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Fall Color in the Great Smoky Mountains

Guests often ask us when is the best time to see the beautiful fall color in the Great Smoky Mountains.  Our honest answer:  “It depends”!  Fall color timing depends on a wide variety of variables, making peak times impossible to predict.

The fall color makes this one of the best times to be in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Many guests plan their trips hoping to see the fall color.

We do know, however, that the autumnal hues light up the landscape for as long as seven weeks each year.  The colors begin first in the higher elevations, then gradually move downward.  Adding to this extended show is the fact that the Smokies are home to more than 100 varieties of native trees, most of them deciduous.  

Most years the displays in the very highest elevations may be seen as early as mid-September, with colors visible from Clingman’s Dome Road.  The colors in the middle and lower elevations can peak anywhere from mid-October through mid-November.  According to http://www.gatlinburg.com/event/autumn-color-in-the-smokies, visitors can expect to enjoy beautiful colors from sugar maples, scarlet oak, sweet gum trees, red maples, and the hickories.

What Causes the Fall Color Change?

Cooler temperatures and longer nights cause the green pigment in the leaves to deteriorate.  Carotenoids, the pigments that makes the leaves yellow (and carrots orange!) become more prominent.  Red and purple colors come from anthocyanins.  This pigments are formed when leaf sugars break down in bright sunlight.

We recommend the Roaring Forks Motor Nature Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway as being especially scenic drives this time of year.  The National Park Service http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/fall-suggestions recommends the following fall hikes:  Appalachian Trail, Inspiration Point on Alum Cave Trail, Oconaluftee River Trail, Look Rock Tower, and Sutton Ridge Overlook.

Whether you have made your Great Smoky Mountain trip plans for this year, or are looking forward to 2018, remember that the fall color season typically lasts from mid-September through early November.  This is a busy time of year, so we advise making your travel plans far in advance.  Feel free to check with us at the Buckhorn Inn periodically–we sometimes have cancellations and then you can book accommodation with short lead times.  Our dining room fills up quickly this time of year, so we encourage you to make your dinner reservations early.  And don’t forget that Buckhorn Inn guests can pre-order hearty sack lunches to enjoy on a scenic drive or beautiful hike.

Happy fall!