Autumn is finally here and we know what that means – gorgeous fall colors! Now that the fall equinox has passed, it is officially fall in the Great Smoky Mountains.  So, while temperatures begin to cool, there’s a few things everyone needs to know to help them plan the perfect fall getaway.

Beginning in late September, the leaves in the higher elevations begin to change and like a waterfall cascading down the mountain will continue to change to the lower valleys as the days progress through the month of October.  Typically, the middle two weeks of October are peak in the mountains, Pigeon Forge has brilliant colors typically through the end of the month.

Here are a few places that we recommend visitors go now to see the leaves before the peak of the season comes.

Newfound Gap Road

There is no questioning Newfound Gap Road’s popularity throughout the fall season, however for visitors traveling to the Smoky Mountains in mid-fall it is key to point out that you can still drive along this road and see some of the leaves changing colors at one of the many overlook stops. While driving on this Smoky Mountain driving trail, be sure to stop and see the Franklin D. Roosevelt and John D. Rockefeller, Jr., memorial on the Tennessee-North Carolina state line.

Clingmans Dome

Clingmans Dome is the tallest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. From its observation deck, visitors can see upwards of 100 miles away on a clear day. Thanks to the high elevation that this deck has, Clingmans Dome is one of the first places guests can go to see the Smoky Mountains fall colors begin to change.

Cades Cove

Cades Cove is hands down one of the most popular areas in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. An area that is known for its beauty year round, we encourage guests to drive the loop road when the leaves are at their peak. If you want to capture the true majestic beauty of the Smoky Mountains fall colors, you will see them from Cades Cove.

Wears Valley

The peaceful mountain hideaway located between Pigeon Forge and Townsend, the Wears Valley area of the Smoky Mountains is a great place for families to go who are looking to a relaxing retreat from the hustle and bustle. This area is best-known for it’s rolling mountain view and quiet nature.

Millions of annual visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains and the neighboring, popular tourist destinations of Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and Sevierville know one thing for sure:  The Smoky Mountains offer some of the best scenic drives in the U.S.

Cades Cove Scenic Loop

At the top of our list of best scenic drives in the Smokies is Cades Cove.  Featuring a one-way, 11-mile loop around a spectacular, picturesque valley full of natural and wildlife, Cades Cove is chock full of things to see and experience unlike anywhere else on the planet.  Surrounded by mountains, Cades Cove offers rare wildlife viewing opportunities, including white-tail deer, black bear, coyotes, ground hogs, turkeys, raccoon, and more.

Along the drive through Cades Cove, sightseers will also come across some of the historical structures – log homes, churches, barns – that were left by the area’s early settlers after the National Park was formed and their homeland purchased.  Many of these structures are open to the public.

In addition to exploring the historical buildings, there are many places to pull off the side of the road or park to take in the great outdoors.  Many visitors take picnic baskets while others make a day of it and go for a hike on one of the park’s trails.  Abrams Falls is one of the best.

Traffic during the peak months of the year, including summer and fall, can make driving the loop a little slow and leisurely, so it’s best to allow at least 2-3 hours to tour the entire 11-mile loop.  There are a couple shortcut roads to shorten the trip, though, for those who want to limit their time a little.

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

Named after a beautiful mountain stream, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a short, easy-to-get-to drive for anyone vacationing in the Smokies.  Just a short drive from downtown Gatlinburg, this 5.5-mile one-way loop road is a favorite by many visiting the area.  Along the scenic drive, visitors enjoy coming across rushing mountain streams, old log cabins from original settlers, like the Ogles, and, of course, native wildlife.

Another reason people choose to drive Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail it to access the trailhead for Rainbow Falls, which is one of the most popular waterfalls and trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.