The Smokies are a great place to view fall color and hike! The mix of Maple, Oak, Birch, Beech, and Pine trees create postcard scenery and a diverse pallet of yellows, reds, and orange glowing foliage (reaching peak color around the 3rd week of Oct). That can change from year to year based on weather.
Unfortunately, this area can remind you of rush hour in LA. Others have discovered my secret. Tips on how to navigate around, and see the great stuff while avoiding the crowds: Let’s start with a map.
Most viewing/hiking in the park is centered around Cades Cove (& surroundings), the Foothills Parkway, and the Rt 441 corridor (which is a very target-rich environment). If you’re doing a week trip, the best place to stay for the first two days is in Townsend, a charming small town with excellent lodging, some solid restaurants, and few crowds.
The bulk of the epic views & hiking however is off of RT 441 and Gatlinburg is closer (saving you an hour of driving each way). Sadly, Gatlinburg is like the Wisc Dells on steroids. My compromise is to stay a few minutes North of the town (Gatlinburg Falls resort/cabins) and visit the local restaurants North of the City. Ergo stay out of the downtown!
The other key point: hit the trails early (like at sunrise). That way you’ll completely avoid the traffic and crowds on the trails. Leave late morning and you’re asking for a beating.
Time to hop aboard the Snitz tour bus. Let’s start with Cades Cove. This can be crowded with cars (avoid weekends) but offers some great wildlife viewing, cool frontier cabins and the popular Abrams Falls hike. This little guy was being protected under the watchfull eye of his mom at the tree’s base.
A nearby suitor waiting to put the moves on Mama Bear.
Some of the structures in Cades cover are almost 200 years old.
Next stop, the Foothills Parkway which has some fun hikes and pull outs featuring great views ot the valley floor. Fog builds up on particularly cold mornings provide great ops for sunrise imagery.
About 20 minutes from Cades Cove is the Lynn Camp, Middle Prong trail. One of my fav hikes in the park, the first several miles follow a colorful gorge with lots of rapids and small waterfalls.
As I mentioned the 441 corridor features some fantastic views (Newfound Gap, Clingman’s Dome) and epic hiking (Alum Cave to Mt Leconte, Chimney Tops).
Toward the end of 441 lies the town of Cherokee and the Oconaluftee Nature Center. A great place to hike along the river and if your lucky see herds of Elk.
Closer to Gatlinburg is the Roaring Fork Nature Trail Road which also features some impressive views.
I couldn’t resist launching the Spritzler Drone from this winding trail to capture the crazy canopy of color from 1200 ft up.
Lot’s more photos to view. Click the link for my full gallery!