As fall descends on Tennessee, the Rocky Top State blazes in magnificent oranges, reds, and yellows from the Great Smoky Mountains in the East to the Mississippi River Valley in the West. If you’re looking for the best places to see fall colors in Tennessee, we have you covered. We’ve teamed up with some of our favorite bloggers to tell you where to find fall foliage. Read on for tips to make your Tennessee in Fall trip interesting, unique, and distinctly different.
Tennessee Fall Foliage Map
Below is our fall foliage map for all of the locations mentioned in this article. If it doesn’t load right away, simply refresh your browser 😉
Set Sail on a Fall Foliage Sightseeing Cruise in Chattanooga
Chattanooga is one of our favorite destination for leaf-peeping tours in Tennessee because it has a little of everything. Lookout Mountain features ziplining through the trees at Ruby Falls, and the famous Seven State Overlook at Rock City (don’t forget Rocktober Fest). Gazing out over Garrity’s Battery at Point Park or from your seat on the Incline Railroad, you’ll see the colors of the Chattanooga Valley spread out beneath you. It’s a sight to behold when Mother Nature paints her masterpiece in leaves.
If anything, the views get better in downtown along the Tennessee River. From vantage points on the Walnut Street Bridge, one of the world’s largest pedestrian bridges, you’ll see the trees along the 13-mile river trail putting on a show. It’s also home to the unofficial kickoff for Tennessee fall foliage season, the Wine over Water Festival. For the last 25 years on the first weekend of October, you can sample over 100 varieties of wine as you stroll along the bridge. Don’t forget to stop by Clumpies, Chattanooga’s award-winning creamery, for sweet treats including fall flavors like pumpkin caramel cake.
Just sit right back, and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a foliage trip aboard the Southern Belle on a three-hour tour. (sorry, couldn’t resist) You’ll travel up the Tennessee River Gorge, known Grand Canyon of the Tennessee River on a live-narrated tour. On the subject of gorgeous gorges, the thousand-foot deep Sitton Gulch at nearby Cloudland Canyon Park offers spectacular views from the rim and easy hikes down to a series of towering waterfalls. If you are going to Cloudland Canyon on the first or last weekend of the month, consider adding a trip to hike the Lula Lake trails. This little nature preserve has a gorgeous aqua blue lake and towering waterfall that, because of the limited permits, visitors rarely get to see.
Fall Colors from a Horse Drawn Carriage in Lynchburg Tennessee
Fun fact about Lynchburg Tennessee, Jack Daniel’s produces every one of their 150-million bottles at the distillery in Lynchburg. However, you can’t buy a drink in town because it’s in a dry county (Moore County). You can (and should) take a Jack Daniel’s tour to see where (and how) the magic happens. There are tasting tours and specialty bottles for sale in the gift shop. Even if you’re not a whiskey fan, you’ll enjoy the experience.
You’ve heard the saying spring forward / fall back. If you keep falling back and back and back, you’ll reach Lynchburg – which I like to call the town that time forgot. It’s built around the Moore County Courthouse with plenty of gift shops, front porch rockers, and even horse-drawn carriage rides.
Do yourself a favor when you visit Lynchburg and forget about time for a little while. Take the twisty backroads through outstanding fall colors, talk to a local, and take a tour. You’ll learn something you never knew you didn’t know.
Fall Leaves from a Kayak at Radnor Lake in Nashville
The Radnor Lake in Nashville, Cades Cove, and Gatlinburg entries for fall leaves come from Ashley Hubbard, a Tennessee native who runs Wild Hearted and Oddities and Curiosities and provided the feature image for this post. Take it away Ashley…
Everyone thinks of country music when they think of Nashville (and perhaps Jack Daniels, too) and for good reason, but Nashville should definitely be in the running when searching out fall foliage in Tennessee. Radnor Lake State Park should be considered specifically.
Radnor Lake State Park is one of the state parks within city limits and one of several state parks that are an easy, quick drive from downtown Nashville. Radnor is also a well-loved local destination. The views are always gorgeous, but in the fall, the trees really come alive in the different autumn colors. Radnor Lake is one of the best places to see wildlife. The park is one of the most protected state parks in the state, and the wildlife reflects that. I always tell people there is about a 95% chance you’ll see deer, turkey, and/or owls while here. There’s also a high chance of seeing turtles, squirrels, chipmunks, otters, bald eagles, birds, and more.
Tennessee in Fall by Bike at Cades Cove
Many people head to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to see wildlife – especially black bears. If you’re one of them, you absolutely can’t miss Cades Cove. Cades Cove is about 25 minutes away from downtown Gatlinburg and is an eleven-mile one-way paved loop. You can drive the loop, pull off to the side of the road and park to walk the different trails. You can also ride your bike on the loop and hike the trails along the way.
The best chance of seeing wildlife is to be at the gates at sunrise when they open. There’s a great possibility of seeing deer, wild turkeys, and black bears. Please be mindful and respect nature and the animals who call it home. Keep your distance, do not taunt them, and do not feed them.
Cades Cove, like all of the Smoky Mountains, is a gorgeous area of Tennessee in Fall to see beautiful colors. While many do travel to see the fall foliage, it is also much less busy than during the peak season of the summer months.
