Although there is no bad time of year to visit this southern gem, fall in Tennessee is nothing short of magical! As the seasons begin to change and temperatures start to plummet, the trees put on a spectacular show of red and gold that can be witnessed all around the state.
From the peaks of the Great Smoky Mountains to the sparkling rivers and waterfalls that wind their way through woodlands and rolling hills, Tennessee is home to stunning natural scenery. There are plenty of exciting things to do in Tennessee any time of year, but fall is when nature really comes to life!
Tennessee is a perfect southern destination for a weekend getaway or a wonderful addition to your fall road trip itinerary! Whether you are looking to take in the scenery on one of the hiking trails or simply enjoy the views from your car on a breathtaking drive, there is an exciting fall adventure in Tennessee for everyone!
If you’re on the hunt for the best places to see fall foliage in Tennessee, we’ve got you covered! This guide details exactly where to go to find the prettiest trees and the most incredible views.
Keep reading to discover why Tennessee is known for having some of the best fall foliage in the South!
Is Tennessee a Good Place to Visit in October?
Yes, visiting Tennessee in October guarantees a great time! This Southern state is a natural playground with so many mountain peaks, rivers, and waterfalls. In autumn, it becomes even more magical with colorful fall foliage.
When Do the Leaves Change in Tennessee?
Leaves in Tennessee start to change first in the far eastern part of the state at the beginning of October. These leaves then peak around the middle of the month.
As October goes on, the fall color spreads west across the state. Central Tennessee usually reaches peak color at the end of October while the western edge peaks around the beginning of November.
Overall, the best time to see fall colors in Tennessee is around mid-to-late October. However, color times can vary each year based on many factors, so check the fall foliage report before planning your trip.
14 Best Places to Experience Fall in Tennessee
Fall Creek Falls State Park
Home to the tallest waterfall in Tennessee which towers at 256 feet fall, Fall Creek Falls State Park is one of the prettiest places to experience fall in Tennessee! Fall Creek Falls offers outdoor enthusiasts stunning views any time of year, but the bright colors and cooler temperatures make fall the perfect time for a visit!
The park features over 50 miles of hiking trails that lead visitors through the lush woodlands and past stunning waterfalls, gorges, and a beautiful lake. There are trails for every level, from short hikes around the lake to more adventurous hikes that include crossing suspension bridges!
The park’s namesake, Fall Creek Falls, is the main attraction of the park. However, the park is also home to three other waterfalls, Piney Creek Falls, Cane Creek Falls, and the Cane Creek Cascades. Fall Creek Falls is a must-see stop on your Tennessee road trip itinerary!
Towering at over 6,000 feet, Clingman’s Dome is the highest point in all of Tennessee! The observation tower at the top offers panoramic 360-degree views over the Great Smoky Mountains. It is one of the best places to see fall foliage in Tennessee!
Clingman’s Dome is located just an hour away from Gatlinburg and sits on the border of Tennessee and South Carolina. The mountaintop technically lies within both states, however, the highest point is in Tennessee! The trail to the dome intersects with the Appalachian Trail, the longest hiking trail in the world that stretches from Georgia to Maine, and marks the highest point along the way!
It is a short but steep half-mile paved trail to reach the summit from the parking area. As you ascend, you will quickly gain elevation and realize that the view isn’t the only thing that is breathtaking! Once you reach the top, you will be rewarded with spectacular views over the colorful trees and mountaintops. With incredible views up to 100 miles on a clear day, it’s easy to see why Clingman’s Dome is one of the best things to do in Tennessee in the fall!
There are so many fun things to do in Pigeon Forge, whether you are traveling with kids or just kids at heart! Surrounded by incredible views of the Great Smoky Mountains and boasting endless exciting attractions, it is one of the best places to go for fall in Tennessee!
Pigeon Forge is one of the cutest small towns in Tennessee and is well known for being the home of Dolly Pardon’s theme park. Dollywood is one of the most exciting places to be during fall in the Smoky Mountains. The park is lit up with jack-o-lanterns while vendors serve delicious southern fare and local artisans display their works.
Take in the sweeping views of the mountains decked out in fall colors from the top of the Ferris wheel at the Island or catch one of the many entertaining live shows! Mountain coasters, go-carts, and interesting museums are just a handful of exciting things to do here. With the Smoky Mountains just a short drive away, Pigeon Forge is the best place to spend fall in Tennessee for those looking for both natural scenery and entertainment!
