September brings the season's first color to the Appalachian high country. As our cities bear the last of summer's steady heat, the ancient Great Smoky Mountains stir with the cool beginnings of autumnal glory.
Fall tiptoes in unexpectedly early around these forested peaks. Soft blankets of fog snuggle into the verdant valleys and coves, while a bracing chill taps the ridgelines. Even though autumn's peak color generally occurs from October 15 to November 3, trees growing above 4,000 feet often show off between mid-September and early October.
This is the ideal time to explore the mysteries of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Summer's crowds have left, and the hordes of leaf peepers have yet to arrive. On weekdays you may even have places to yourself.