coupons for more information.
Coming down the mountain is even more fun than going up, and besides the ziplines there are the hugely fun coaster rides down the slope. And – you guessed it – our guide to Mountain Coaster Rides in the area tells you where to go for this fun experience.
Ride a Horse
If you agree that the best view of any terrain is from the back of a horse, then check out the local stables in our guide to Gatlinburg Riding Stables – Horseback Riding in the Smokies. Well accustomed to traffic from the millions of visitors to the area each year, horse stables in the area usually offer a range of trips for all family members, and for the more relaxed travel, some offer hayrides.
Ascend the Needle and Wheel
In Gatlinburg, the 400-foot high Space Needle offers an elevator to take you to the observation deck at the top, where you can observe the surrounding fall colors in comfort. In Pigeon Forge at The Island, the 200-foot high Observation Wheel with its climate-controlled gondolas offers a fun way to go up and down in style, while viewing your surroundings.
Hang Out on the Deck
If all of the above seems a little too much activity, it’s allowed simply to do nothing to go find the fall colors, and just let them come to you. Cabin living is a world of its own, and you don’t need to go anywhere.The fact is, you’re already in the Smoky Mountains, and they’re all around you. If you want to get outside a little more, the tips above should be plenty. If not, then just hit the deck.
Many people will agree that the morning cup of coffee sitting peacefully on the deck listening to the sounds of the forest and gazing at the mountains all around is one of life’s finest adventures. And after dark, the stars come out and the hot tub on the deck may be one of the best ways ever invented to enjoy them.