Why are fall colors so remarkable in the Smokies? One reason is the area’s amazing diversity of trees. Some 100 species of native trees live in the Smokies and the vast majority of these are deciduous.
How do colors change? As summer ends, the green pigments in leaves deteriorate, giving other colors a chance to shine. Carotenoids, the pigment that makes carrots orange and leaves yellow, are exposed as the green fades. Reds and purples come from anthocyanins, a pigment that is formed when sugars in leaves break down in bright autumn sunlight.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park usually experiences an autumn leaf season of several weeks as fall colors travel down the mountainsides from high elevation to low. However, the timing of fall color change depends upon so many variables (including rainfall) that the exact dates of peak fall foliage color each year are impossible to predict in advance.
Elevation profoundly affects when fall colors change in the park. At higher elevations, where the climate is similar to New England’s, leaves begin to change as early as mid-September with the turning of yellow birch, American beech, mountain maple, hobblebush (above right) & pin cherry.
From early to mid-October, fall colors develop above 4,000 feet. To enjoy them, drive the Clingman’s Dome Road, the Blue Ridge Parkway (right), or the Foothills Parkway. The fall color display usually reaches peak at mid and lower elevations between mid-October and early November. This is the park’s most spectacular display as it includes such colorful trees as sugar maple, scarlet oak, sweetgum, red maple, and the hickories.
Autumn is both a beautiful and a busy time in the Great Smoky Mountains. The annual show of fall colors attracts huge numbers of sightseers, especially during the last three weeks of October. Areas in the park which experience the longest traffic delays are Cades Cove (see book pictured left) & Newfound Gap Road. Try some of these less crowded autumn hikes & drives:
- Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, a narrow, steep, but paved one-way road that winds through rich forests and offers glimpses of rollicking Roaring Fork creek. As the name implies, this road is designed for leisurely travel and enjoyment of nature.
- Blue Ridge Parkway follows the crest of the mountains for 469 miles, all the way to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Frequent auto pullouts along the first few miles provide spectacular views of the Smoky Mountains in all their autumn finery.
- Balsam Mountain Road offers intimate views of northern hardwood forest at the top, transitioning to cove and southern hardwoods toward the bottom. The road eventually leaves the park and enters the Cherokee Indian Reservation.
- Chipmunk Haven– This is a cute, private log cabin with a view, a rare find! Chipmunk Haven has 2 bedrooms and 2 baths, an outdoor hot tub, an indoor whirlpool tub, and is located just 3 miles from the downtown Parkway in Gatlinburg.
- At Trail’s End– This luxurious cabin is located in a peaceful setting off the beaten path
- Almost Heaven – This 2 bedroom, 2 bath cabin is located minutes from the National Park. You can enjoy the fall color from your hot tub or porch –no hiking necessary.
- Winfield Heights – From a spa-like couples getaway to a family-fun vacation, the cabins of Winfield Heights offer you and yours deluxe accommodations and amenities–in-room whirlpools, outdoor hot tubs, pool tables & fireplaces. Enjoy both a mountain view AND a downtown city view!
Special thanks to the Smokies Guide, the official newspaper of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as well as www.nps.gov/grsm for providing the fall color update information.
This blog is sponsored by ERA In The Smokies Realty and Rentals located at 207 Parkway in Gatlinburg. For more info. on a Gatlinburg Cabin for your Smoky Mountain Vacation or all the reasons to move to the Smokies, call 1-800-309-0277. ERA In The Smokies is a leader in chalet and Log Cabin Rentals and Real Estate Sales in the Gatlinburg area.