Autumn Colors in the Smokies

Take a virtual tour through Great Smoky Mountains National Park during peak leaf-peeping season.

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Photo By: Clint Shannon

Photo By: Clint Shannon

Photo By: Clint Shannon

Photo By: Clint Shannon

Photo By: Clint Shannon

Photo By: Clint Shannon

Photo By: Clint Shannon

Photo By: Clint Shannon

Photo By: Clint Shannon

Photo By: Clint Shannon

Sunrise at Cades Cove

For those willing to brave a crowd, Cades Cove is a must-see during the fall. Cars begin lining up at the loop road entrance as early as an hour and a half before the gate opens, so check the opening time while planning your visit. To get a jump on the crowds, some visitors bike the loop road and start before the loop opens to cars.

John Oliver Place

John Oliver Cabin, located roughly one mile from the loop road entrance, is one of the oldest structures in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. John and Lucretia Oliver built the cabin in the 1820s as the first European settlers in the area.

Abrams Falls

Abrams Falls is possibly the most popular trail in Cades Cove. This moderate 5.2-mile hike leads to a gorgeous waterfall where visitors often swim in warmer months. In the fall, shades of yellow and orange envelop the stream while hikers rest and enjoy the cooler weather. Just don’t be late to this trailhead, as it becomes crowded by 9 a.m.

Bear Crossing at Abrams Creek

Cades Cove is well known for its abundance of black bears. Visitors may spot them from the loop road or occasionally find one on a trail. This bear crossed the Abrams Falls Trail about 50 feet in front of me before ambling downhill to the stream where it sat down in the water. After a few minutes, it stood up and disappeared into the brush on the opposite side.

Alum Cave Trail Bridge

Alum Cave Trail begins its ascent by winding alongside Alum Cave Creek through stands of autumn-adorned trees. We hiked 2.2 miles one way to this trail's namesake cave, but hikers can also continue all the way to Mount LeConte.

Alum Cave Creek

Alum Cave Creek flows down a steep slope early on the trail. Hikers are especially rewarded in the fall by mixtures of yellow and orange that surround the rushing water.

Alum Cave Trail Vista

As we approach Alum Cave, the autumn-spotted valley stretches before us at various bends along the trail. Combinations of temperate mixed forest and rocky outcrops create variety and contrast in a picturesque landscape. Using the foliage tracker, you can plan your visit around peak leaf change.

Alum Cave

Alum Cave towers above the trail, shading the area beneath and creating the perfect spot for an afternoon trail picnic.

Charlies Bunion Vista

Charlies Bunion is my favorite trail in the Smokies. This challenging 8.1-mile hike features steep uphill portions, ridge sections and a wonderful payoff at the top. The bunion is a prime photo location with the entire valley as a background. What better time to tackle this trail than the fall?

Charlies Bunion Foliage

Don't forget to turn around at the top of Charlies Bunion and enjoy every direction. For anyone wanting to catch these views at sunrise or sunset, I suggest an overnight hike to the nearby Icewater Springs Shelter, located about one mile down trail from the bunion.

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