Newfound Gap Road
Newfound Gap Road is the main road that runs through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This 31-mile road is incredibly scenic and is one of the best ways to experience fall in the Smoky Mountains!
As you drive along one of the best places to visit in Tennessee, you will pass a variety of trees as the road climbs in elevation. Enjoy the fragrances of pine and evergreen and take in the views of the changing leaves blanketing the mountains in every direction.
There is plenty of wildlife to be seen on Newfound Gap Road ranging from deer to turkeys and even black bears! Pull-offs for photo opportunities are plentiful so you can take your soaking up the breathtaking scenery. Although Newfound Gap Road is a stunning drive any time of year, it is one of the best places to see Tennessee fall colors.
The small town of Roan Mountain is nestled at the foothills of the mountain of the same name. Roan Mountain State Park is made up of over 2,000 acres of pristine wilderness and stunning mountain views. The panoramic views of mountains and foliage make Roan Mountain one of the best places to experience Tennessee in the fall!
Visitors from all over the world flock here during the summer for the annual rhododendron festival to witness the spectacle of beautiful flowers taking over the mountain. Roan Mountain quiets down by the fall when the mountains erupt in vibrant reds and golds, making it a perfect time to experience the area virtually crowd-free.
Explore the 12 miles of hiking trails as you take in the views of the mountains all around, or venture outside of the park to hike a portion of the infamous Appalachian Trail. Children will enjoy ranger-led hikes and history buffs will want to take a day trip to see Davy Crocket’s birthplace.
Known as the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains, the charming mountain town of Gatlinburg is a wonderful place to see vibrant fall foliage in Tennessee! With so many fun and family-friendly things to do in Gatlinburg, it is one of the best places to experience fall with kids!
Mid-October through mid-November is the best time to see Gatlinburg’s trees at their most colorful. Take a gondola up to Gatlinburg’s sky bridge for a bird’s eye view of the town and surrounding foliage-covered mountains. Spend an afternoon experiencing fall in the Smoky Mountains on a self-drive tour and look out for bears along the way!
When you’re not taking in the stunning fall foliage, there are plenty of fun things to keep you entertained in town! Go-carts, mini-golf, and maintain coasters are just a few of the exciting activities to choose from! Whether you are looking for a fun-filled weekend for the family or a relaxing mountain getaway, Gatlinburg is one of the best day trips from Nashville for fall in Tennessee!
This 43-mile scenic byway runs through two states and stretches from Tellico Plains, Tennessee, to Robbinsville, North Carolina. This drive is especially gorgeous when the leaves change, making it one of the best places to see fall foliage in Tennessee!
Cherohala Skyway has breathtaking views around every turn, hiking trails, and even a beautiful waterfall! The drive begins in Tellico Plains which is about 1.5 hours from both Knoxville and Chattanooga. The Cherohala Skyway makes a perfect day trip from either city or a detour on a fall road trip to see the stunning Tennessee Fall Colors!
The drive takes approximately 1.5 hours one way, with no stops. However, there are many pullouts for photos and trails to explore along the way so plan to spend much longer! There are no gas stations, restaurants, or restrooms on the road so be sure to plan accordingly! Pack a picnic and enjoy the lovely views and weather that you can only find during fall in Tennessee!
Cades Cove is a beautiful valley located within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is where to see fall colors in Tennessee if you’re looking for a scenic drive with lots of wildlife and stunning views!
Visitors can take in the views on a self-drive tour along the 11-mile loop that winds its way through the valley. Look out for wildlife along the way such as white-tail deer, coyotes, and black bears. There are ample opportunities on the road to stretch your legs and take photos of the stunning surroundings.
This is one of the best places to spend fall in Tennessee for nature loves and history buffs alike! In the early 1800s, cades cove was home to European settlers. Many historic buildings can be seen along the loop including log cabins, quaint churches, and even a working mill. Halfway through the drive, visitors can stop by the visitors center to learn more about the history of the area.
The upscale town of Lookout Mountain is located just a short drive outside of Chattanooga, but is a destination in itself with many exciting things to do! It is one of the best places to experience fall in Tennessee for nature lovers, boasting stunning views from the town’s namesake mountain and fascinating natural wonders!
Ride the historic Incline Railway, a trolley-style railway car that makes its way up to the top of Lookout Mountain at a nearly vertical angle. At the top, you will be rewarded with panoramic views of the town below among the foliage-covered landscape.
