Fall is many people’s favorite time of the year, and with good reason. There is usually a lot of sun, the air is crisp and clear and changing leaves paint the landscape beautiful hues of red, yellow, orange and even purple. Those that live in the state know that Tennessee has some of the most beautiful fall landscapes in the world. The peak time to see leaves starts now: mid to late October in east Tennessee, early November for middle Tennessee and mid to late November for western Tennessee. We’ve made a list of our favorite places to experience the state’s beautiful autumn colors. Here are the top five: one for each weekend between now and Thanksgiving.
- Spend the night in the Great Smoky Mountains- Always a place of stunning natural beauty, the Great Smoky Mountains are arguably at their most spectacular in October when the leaves are peaking . Something most people don’t realize about Great Smoky Mountains National Park is that it covers such a large area of land there is always somewhere at peak or near peak. The Park mountain ranges have elevations from just over 875 feet to 6,643 feet, so you’re bound to be rewarded with a firework-like display of autumn color anytime this month. If you’re an avid hiker, a truly memorable experience is to stay in the Park itself, at the atmospheric LeConte Lodge. It is located at the top of the third highest peak in the Park, which boasts an elevation of 6,360 feet. Although under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, it actually pre-dates the Park. It was founded in 1926 by a man from Gatlinburg who was married at the lodge in a sunrise service. Although you have to hike to get there, you’ll be able to see the full spectrum of fall colors as you ascend to the peak. The sunrise view is indeed glorious. If you are looking for accommodations with easier access, there are literally thousands of places in the surrounding area. A quick Google search will yield ample results in your price range and comfort zone.
- Take a river cruise- Not only are river banks lined with beautiful trees, but seeing them mirrored in the water of the river itself is breathtaking. A very special option for viewing fall leaves is to take a cruise on The Southern Belle. This 450 passenger boat was built in 1985, in the spirit of the elegant old riverboats that ran passengers up and down our nation’s waterways. The Southern Belle runs special Fall Foliage Cruises. These three hour cruises depart from Pier 2 in Chattanooga and travel to The River Gorge- also known as The Grand Canyon of the South. They also feature live music, a traditional Southern buffet and other entertainment.
- Take a hike in the Cumberland State Recreation Area- South Cumberland State Park is a state park in the middle and southeast portions of Tennessee on the Cumberland Plateau. The park is one of Tennessee’s newer state parks. Perched at the top of Monteagle, it contains a system of day hike trails that span four counties. Its highlight is The Fiery Gizzard Trail. This is a 12.5 mile long one-way trail that connects the Grundy Forest and Foster Falls. Aside from the stunning fall color, you can also see spectacular rock formations, cascading streams, sparkling waterfalls and rocky gorges. The views of the fall foliage from the panoramic overlooks are some of the loveliest in the US. In fact, this trail has been rated by Backpacker magazine as one of the Top 25 in the country.
- Ride on a 1950’s era train- Beginning at the Tennessee Central Railway Museum in Nashville, you can take a relaxing ride through Tennessee’s beautiful fall foliage. The museum operates a special Super Fall Foliage Trip along the old Nashville & Eastern Railroad. These are ten hour round trips (the train goes as far as Cookeville) designed to maximize both foliage viewing and personal comfort. We’re told that the best seats for seeing the leaves are in the dome cars.
- Enjoy Sunday brunch and then a Fall Foliage Paddle down the Duck River-Imagine having an elegant Sunday brunch in the scenic atmosphere of an old grist mill, dating from 1825. According to the event’s website, “As early as 1825 grain traveled across the mill stones at Cortner Mill on its way to feed the community. The mill stones are now embedded in the threshold of the front door and the community travels across them on their way to be fed. Corn meal and flour have given way to elegant country dining.” Following the meal, the boats are launched boats from the Cortner Mill property and paddle to either 3 Forks Bridge (5.1 miles) or Mullins Bridge (10.6) miles down the scenic Duck River (weather dependent). It’s a wonderful way to work-off brunch in the serenity of clear water and quietly changing leaves.
No matter which you chose: big boat, little boat, train, automobile or your own feet, we hope you find the time to get out and enjoy one, or all, of these beautiful trips.
Here are some helpful links if you want to plan one or more of these trips:
Southern Belle River Cruise:
South Cumberland Hiking:
Mill Brunch and Duck Paddle: