Autumn Must-Sees: Experience Tennessee in the Fall

Smoky Mountains National Park autumn landscape. Photo Courtesy of Sean Pavone.



If you’re looking for breathtaking mountain views, gorgeous fall leaves and natural wonders to explore – Tennessee is the place to be. Known for its cooler temperatures in the autumn months, the state is perfect for outdoor activities. Hike through Great Smokey Mountains National Park, spend a day in charming Pigeon Forge and marvel at majestic waterfalls in the Cherokee National Forest.

Of course, a significant fall highlight in Tennessee is the leaves. The forested mountains and valleys transform into a kaleidoscope of color, from deep reds to pumpkin oranges, offering opportunities for Instagram-worthy photos and inspirational views.

Here is a selection of Tennessee destinations to visit so that you can make the most out of your autumn.

Adventures Await in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Clingmans Dome Observation Tower in Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo Courtesy of Jason Sponsellar.

Expanding more than 800 miles, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the largest national parks in the United States. Home to the Appalachian Trail, numerous hiking trails, scenic parkways and family-friendly activities, the park offers visitors plenty of things to do surrounded by Tennessee’s natural beauty.

First, let’s talk about fall leaves. The park provides multiple opportunities to see the trees transform into breathtaking reds, oranges and yellows. Start with Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the park and Tennessee at 6,643 feet. Visitors can experience incredible 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains, and during the fall, it looks like a patchwork quilt of autumn colors.

Jim Bales Homestead, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Photo Courtesy of Theron Stripling III.

Slow down and take in the gorgeous scenery and wildlife on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. As your drive along this narrow winding road, you’ll see mountain streams, preserved log cabins and gristmills. Near Roaring Fork, you’ll find the Rainbow Falls trailhead. Hike 5.4 miles to the high falls known for the rainbows showcased in the mist on sunny afternoons.

History Meets the Great Outdoors in Cades Cove

A historic cabin in Cades Cove, Smoky Mountain National Park. Photo Courtesy of N.A. Qurashi.

A combination of nature and historical sites, Cades Cove is a must-visit destination for your fall bucket list located in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. One home to early settlers and the hunting grounds of Cherokee Indians, this isolated valley features an 11-mile scenic loop – perfect for a relaxed drive. Visitors can see three historic churches, a still-working gristmill, barns and log houses.

If you’d rather explore on foot, there are multiple hiking trails. For example, hike to Abrams Falls on the pine tree-lined Cades Cove Nature Trail or enjoy an extended hike to Thunderhead Mountain. Keep an eye out for local wildlife as you explore; the region is known for white-tailed deer, black bears and turkeys.

The best time to see the leaves transform the area into a cascade of bright yellow is late October to early November. It truly is a magical experience immersing yourself in the fall colors on a cool day.

Waterfalls, Scenic Byways and More in Cherokee National Forest

Bald River Falls in Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee. Photo Courtesy of Beach Creatives.

Stretching from Chattanooga to Bristol, Tennessee, the Cherokee National Forest is home to majestic waterfalls, numerous campgrounds, two scenic byways, white water rivers and over 700 miles of trails. Divided by two sections of the Smoky Mountains National Park, the forest is 650,000 acres of breathtaking wilderness that transforms into a vivid canvass of autumn colors in the fall –peak season is between mid-October and early November. Visitors can expect crowds due to the area’s beauty as the trees shift to red, gold, yellow and even purple.

Suppose you’re looking for the most scenic routes by car. In that case, the Nolichucky River Valley at the base of the Bald Mountains showcases stunning farmland and charming rural communities in Northeast Tennessee. In the southeast, the Ocoee Scenic Byway offers 26 miles of breathtaking views featuring Parksville Lake, the surrounding mountains and Tennessee Valley.

Numerous hiking trails throughout the Cherokee National Forest lead to picturesque waterfalls. Margarette Falls is one of the most famous falls, known for its fan-shaped, 60-foot drop. In the Citico Creek Wilderness, Falls Branch Falls thunders down a cascade of rocky ledges from 70 feet. Finally, don’t skip a hike to the breathtaking Benton Falls in the Chilhowee Recreation area. The waterfall flows down a stairwell of rocks surrounded by a canopy of trees.

Campers are in for a real treat in the Cherokee National Forest, which has 30 developed campgrounds that feature level campsites, fire rings, electricity and bathhouses. Enjoy views of the colorful forests and mountains as you sleep under the stars.

Discover Small-town Charm in Pigeon Forge

Pigeon Forge Mill in Tennessee.

Nestled in the Smoky Mountains, Pigeon Forge is a charming small town home to Dollywood, scenic views and picture-perfect fall foliage. Visitors should start with a tour of Old Mill Square, featuring specialty stores such as Old Mill Creamery, Farmhouse Kitchen and the Toy Bin.

Enjoy wine with a view at the award-winning Mountain Valley Winery. Producing over 200 exclusive wines, visitors can participate in free tastings of some unique wines such as Watermelon Rhubarb and Red Velvet. A destination on the Rocky Mountain Wine Trail, Mountain Valley allows self-guided and reserved wine trail tours.

Of course, Pigeon Forge is well-known for Dolly Parton’s amusement park Dollywood. A great way to spend a fantastic autumn day, the park is home to roller coasters, flume rides and indulgent dining such as the infamous 25-pound apple pie and homestyle mac and cheese smothered in barbecue pulled pork. Surrounded by the Smoky Mountains, Dollywood offers spectacular views of the fall leaves.

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