The Best Places to See Fall Foliage in Tennessee

The View from Clingmans Dome, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The View from Clingmans Dome, Great Smoky Mountains National Park | © Ronald Spencer / Alamy Stock Photo
Gethin Morgan

Content and CRM Executive

Tennessee is renowned for its long hot summers, but you’ll be surprised by how beautiful it becomes in fall. From mid-October to early November the Great Smoky Mountains explode into colour as leaves turn orange, yellow and red, and trees transform before your eyes. These are the best places to witness Mother Nature in all her glory during Tennessee’s fall.

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Clingmans Dome

On the state border of Tennessee and North Carolina, the fall colors are at their finest in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With an impressive array of trees and shrubs in its boreal forest, Clingmans Dome offers unbeatable 360-degree views, and at 6,643ft (2,024m) above sea level, it’s the tallest point in the state. The views on a clear day reach as far as 100mi (160km) beyond the spruce-fir forest that comes alive on sunny days in the fall. Come here to feel on top of the world as summer fades.

Tellico Plains

Autumn in the Tellico Plains

A 90-minute drive east of the city of Chattanooga, Tellico Plains is the kind of vintage town that’s become so popular with travellers across America. Known as a small town with a big backyard it’s a great base from which to access wilder climes, and mountain ridges rise up around it. The Cherokee National Forest, almost on its doorstep, is the finest place to witness oak, walnut, and hickory trees change colour as the autumnal months arrive.

Cataloochee Valley

The Colors of Fall in Cataloochee Valley in the Great Smoky Mountains-National Park in North Carolina

Also in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Cataloochee Valley, a picturesque part of Tennessee’s landscape. The historic churches and remote houses make this a hotspot for photographers as soon as fall colors come alive, and its frozen-in-time aesthetic only adds to the nostalgic feeling of fall. You’ll find some remarkable wildlife roaming around; wild elk were reintroduced in 2001, and autumn is their mating season. Look out for the white pines that tower at 200ft (61m) – a sight to behold at any time of the year.

Reelfoot Lake State Park

Near the Kentucky border, Reelfoot Lake in Northwest Tennessee was created by a series of earthquakes in 1811 and 1812, when the Mississippi river briefly flowed backwards, and is now abundant with wildlife. In the fall people trek here from all across the region to see the wonder of the submerged cypress trees. The colors transform the watery landscape with fiery hues that make this a unique environment in which to witness the changing of the seasons. Lucky day-trippers will even spot eagles flying overhead.


Autumn’s colors in Chattanooga, Tennessee

The city of Chattanooga on the Tennessee River invites you to visit specifically for its fall foliage. Dedicated riverboats take you on fall color cruises, but it’s just as easy to hire a bike or go on foot, following the numerous trails out into nature. Lookout Mountain in Point Park has fantastic views of the river and city. Take the delightfully named Chattanooga Choo Choo along the Tennessee Valley Railroad for a retro, scenic tour, with all the joys of steam trains in the fall. Take your book of trees, and look out for tupelos, the first to turn, with leaves that vary from deep purple to orange to scarlet, sometimes all on one branch.

Gatlinburg Space Needle

Gatlinburg, on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is a mountain town where people in the region escape for a quiet weekend. There’s incredible scenery surrounding the town, but the highlight here is that you can take a chairlift above the trees. The Gatlinburg Space Needle, with its 400ft (120m) viewing platform offers 360-degree views of the breathtaking landscape. Take this great glass elevator for a storybook bird’s eye view of breathtaking scenery for miles around.

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