Fall Leaves in the Smoky Mountains!

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Hobblebush photo courtesy of Harvard ForestWhy 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.

Bring the family to see the leaves change!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. Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway!
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. Support the Park, buy the Cades Cove Story!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:

  • Check for current discounts!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.

There are no rental cabins located within the Great Smoky Mountain National Park; however, take a look at some of these cabins with phenomenal views:

  • Stay a week or Stay a lifetime!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!

ERA In The SmokiesSpecial 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.


Smoky Mountain Must-Sees

Subscribe to A Day In The SmokiesWhenever our guests come to town, they always ask about the best parts of the National Park to visit. Here are some sights accessible from Newfound Gap Rd that the Park recommends.

Newfound GapNewfound Gap
Newfound Gap runs almost exactly through the center of the Park and offers gorgeous views at little pull-offs all along the way! If you don’t have much time or energy, but are eager to experience some great views of the Park, this may be the path for you!

Alum Cave Bluffs
The Alum Cave Bluffs are 100 feet high, and have been in the past, the source of alum, a compound sulfate used in munitions manufacturing, in medicines, and in setting cloth dyes. They were also supposedly a source of saltpeter for Civil War gunpowder. The Alum Cave Bluffs Trail begins at Newfound Gap Rd between the Newfound Gap and Chimney Tops overlooks, and is a popular destination for day hikers. The trail is pretty strenuous at the end. It is 2.5 miles to the Bluffs, and 5 miles to Mount Le Conte.

Andrews Bald
A bald is an open, unforested area on a mountain ridge. Naturalists can’t explain for sure how they happen, but it could be due to overgrazing or repeated fires set by humans. Andrews Bald is the easiest bald to reach in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is located 1.8 miles south of Clingman’s Dome, by hiking trail. It has beautiful view, and the open fields, containing mainly grass and flowering shrubs, make it a nice picnic spot!

Charlies BunionCharlies Bunion
This is one of my husband’s personal favorites! He loves the views and it is the perfect day hike for him. He does it in a morning usually. In 1925, a forest fire swept through this section of the Park and exposed the ridge now know as Charlies Bunion, opening up sweeping views of Mount LeConte and Greenbrier. This trail is 4 miles one way.

Cherokee Orchard Road and Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
These roads include historical sites such as homesteads, cabins and a cemetery from a village that was home to about 24 families about 150 years ago! This is often hailed as a mini-Cades Cove, closer to Gatlinburg, a smaller loop, and usually less crowded, but still great for viewing wildlife and historic buildings! The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is closed in the winter.

Chimney Tops
In addition to the actual Chimney Tops Trail, the Chimney Tops picnic area, nearby, is in my opinion a destination of its own. It spreads along a beautiful mountain creek with tons of rocks to play on, and plenty of shallow spots to wade in! There are, of course, numerous picnic tables at which you can enjoy a meal. I have spent the whole day there before, reading, playing in the creek, and just generally relaxing and enjoying the lovely atmosphere! If you are interested in a little more action, continue down the road to the Chimney Tops Trail, and hike up to the Chimneys themselves on a strenuous four-mile round trip trail. This amazing rock formation is sheer pinnacles, looking somewhat like a couple of chimneys sticking up into the air. They said that when that blue mist rolls through the mountains, some of it goes in a cavity at the bottom of the formation and then rises out the open tops, looking very much like a smoking chimney!

Clingman's DomeClingman’s Dome
Clingman’s Dome is one of the most popular sites in the Smokies, and with good reason! It is the highest peak in the Smokies, at 6,643 feet, and though the top is covered with spruce and fir trees, there is an observation platform from which you can see a spectacular 360 degree view! The path to the observation platform is steep, but only a half-mile. Even the most out-of-shape person can make it! Just take frequent rests and bring plenty of water and a snack!

Mingus Mill
If you are interested in historical buildings, this is a great place to stop! One of two water-powered mills still in operation in the Park, from mid-April through October, a miller grinds corn and wheat to make cornmeal and flour. This attraction is wheelchair accessible.

Mount LeConte
Mount LeConte is considered one of the most beautiful mountain peaks to look at, and one of the most difficult to climb. It is a badge of honor to have climbed LeConte. I have a few friends who climb it at least a few times a year. My husband likes to go up there, and he usually ends up running most of the way down due to the steep grade! This is the third-highest peak in the Smokies, at 6,593 feet. Near the top, is LeConte Lodge, where some opt to stay the night and rest, and others stop for either a cool drink or a cup of hot cocoa or coffee, depending on the season. You will need to make reservations well in advance if you plan to stay at the Lodge overnight. There are no roads up to the Lodge, and all supplies are delivered by llama train! There are 5 different hiking trails on LeConte: Boulevard Trail via the Appalachian Trail starting at Newfound Gap. 16 miles round-trip; Alum Cave Trail at the Alum Cave parking lot on Newfound Gap Rd, 11 miles round-trip; Rainbow Falls Trail or Trillium Gap, each 13.4 miles round-trip; or Bull Head, 14.4 miles round-trip from Cherokee Orchard.

Mountain Farm MuseumMountain Farm Museum
Oconaluftee was settled around 1800, and is now home to Mountain Farm Museum, just a short walk from the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. The Museum replicates a 19th-century farm, including a house, barn, corncrib, sorghum molasses mill and blacksmith shop. From the spring through October, there are costumed interpretive demonstrations.

ERA In The SmokiesThis blog is sponsored in part by ERA In The Smokies Realty and Rentals located at 207 Parkway in Gatlinburg, TN. For more information 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.


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The 33-mile long Newfound Gap Road is the main automobile route through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Snow on Newfound Gap Road!

It crosses the crest of the Smoky Mountains at Newfound Gap to connect Gatlinburg and Cherokee.  Drive time is typically one hour.  Now that the rock slide on I-40 has blocked the interstate passage to Gatlinburg from east, the route from Cherokee has become even more important to visitors.

Newfound Gap Road was engineered in the 1930s specifically so motorists could optimally experience the spectacular mountain vistas and tremendous diversity of forest types for which the Great Smokies are famous.  The route was carefully constructed to blend in with the natural landscape and to take full advantage of the scenery.  Numerous pull-outs are located along the road, offering travelers views of the Great Smokies and adjacent mountain ranges.

Sign for "the pigtail" on Newfound Gap Road!At Newfound Gap, where the road reaches its highest point, temperatures are frequently 10 to 15 degrees cooler than in Cherokee or Gatlinburg. The higher elevations of the park also receive considerably more precipitation than the surrounding valleys.  Annually, Newfound Gap records over five feet of snow.  This combination of low temperatures and high precipitation results in periodic episodes of hazardous driving conditions from November to April.

For safety, the Park imposes certain restrictions driving when Newfound Gap and other roads are snow or ice covered.  Signs are posted at both ends of the road informing drivers of current restrictions.  For example:  Chains or 4WD Required, Chains Required, and Road Closed.

For current road and weather conditions, call (865)436-1200.  Extension 630 for Weather Conditions.  Extension 631 for Road Conditions.

For alternate routes, see the map below:

Click the map to see a larger version

Click on the map to see a larger version

ERA In The Smokies Realty & Rentals!Special thanks to the Smokies Guide, official newspaper of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, for providing the winter update.

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.