Visit the spectacular Ruby Falls, located deep within the caverns hidden inside Lookout Mountain. You can also take in the famous “seven state views” from Rock City, a walking trail at the top of the mountain with interesting rock formations, lush gardens, and even a waterfall overlooking the scenery below.
If you are looking for things to do in Chattanooga in the fall, make sure to take time to visit Lookout Mountain too!
Big South Fork National River
Located just south of the Kentucky border, the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River winds its way through miles of scenic sandstone gorges. The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area is the perfect place for outdoor enthusiasts and adventure-seekers to experience fall in Tennessee!
During the fall, the trees on the shores of the river boast vibrant fall colors. Get lost in the stunning scenery on one of the many hiking trails or opt to explore the area on horseback. Big South Fork also boasts one of the largest concentrations of natural rock arches and chimneys in the Eastern part of the country.
If you can brave the chilly water, paddling, kayaking, white water rafting are all popular water sports to take part in on the river. Rock climbing is also popular here and is a great way to get a birds-eye view of the river and beyond. Whether you are looking for a leisurely stroll or a thrilling outdoor adventure, Big South Fork is where to see fall colors in Tennessee!
Roaring Fork Motor Trail
This stunning scenic drive makes a perfect side trip from the Smoky Mountains! The Roaring Fork Motor Trail is where to see fall colors in Tennessee near Gatlinburg for those looking for a unique and slow-paced drive!
If you visit after heavy rainfall, you will understand how the road got its name. There are quiet mountain streams and rushing waterfalls to be seen all along this narrow, winding road. If you’re up for a hike, make the 5-mile trek to the park’s most popular waterfall, Rainbow Falls, and take a detour to see Grotto Falls on the way back.
Another interesting hike is the Noah “Bud” Ogle self-guided nature trail which starts just before the entrance to the motor trail. This trail takes visitors to an authentic mountain farmstead nestled in lush forest surroundings that come to life during the fall. Whether you want to hike to a waterfall or just enjoy the scenery from the comfort of your car, this motor trail is one of the best places to experience fall in Tennessee!
Bays Mountain Park
Bay Mountain Park is a 3,650-acre nature preserve located in Kingsport in the Northeast corner of the state. This enormous park is stunning during a Tennessee fall with vibrant colors in every direction.
The park features a nature preserve, planetarium, beautiful lake, and 40 miles of hiking and biking trails. There are many different trails for all different skill levels. Hike to a gorgeous waterfall or take the Fire Tower Trail and climb to the top of a viewing tower for stunning panoramic views of fall foliage and mountainous landscapes.
After taking in the views, stop by the nature center to learn about the local wildlife or catch a show at the planetarium! Bays Mountain Park is a great place to experience fall in Tennessee for families or for anyone who wants to be immersed in nature.
Radnor Lake State Park
Randor Lake is an amazing location for fall photography in Tennessee! When the leaves change color, they reflect beautifully in the water, creating a magical scene. Because there is such a diverse amount of plants, the colors range across the fall color spectrum.
There are 7.75-miles of trails for hiking only. The trails vary in length and difficulty featuring wooden bridges and views of the lake. The 0.20-mile Dam Walkway is the shortest and easiest. It is also ADA accessible, making it perfect for the whole family.
If you want to walk your dog on a leash or ride a bike, you can enjoy the 1.05-mile Otter Creek Road route. No matter which trail you choose, you will be granted access to beautiful Tennessee fall foliage.
The park is also superb for wildlife viewing. Keep an eye out for owls, herons, mink, otters, and turtles.
Burgess Falls State Park
Found on the Falling Water River, Burgess Falls State Park is one of the best things to do in Tennessee in October. As the leaves change and the air turns crisp, you will have a great time hiking along the river.
There are four waterfalls here that are gorgeous when paired with the fall colors of Tennessee. The biggest is Burgess Falls which cascades over a cliff for 130 feet. This is one of the best waterfalls in Tennessee! While in fall it is too chilly for swimming, the pool formed at the base of the falls is a great place for a dip in the heat of summer.
The River Trail is 1.6 miles out and back. While it is rated difficult because of the many inclines, it is worth the trek for the amazing views of the waterfalls.
We hope this article helped you find things to do in Tennessee in September and October! Fall is truly a wonderful time of year to visit Tennessee for nature lovers and adventure-seekers alike. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing mountain getaway or an exciting vacation, Tennessee has an unforgettable trip waiting for you!