September 11, 2023
The Smoky Mountains are beautiful all year long, but they are especially breathtaking in the fall when the mountains come alive with vibrant yellows, oranges, and reds. There are a lot of great ways to enjoy the Smoky Mountain fall foliage, but one of the best ways is on a scenic drive. Here are some of the best scenic drives in the Smokies to enjoy the colors of fall this season.
Newfound Gap Road, or Highway 441, is one of the first places where you can see Smoky Mountain fall foliage. This scenic drive starts at an elevation of 1,289 feet near Gatlinburg and climbs to 5,046 feet at Newfound Gap, then continues on toward Cherokee, NC. Even though this road is the lowest drivable pass through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the high elevation of Newfound Gap means it’s one of the first places that experiences temperatures cool enough to make the leaves start to change colors. As you drive along this road, you’ll be surrounded by colorful fall foliage and have the chance to see gorgeous views of the Smoky Mountains.
The Foothills Parkways covers a total of 33 miles and offers incredible views of mountain scenery. In the fall, you will have the opportunity to see brilliant fall colors all along the road and spread across the mountains. There are plenty of pull-offs and overlooks along this scenic drive where you can stop to take in the breathtaking Smoky Mountain fall foliage and breathe in the crisp autumn air. There are a few different stretches of the Foothills Parkway, including the southernmost 17 miles from US 129 at Chilhowee Lake to US 321 at Walland, the 17 miles from US 321 in Walland to Wears Valley, and the northern section of 5.6 miles from I-40 South to US 321 near Cosby.
Cades Cove Loop Road is a popular scenic drive in the Smoky Mountains. This scenic drive is typically open from sunrise to sunset, and it’s a great way to see mountain scenery, wildlife, and historic structures. In the fall, you will be surrounded by Smoky Mountain fall foliage throughout the drive. From the valley you will be able to enjoy views of the mountains covered in fall colors. Cades Cove Loop Road is an 11-mile one-way scenic drive that also offers access to a number of hiking trails if you’d like to get out to explore the fall scenery on foot.
Just outside of downtown Gatlinburg is another popular scenic drive, the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. This one-way road is six miles long and offers fantastic views of waterfalls, streams, and forests, including Smoky Mountain fall foliage during the fall. You also might get the chance to see some wildlife during the drive. You’ll pass through the woods surrounded by trees with colorful fall leaves. Also along this scenic drive are lots of hiking trails plus log cabins to explore if you want to get out to enjoy the fresh fall air. One of the best things about the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is how easy it is to get to. From downtown Gatlinburg just turn at traffic light #8 and follow the road to the nature trail.
The highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Clingmans Dome, and Clingmans Dome Road that leads to it is a great scenic drive in the fall. You can find Clingmans Dome Road from Newfound Gap Road. This road is only 7 miles long and brings you up to a parking lot. You can get out to enjoy beautiful views of the mountains and Smoky Mountain fall foliage from the highest point in the park. If you walk up the half-mile trail to the observation tower, you’ll get to see 360-degree views of the surrounding landscape. However, even if you stay in your vehicle, you will still get to see some of the best views around. Because this is the tallest point, this is where the leaves change color first, making it a great spot to see fall colors at the beginning of the season.
These are some of the best scenic drives to see gorgeous Smoky Mountain fall foliage. If you want to know more places to go to enjoy the fall scenery, check out these best places to see the fall colors in the Smoky Mountains. No matter where you go, you’re sure to find beautiful sights! Make sure you bring your camera to capture it all!