Tucked in the corner where Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia (TAG) connect are some of America’s most beautiful deciduous forests. The foothills of the Appalachian Mountains always offer beautiful waterfalls, hikes, and caves. However, during the height of fall foliage season, these hills are decked in autumn colors of red, yellow, and orange.
Our TAG fall foliage road trip lays out a route along the Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia corner that’s a short drive from Atlanta, Nashville, or Birmingham. This 4.5-hour / 200-miles road trip is the perfect way to see fall colors if you live even remotely close to this beautiful corner of the world.
Fall Color Road Trip MapBelow are our map and directions for our fall color road trip. Since we live in Huntsville, we started in Scottsboro, but really, you can start this loop anywhere, and it works just fine. If the map doesn’t load, just hit the refresh button. We think it’s worth it
Scottsboro and Fort Payne
We start our fall foliage tour in Scottsboro because it’s the closest part of the loop to our home in Huntsville. However, if you’re coming in from Birmingham or Atlanta, you’ll probably hop in at Fort Payne.
There are plenty of fun things to do in Scottsboro, including America’s only Unclaimed Baggage Center and the incredibly well-priced (and beautiful!) waterfront cabins at Jackson County Park. From here, you take Rt-35 across Lake Guntersville and over the hills to Fort Payne. Be sure to appreciate the autumn colors lining the Tennessee River as you cross over Veteran’s Drive Bridge.
Fort Payne, aka Alabama’s Mountain Town, is at the base of the foothills right off I-59. The historic main street is absolutely charming with local eats and shopping boutiques. Enjoy the city parks and tree-lined roads as you pass through this delightful town.
Little River National Preserve
Just past Fort Payne, you’ll find the Little River. This might be the nation’s largest mountain top river, and it carved out one of the south’s deepest canyons as it flowed down Lookout Mountain to the Coosa River. The Little River National Preserve protects 15,288 acres along both sides of the canyon. Hardcore enthusiasts whitewater raft down the length of the canyon, but you can see the highlights with a short driving excursion.
Start at the Little River Falls, a 45′ waterfall that you’ll find roaring during a winter or spring waterfall road trip. The water level is lower this time of year, exposing picturesque sandstone shoals lined with blazing fall colors. If you’re up for a bit of hike, a couple of small trails lead down to the water.
When you soaked up your fill of fall at water level, head back across the bridge to explore the scenic Little River Canyon Rim Parkway. It’s about 11-miles of the most beautiful twisty, turny pavement from the start of the parkway to Eberhart Point. It’s the type of road you’ll expect to see in a motorcycle commercial winding through a tunnel of hardwood trees, past iconic rock formations, and popping out onto pullouts with sweeping vistas.
If you’re in a hurry, feel free to turn around at the Canyon View Overlook just before you leave the canyon rim to circumnavigate a large side canyon. If you really (really, really….) want to explore, you can try to navigate all the way down to the canyon mouth, but be warned, the road gets considerably rougher past Eberhart Point, so we’d recommend turning around and keep heading along the ridgeline of Lookout Mountain to the next stop.
DeSoto State Park
DeSoto State Park is a 1/2 hour drive away from Little River Canyon. The route along the ridge is lovely, but it’s absolutely splendid around DeSoto State Park.
The park has more than 30-miles of hiking trails, but if you’re looking to stretch your legs during a fall color road trip, look no further than the Talmadge Butler Boardwalk Trail. This 360 yard wooden boardwalk offers an easy path through wooded slopes and over the moist forest floor. The Boardwalk ends with a 20′ octagon deck over the Azalea Cascades pool.
This 3′ waterfall is one of the smallest in the park, but the towering 107′ tall Desoto Falls is just around the corner. You can take the 50 stair steps down to the railed overlook below the historic A. A. Miller Dam and see the lower falls and trees in DeSoto Canyon. Be sure to look for the boathouse across the pool above the dam. This building makes for an iconic Alabama fall color picture.
You’ll drive through Mentone as you head up Lookout Mountain into Georgia. This charming town offers several restaurants that pay homage to its mountain setting, like the Tip Top Bake Shop, Elevation Bistro, and Wildflower Café. There’s even an adorable bed and breakfast for the slow travel crowd. Mentone Area Preservation Association (MAPA) has hosted the annual Mentone Colorfest for more than three decades if you’re looking for an excuse for a road trip. Come for the fall colors and stay for local artists, street food, and live music.
From Mentone, follow the Lookout Mountain ridgeline into Georgia and Cloudland Canyon State Park. There are tons of reasons to come to Cloudland Canyon, like waterfall hikes, disc golf, mountain biking, and yurt glamping. However, the queen of the fall has to be the Overlook Trail.
A few hundred feet from your car is the 1000′ deep Sitton’s Gulch, a natural limestone canyon carved over thousands of years by Sitton’s Creek. The short and sweet Overlook Trail takes you to the rim, where you can see down the length of the canyon decked out in its autumn glory.
The town of Lookout Mountain is just across the state line in Tennessee, where you’ll find the epicenter of Fall In Tennessee, at least the Chattanooga area. Rocktoberfest comes to Rock City every weekend in October, or you can explore the spooky side of the season with Ruby Falls‘ Ghost Walk Lantern Tour or Dread Hollow.
If you’re looking for a more subdued tour of Lookout Mountain, you can check out the views from Point Park, explore the natural bridge at the Spiritualist Camp Ground, or take a driving tour of the historic homes and gardens. You can’t escape the views from Lookout Mountain, even if you’re only descending into Chattanooga.
Chattanooga is the final stop on our fall foliage road trip. There are always fun things to do in Chattanooga, but it’s special in the fall. Wine Over Water is Tennessee’s premier wine-tasting festival and the unofficial start of fall in the Volunteer State. You can sample wines from over 100 world wineries on the iconic Walnut Street Bridge. You’ll also find fall foliage riverboat cruises along the Grand Canyon of the Tennessee River. The Chattanooga riverfront is the perfect place to grab a bite to eat or indulge in a decadent dessert (looking at you, Clumpies ).
Wrapping up our TAG Fall Foliage Road Trip
Fall Leaf Season in the Tennessee/Alabama/Georgia highlands runs from late September through mid-November. It usually peaks in mid-October but runs later with a wet summer or warm fall. These forests are special because they are the last major stands of deciduous trees before the pines take over farther south. It’s the closest fall color you’ll find to the deep south.
The route we laid out takes about 4 1/2 hours without stops, including your return to Scottsboro via the highways. Since you’re going to make stops, this is a full-day affair. You could easily turn it into a weekend getaway if you wanted to take a few hikes or participate in a festival. No matter how you choose to explore TAG county, you will not be disappointed with nature’s fall bounty.
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