Best Viewpoints for Fall Colors in the Smoky Mountains
Fall is here, and that means it’s time to enjoy the spectacular display of nature’s colors in the Great Smoky Mountains. The landscape transforms into a canvas of vibrant hues, with trees adorned in shades of auburn, crimson and gold that make for a truly breathtaking image. It’s a time when the Smoky Mountain landscape seems to don its finest attire, and witnessing the transformation is an experience like no other.
In this guide, we’ll take you on a journey to some of the best viewpoints for admiring the full glory of fall colors in the Smoky Mountains. We understand that every traveler is unique, so we’ve curated a list that includes both hiking and non-hiking options to explore. Whether you’re a fearless adventurer or prefer a more relaxed approach, these viewpoints promise unforgettable vistas of the Smokies in fall.
If you’re up for a physical challenge, you can hike to some of the highest and most scenic points in the park. Not all these hikes are for the faint of heart, but they will reward you with some stunning views of cascading colors of fall enveloping the mountains and valleys. Here are some of the best hikes for fall colors in the Smokies:
Mount LeConte Mount LeConte stands tall as one of the most iconic peaks in the Smoky Mountains. The hike, to reach the summit, is a difficult but rewarding one that will lead you pass waterfalls, rock formations, and diverse flora and fauna as you ascend. There are several trails that lead to the summit, ranging from 5.5 to 8.9 miles one way. The Alum Cave Trail is one of the most popular routes in the park, covering over eleven miles round trip and 2,700 feet in elevation – making it a trek for only the most dedicated outdoor enthusiasts. The allure of Mount LeConte lies not only in its breathtaking views once you reach your destination but also the beautiful and diverse ecosystem you climb the mountainside. The real reward, however, awaits you at the top—a panoramic view, surrounded by the warm colors of autumn, that will take your breath away. This hike is ranked as being moderately difficult to very difficult depending on your physical prowess and can take anywhere from seven to ten hours to complete. Be sure to prepare properly and show up early in order to grab a parking space located at the trailhead!
Mt. Cammerer Trail
If you’re an experienced hiker seeking a thrilling venture, the Mt. Cammerer Trail should be on your list. This very challenging hike will take you on two trails known for their extreme difficulty, the Low Gap and Appalachian trails, spanning over 11 miles and 3,000 feet in elevation round trip. The reward for your efforts, however, is the Mount Cammerer fire tower. Perched atop the 4,928-foot mountain, this vantage point offers breathtaking 360-degree views of the park and beyond. It’s a challenging hike that promises a view of the Smokey Mountain fall colors like none other. Plan for a full day and don’t forget to pack your camera, binoculars and a flashlight for the journey back.
Look Rock Tower Trail For those who prefer a more leisurely hike, the Look Rock Tower Trail is an excellent choice. Located just an hour outside Pigeon Forge, this trail is easily accessible and suitable for a wide range of visitors. The trail is only 0.9 miles round trip, and it has a paved surface and gentle slopes, making it an excellent choice for parties of varying mobility. After a short ascent, you’ll reach the top of Look Rock Tower that offers bird’s-eye views of the western part of the park, as well as the Tennessee Valley and the Cumberland Plateau, adorned in their fall splendor. You can also see Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the park, from here (and the next destination on our list). And due its lesser-known status, it’s the perfect destination for a serene escape into nature.
Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Smoky Mountains, is a must-visit for any visitor to the park (regardless of the time of year), even those who aren’t avid hikers. And the best part? You don’t even need to embark on a long trek to soak in that fall beauty if you’re not feeling up to the mile-long hike! After a scenic drive leads you to the parking area, you’ll find yourself immersed in dazzling autumn foliage before you even begin your trek. The vistas from the parking lot are nothing short of spectacular on their own, but for an even better experience, head up to the viewpoint to enjoy the highest vantage point in the state. Will views that can span up to 100-miles on a clear day, Clingmans Dome is an ideal spot to capture the essence of the Smoky Mountains during the fall.
No Hiking Required
If you prefer to enjoy the fall colors without breaking a sweat, then do not fret, you can instead drive to some more accessible yet still stunning viewpoints in the park. These spots offer amazing views of the park and its surroundings, without requiring any hiking. Here are some of the best easy-to-reach vantage points for fall colors in the Smokies:
Cades Cove is a unique gem in the Smoky Mountains. It’s one of the last places in the region to don its fall colors, thanks to its lower elevation. This means you can experience autumn’s full spectrum even when other areas have already peaked. Nestled in the embrace of the mountains, Cades Cove offers a distinctive perspective on the seasonal transformation from one season to the next. Witness the valley’s lush greenery turn into a fiery palette of reds and golds while exploring the vestiges of a time long past. Plan a trip for late October or early November to partake in the ideal timeframe for viewing the vibrant fall foliage.
Newfound Gap Newfound Gap is another remarkable viewpoint that doesn’t require any hiking. Situated on the Tennessee-North Carolina border, it’s a popular spot for taking in the fall colors, and for good reason. The views from here are spectacular, as you can see both sides of the park and several mountain ranges. All you need to do is park your car and step out to enjoy the stunning vistas, though keep in mind that the higher elevation means the weather can be cooler, so dress accordingly.
For those willing to pay a fee, the Gatlinburg SkyPark is an attraction that offers unrivaled views of the Smokies and surrounding region. The star of the show is the nearly 700-foot SkyBridge, making it the longest pedestrian suspension bridge on the continent, and the panoramas it provides are worth every penny. As you stroll along the bridge, you’ll be treated to unobstructed views of the bustling mountain community and vibrant forest below. It’s an opportunity to appreciate the grandeur of the Smoky Mountains in all its fall splendor. Though there is an admission cost to enter the SkyPark, it also includes access to other attractions such as a SkyDeck, a SkyCenter, and a SkyTrail, making for a whole afternoon of fun and breathtaking sights.
Your Parkside Cabin While exploring these viewpoints is a fantastic adventure, there’s something to be said for experiencing the fall colors from the comfort of your own private luxury cabin. When you stay at Parkside Resort, you have the ability of doing just that. Imagine curling up in a rocking chair and sipping on locally-made wine on your private deck while the canopy of trees, drenched in a sea of auburn, crimson, and gold, shimmer around you. Your Parkside cabin offers the perfect vantage point for gazing at the Smoky Mountain fall colors while providing all the comforts of home and more. Enjoy a soothing soak in your cabin’s hot tub or cook your loved ones a delicious meal on the outdoor grill, as you are immersed in the mesmerizing beauty of the Smoky Mountains in fall. It’s the epitome of an autumn retreat.
Plan An Autumn Adventure
The Great Smoky Mountains in the fall are a natural wonder that everyone should experience. Whether you’re an adventurous hiker or prefer to take in the views without breaking a sweat, these viewpoints offer something for everyone. As you plan your visit to the Smoky Mountains, make sure to include one or more of these spots in your itinerary. Witnessing the vibrant fall colors of the region is an experience that will leave you with lasting memories. So what are you waiting for? Pack your bags, reserve your cabin and get ready for a colorful fall-time adventure in the Smokies!