Gatlinburg in the Fall From the Air
Gatlinburg is located on the border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is a great base for exploring the park’s waterfalls, hiking trails, and history, the synchronous fireflies in the summer, Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, and more.
The national park is the most visited national park in the country, and Gatlinburg is one of the most visited vacation spots. Families come to spend a weekend or more to enjoy all the restaurants, attractions, outdoors, and much more. The area has gorgeous views all year round but head there for Gatlinburg in the fall, take a gondola ride up the side of the mountain, walk across the brand-new sky bridge and take in the beautiful foliage.
Autumn Colors by Train in Knoxville
Where else to head for fall scenery in Tennessee than where blood bleeds orange?! Knoxville is perhaps Tennessee’s most underrated city and a perfect weekend trip from Nashville. There are tons of things to do in this city that still feels like a small town.
Head to the local coffee shops. Stroll around downtown in Market Square. Catch an outdoor movie on Friday nights. Grab some seasonal produce at the farmers’ market. Find your German heritage at Oktoberfest. Root for the home team at a University of Tennessee football game, or take a train ride on the Three Rivers Rambler to see the autumn colors.
Smoky Mountain Fall Colors From the Trail at Mt. LeConte
Our next writeup comes from Shirley Wang from Road Goat. Shirley, you’re on deck for Smoky Mountain fall colors…
With 11 miles of round-trip hiking, 2763 feet of climbing, and having to hike for four hours until you reach the end, the Mt. LeConte Hike is definitely strenuous — but it’s also definitely worth it. Among the Great Smoky Mountains, this hike to Mt. LeConte will grant you unbelievable panoramic views, incredible sights of wildlife, and intimate lodging experiences. You’ll start at the Alum Cave Trailhead after you arrive early at one of the two parking lots (which can get crowded during peak tourist season). There are five different trails you can usually choose from, so you can pick the one that best accommodates your skill.
During your hike, you might come across exciting views of peregrine falcons or other birds of prey, as well as crossing under natural formations like the Arch Rock — the first prominent landmark you’ll see. Don’t forget your camera as you head to Cliff Top and Myrtle Point for the best panoramic views of the mountains! If you’re lucky, you’ve made a reservation at one of the most popular hike-in lodges — the LeConte Lodge — where you can experience the quaint, rustic cabin life and country meals. Combining elements of nature and lodge accommodations, the hike offers you both comfort and exploration as you adventure up the mountain for smoky mountains fall colors at its finest.
Catching Color Climbing Clingmans Dome
Fall color in Great Smoky National Park is so good that we have another entry from Jessica at unearththevoyage.com.
One of the best things to do in Tennessee during the fall is to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park has so many beautiful hiking trails and things to explore, but one of the best things to do during the fall is to view all the trees changing to the gorgeous fall colors. The best way to see a great view of the trees is to drive up to Clingmans Dome.
The road to Clingmans Dome takes about 15 minutes off the main road through the park. The road is extremely windy, but once you get to the top, it is worth it. At the top, there is a parking lot, and from there it is a steep 0.5-mile walk up a paved road to a lookout tower. If you are in shape enough to walk up the steep path, the view from the top of the lookout tower is simply magnificent. During the fall you will definitely be able to see some of the best views of the changing colors. Make sure you check the weather before you go as the clouds can come in very unexpected and cause you to not be able to see anything at all. If you are looking for a great experience in Tennessee during the fall, we highly recommend checking out Clingmans Dome!
Catching Red Hot Autumn Leaves on a Delta Blues Road Trip
The final autumn leaves writeup comes from Bernadette Jackson of A Packed Life. Bernie, take us home…
October saw us heading west from Nashville in a heatwave. We were on a Delta Blues road trip, with Memphis as its first stop. But before the city, we came across tiny Brownsville. It was meant to be a short stop, but there was so much to explore, it was impossible not to linger.
The West Tennessee Delta Heritage Centre was our first discovery. Full of stories of the blues, the history of the area and a spectacular photo wall showing the beauty of the autumn leaves in Tennessee. It took us an age to wander around and chat with the happy and helpful curators.
Out back, we stumbled into more surprises. Here you’ll find the blues shack of Sleepy John Estes, complete with bed, quilt and rocking chair. Next door was one last building. This tiny elementary school still held its original classroom benches. And the stage costumes of one of its more famous pupils: Tina Turner. I wonder where her mind wandered during lessons.
Memphis itself is a celebration. If you love music, you can’t help but be enthralled by its stories of rock, soul and blues, and the chance for a trip to the legendary Beale Street. Fall in Tennessee is a fabulous time to hit the road, whether in search of the blues or just to appreciate the sheer beauty and charm of the state.
Are You Heading to see the Leaves Change in Tennessee yet?
With so many great places to see fall colors, you might need to extend your weekend getaway into a full-blown road trip. Tennessee in the Fall is hard to beat with its German heritage and rolling rivers lined with magnificent autumn color. Fall is one of the best time to visit the Smoky Mountains with colorful leaves and fewer people on the trail.
When is the best time to see leaves change in Tennessee? Leaves begin to change at the end of September and peak in mid-October. This changes with elevation, so the higher you go, the earlier the season starts. You can optimize your altitude for prime leaf viewing. Tennessee is not only one of the best places to see fall colors; it is also one of the best places to visit in October in the US.
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