Autumn Glory: Where to See Fall Foliage in Tennessee
Fall foliage in Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
Photos for media use only found here.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Sept. 19, 2023) – Every fall, Tennessee’s landscapes burst into life with vivid greens, fiery reds, warming oranges and bright yellows. According to the Farmer's Almanac 2023, the state will see peak colors Oct. 12-28. Below, discover where to see incredible fall colors in Tennessee for the 2023 season, plus some bonus autumn experiences travelers will love.
The Greatest: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The nation’s most visited national park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is beautiful year-round. It’s especially beautiful in the fall, when temperatures cool down and a kaleidoscope of warm red, gold and orange blankets the region. The park’s 800 miles of trails offer beautiful panoramas and vistas that show off fall’s colorful tapestry of changing leaves. To get way above it all, the Clingman's Dome observation tower offers panoramic views. At a whopping 6,643 ft. above sea level, the foliage change will literally be beneath your feet.
- Bonus Fall Experience: Take a ride on the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway for a breathtaking view of the Smoky Mountains. This two-mile ride to the Ober Mountain Adventure Park & Ski Area provides aerial photo opportunities for fall.
A Colorful Cruise: The Southern Belle Riverboat
In Chattanooga, see a brilliant display of fall colors from the water on the Southern Belle Riverboat. The three-hour fall color ride travels down the Tennessee River to the River Gorge, nicknamed the Grand Canyon of Tennessee, for an amazing view of brightly colored foliage. It’s a fun journey, including live music and a delicious lunch.
- Bonus Fall Experience: Another exciting way to see the beautiful seasonal foliage lining the Tennessee River is by biking the 16-mile paved Riverwalk. Rent a bike through the Chattanooga Bicycle Transit System or bring your own and take the path down to the picturesque Bluff View Art District.
An Appalachian Autumn: Unicoi County
Nestled in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains and surrounded by Cherokee National Forest, Unicoi County offers autumn outdoor adventurers more than 50 miles of Appalachian Trail, eight waterfalls, Rocky Fork State Park, and dozens of walking and hiking trails. A few favorite spots for leaf peeping include the aptly named Beauty Spot (crowned as a “best sunset hike” recently by Travel and Leisure), Pinnacle Mountain Fire Tower and Nolichucky Ridge Cliff.
- Bonus Fall Experience: The Unicoi County Apple Festival, held during the first Friday and Saturday of October each year, is a celebration of heritage, Southern Appalachian culture and history, offering more than 350 food and craft vendors, live entertainment and much more.
Urban Oasis: Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park
The Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park, one of Nashville’s most popular attractions year-round, is a beautiful spot to see some fall scenery right in the center of bustling downtown. The main lawn is lined with a variety of trees that come alive with color in late October. Want to add a little spookiness to your fall adventure this year? Visit the park on Oct. 27 and stick around after dark for an open-air showing of the chilling 1978 classic Halloween.
- Bonus Fall Experience: Blend foliage with fitness during the annual 7th President 7K Run, held every October at Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage in Nashville. The course takes runners through beautiful landscape of the grounds, which is ablaze with fall color.
Fall In Love: Fall Creek Falls State Park
Fall Creek Falls State Park offers 56 miles of hiking trails ranging in length and difficulty, with the most popular being the Fall Creek Falls Trail. This moderate loop trail is around two miles in length, taking hikers to the base of a 256-foot waterfall, the highest in Tennessee. In addition to Fall Creek Falls, other scenic waterfalls within the state park include Piney Falls, Cane Creek Falls and Cane Creek Cascades.
- Bonus Fall Experience: During Fall Creek Falls State Park’s Fall Colors Spooktacular (try saying that three times fast!), enjoy a weekend filled with foliage, boat rides, campsite decorating competitions, hayrides, campground trick-or-treating and more. This year’s event takes place on Oct. 20.
Leave No Trace: Natchez Trace State Park
Spanning more than 48,000 pristine acres in Middle Tennessee, Natchez Trace State Park is filled with trails to explore and snap photos of the changing leaves. For an on-the-water adventure, rent a kayak on Pin Oak Lake to see a stunning display of autumnal colors reflecting off the water. Mountain biking is also available during the fall, with 50+ miles of multi-use fire trails through colorful forests and meadows.
- Bonus Fall Experience: A historic roadway that winds its way through 444-miles of diverse landscapes, the Natchez Trace Parkway offers a tranquil journey through a wonderland of fall colors.
Reel Fall Beauty: Reelfoot Lake State Park
Located in the Northwest corner of Tennessee, Reelfoot Lake State Park is known for its serene beauty and cypress-studded waters. The park offers fall color pontoon cruises on the weekends during October and November. See the changing leaves and water birds on a two-hour tour with an experienced naturalist. Tour guides will share their knowledge of the area’s history and ecology while helping guests find the best photo ops for fall foliage.
- Bonus Fall Experience: Fall at Reelfoot is a great time to see some seriously big birds — the White Pelican, to be exact, with a wingspan of up to nine feet! The park’s annual Pelican Festival (Oct. 20-22, 2023) offers up-close encounters with these majestic creatures as they make their way south for the winter.
Autumn Blossoms: The Memphis Botanic Garden
The flowers may bloom in the spring, but this spot is no less lovely when autumn rolls around. Celebrating its 70th year in 2023, the Memphis Botanic Garden is an absolutely gorgeous place for fall photo opportunities in West Tennessee. The 96 acres of gardens and trails have all kinds of trees displaying fall foliage in late October to early November (and some flowers are still in bloom, too!).
- Bonus Fall Experience: The sixth annual Mempho Music Festival is set to return to Radians Amphitheater at Memphis Botanic Garden Sept. 29-Oct. 1, featuring headliners The Black Crowes, My Morning Jacket and Turnpike Troubadours.
Forest Foliage: Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park
Just 15 miles outside Memphis, the Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park is the most visited state park in Tennessee, boasting 12,500+ acres of towering oak, tupelo and cypress forests, in addition to two lakes, a diverse wildlife population and wildflowers in bloom. The Chickasaw Bluffs Trail takes hikers on an eight-mile journey to Poplar Tree Lake, providing views of fall foliage along the water’s edge.
- Bonus Fall Experience: Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park is home to one of the largest and most beautiful disc golf courses in the Southeast. The 36-hole, wooded course is divided into two 18-hole courses that offer beginners and advanced players a fun (and challenging!) game.
Unique To Tennessee: There’s beauty for more to see. Those who are colorblind can take in the beauty with the first-ever Colorblind Viewfinders featuring innovative EnChroma® lenses installed at lookouts across the state. This special lens technology enables people with colorblindness to see a broader range of clear, vibrant colors.
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