8 Prettiest Places in Tennessee for Fall Color
We might be known for our hot, humid summers and less-than-frosty winters, but don’t be mistaken: Southerners are privy to autumn seasons so colorful and crisp you’d be sad to miss it. Down here, you’ll find mountain vistas bursting with bright orange, yellow, and red—and many of these awe-inspiring autumn sights can be found right in the rolling ranges of the Smokies.
In fact, according to the National Park Service, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is by far the most visited one in the entire National Park System. Don’t let autumn give way to winter without putting “Rocky Top” on the radio, and heading up to Tennessee to get your fill of fall color. Here are the 8 prettiest spots to see Tennessee’s stunning fall foliage.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Straddling the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, this national park is famous for its fall color—and there are plenty of places to hit. Clingmans Dome, one of its most popular spots, offers a 360-degree view of the Smokies. If you’re there during peak color change, it should be your first stop. Cades Cove and Cataloochee Valley (where elk roam free) also boast scenic hikes worth hitting.
Want something less strenuous? Newfound Gap Road lets you catch all of the fall color from your car. (Fun fact: It’s also where former president Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered his speech during the grand opening of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.)
Tellico Plains, Tennessee
This self-dubbed “vintage mountain town” is just the place to call home base for the weekend. From there, hit the Cherohala Skyway, which ventures 23 miles into the deeply forested back country of Tennessee, connecting Tellico Plains, Tennessee, to Robbinsville, North Carolina. The tiny town sits right in the foothills of the Smokies and offers close access to the bright fall foliage within the Cherokee National Forest, as well.
Natchez Trace State Parkway
Stop by historic middle Tennessee town, Franklin, for fall festivities (like its annual Pumpkinfest) before hitting the Parkway. Get your fall color photos off the 200-foot-tall Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge that stands above the valley. Within Natchez Trace State Park, you’ll find a beautiful display of brightly hued trees reflected over the waters of Pin Oak Lake. Rent a kayak, and get paddling!
Chattanooga pairs your fall foliage adventure with all the creature comforts of a quirky mountain city. Explore by foot, bike, train, boat, or even Segway—from downtown to Lookout Mountain, it’s full of fall color. Our personal favorite excursion: cuising the Tennessee River on the Southern Belle Riverboat, which hosts “fall color cruises” throughout the season. From there, make sure to catch breathtaking vista views from Signal Point, Sunset Rock, or Raccoon Mountain.
Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park
Cross two things off your fall bucket list: fall color and famous barbecue. This state park is located only about 13 miles north of Memphis, which means you’ll have time to hit one of our South’s Best barbecue joints, Central BBQ. The Tennessee park also borders the Mississippi River and offers more than 20 miles of trails, as well as vacation rentals and activities along the shore of Poplar Tree Lake.
Don’t forget about this colorful alpine village. In town, you’ll find plenty of distractions: The Village Shops, moonshine counters, and wine tastings. But we’re after one thing, and that’s fall foliage. For that, take the SkyLift and walk the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America, the SkyBridge. You’ll be overlooking Gatlinburg and the Smokies in one fell swoop.
Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area
With its 125,000 acres of land along the Cumberland Plateau, this spot is a dream to see in autumn. Explore the sights by saddling up and hitting over 200 miles of horse trails. If you’re more into old-school mountain wandering, the hiking trails offer plenty of opportunities to catch fall color in action—or with your camera! You might stumble upon natural wonders, like the Twin Arches (via the Twin Arches Loop Trail).
It might be known as the birthplace of country music and NASCAR, but Bristol has even more things to talk about. How about a rainbow of fall color for your consideration? The town straddles the line between Tennessee and Virginia, putting it right in the Appalachian foothills with access to the Cherokee National Forest. Hop on the Appalachian Trail for a spell, and take in the sights. But don’t leave before listening to live music back in town.