There’s nothing quite like visiting Tennessee in the fall: gorgeous fall colors ripple across the Smoky Mountains, and the milder temperatures of the Southeast make enjoying that beauty more comfortable.
If you’re looking for the best fall foliage in Tennessee, you’re sure to find it at any of these 8 perfect fall destinations!
One of the most popular destinations within Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Cades Cove. The 11-mile one-way drive on Cades Cove Loop Road takes more than two hours on a normal day (but plan on longer if you go during peak fall color). The drive traverses historic settlements that include restored churches, cabins, mills, and more.
Throughout the drive you’ll be treated to a wide variety of flora and fauna, plus a few family-friendly activities along the way.
Bring your own food, though: this isn’t Gatlinburg, so you won’t find restaurants or other services along the drive.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
We can’t help but start with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, even if it feels a bit like cheating! It’s the most-visited national park, receiving more visitors each year than the Grand Canyon. It’s also huge, covering a sprawling 550,000+ acres across Tennessee and North Carolina.
It’s got a little bit of everything: hiking trails, biking trails, scenic drives, historic sites, waterfalls, lakes, rivers, caves—it’s all here.
The park is so large and so varied that the next three entries on the list are all inside it. Each of these is noteworthy on its own, or you could combine all of them into an epic fall road trip!
Newfound Gap Road
Speaking of gorgeous drives: Newfound Gap Road meanders 31 miles through the Great Smoky Mountains starting outside Gatlinburg and ending near Cherokee, North Carolina. It takes the lowest pass or gap through the mountain range, so you’ll be treated to walls of fall color the entire drive. Occasional vistas give more distant views.
Newfound Gap Road is more than just a drive, too: you’ll find several places to stop along the way. The Oconaluftee Visitor Center, down closer to Cherokee, has its own draw: historic buildings, blacksmith demonstrations, a walk along a beautiful stream, and a herd of elk (if you’re lucky). Hiking trails abound along the drive as well.
As with any tourist-heavy mountain drive, give yourself plenty of time (and expect some traffic) during peak season.
Another Smoky Mountain destination, Cataloochee Valley boasts historic structures, gorgeous fall color, free-roaming elk, and more.
The way into the valley is a narrow gravel road, so be prepared for a nearly off-road experience and consider visiting when it hasn’t been raining heavily.
Cherokee National Forest
At the eastern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cherokee National Forest extends the stunning vistas northeast through Tennessee and North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains. Cherokee offers similar experiences to its larger National Park sibling, but with much smaller crowds.
If you love to fish or camp—or just go for a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway—Cherokee National Forest is worth a visit.
Meeman-Shelby State Park
There’s beauty all over the state of Tennessee in the fall, not just in the Smokies! If you’re near Memphis, Meeman-Shelby State Park is a can’t-miss fall color destination. Along the Mississippi River, this state park is home to two lakes and wide swathes of beech, oak, and elm trees.
Translation: epic fall views all October long!
Chickamauga Lake, located in southeastern Tennessee, is a scenic reservoir known for its recreational opportunities and natural beauty. Formed by the Tennessee River, the lake stretches over 59 miles and covers approximately 36,000 acres. It’s a haven for boating, fishing, and water sports enthusiasts, offering ample opportunities to catch bass, crappie, and catfish. The surrounding parks and marinas provide access to the lake’s pristine waters, making it a popular destination for both locals and tourists seeking outdoor adventures in a tranquil setting. Chickamauga Lake’s rich history, as well as its modern amenities, make it a delightful destination for nature lovers and water enthusiasts alike.
Tennessee River Gorge and Prentiss Cooper State Forest
Chattanooga area foliage is easy to spot from numerous locations: you’ll find jaw-dropping views on Lookout Mountain’s “island in the sky,” Signal Mountain, and just about anywhere along the Tennessee River Gorge.
If you want to escape the city entirely, check out Prentice Cooper State Forest, a stellar hiking destination with over 35 miles of trails. Views from lookouts such as Snooper’s Rock give unencumbered vistas of fall foliage with little to no city in sight.
Natchez Trace Parkway
The Tennessee end of the Natchez Trace Parkway starts outside Nashville, and the 444-mile parkway winds its way southwest. It cuts through through the northwest corner of Alabama and then diagonally across all of Mississippi, terminating at the Natchez National Historic Place on the Mississippi River.
If you’re looking for fall color near Nashville, Tennessee, traveling a portion of the Natchez Trace Parkway is one of the most serene drives you’ll ever find. It’s also a protected cycling trail, so bring your bikes!
No matter where you visit in Tennessee this fall, you’ll find beautiful colors. These 8 destinations are some of the best of the bunch, providing intense fall color experiences in every corner of the state.