Fall in Tennessee is beautiful with oaks, maples, poplars and other hardwood trees transforming the landscape into a kaleidoscope of color.
Yellows, reds and oranges dot the countryside where a few short weeks ago varying shades of green prevailed. And in a few more weeks, the trees will be barren of color, hibernating through winter and preparing for a new year of growth.
“Fall foliage for Tennessee helps show the scenic beauty in the state in different parts of the state,” said Phyllis Qualls-Brooks from Tennessee State Department of Tourist Development. “You can get some beautiful scenes of nature this time of year and it helps you appreciate how beautiful the state is.”
The peak time to see leaves starts in mid to late October in East Tennessee, reaches into Middle Tennessee in early November and spreads to west Tennessee by mid to late November.
But no matter where you go in the state, you’re in for a treat. We’ve researched and come up with the Top 10 (11, because there are so many places to go) places to view the changing fall colors. They are listed in no particular order.
Fall activity brochures are available from the Department of Tourism by calling 615-741-2159.
For more fall activities and color reports, visit the Department of Tourism website at fall.tnvacation.com, or call 1-800-697-4200 for weather and color reports for different areas across the state.
In the Car
1. Tennessee’s peak color change begins in mid-October in the eastern part of the state. The main attraction for the area is the Great Smokey Mountains National Park and nearby Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.
This is the one destination where most of the state heads in the early fall. One nice driving tour in the park is Cade’s Cove, an 11-mile driving loop in the far western Tennessee section of the park.
From wildlife and historic buildings to breath-taking landscapes, Cade’s Cove is perfect for viewing the changing fall leaves from your car.
2. If there’s not enough time for a weekend trip, take a day and drive part of the recently completed Natchez Trace Parkway.
It is a 444-mile two-lane road running from Bellevue to Natchez, Miss. that follows an ancient trail used by Native Americans and European settlers to move goods and traffic from the Gulf Coast into Middle Tennessee.
Any or all of the parkway can be driven with entrance points in Bellevue, Franklin and Leiper’s Fork. Sections of the original trail can also be found along the parkway, if you need to stretch your legs.
More information can be found at www.nps.gov/natr.
On the Water
Tennessee has more than 400 species of hardwoods that show their colors in the fall. Tennessee also has many, many miles of shoreline along lakes and Tennessee and Cumberland rivers.
3. Tour Center Hill Lake on the Fifth Annual Fall Color Cruise at Edgar Evans State Park. The cruise is from 1 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 3. Donations of $5 for adults and $2.50 for children are requested. Call 931-858-2446 for reservations.
4. The Southern Belle Riverboat in Chattanooga also offers the Fall Leaf Cruise through Nov. 10.
The boat takes a four-hour round-trip from Ross’s Landing through the Grand Canyon of the South, otherwise known as the Tennessee River Gorge. The trip includes lunch, live entertainment and narration.
Visit www.chattanoogariverboat.com or call 1-800-766-2784 for more information.
On your Feet
When asked about where she likes to look at the fall colors, Anna Bertrum of the Tennessee Trails Association said anywhere on the Cumberland Plateau is perfect.
Luckily, the plateau sports many state parks to hike, but Bertrum’s favorites are Pickett and Big South Fork parks.
For more information about all of Tennessee’s parks and natural areas, visit www.state.tn.us/environment/parks.
5. Pickett State Park and Forest boasts 14 interconnected hiking trails for a total of 33 miles to choose from. Since the trails are connected, they can be hiked separately as day-hikes or joined together for longer over-night trips.
6. Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area lies along the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River along the Tennessee-Kentucky border. More than 170 miles of hiking trails cross the cliffs, rock shelters, gorges and waterfalls in the park.
Colorful leaves can also be found in the Cumberland Mountains at Frozen Head and South Cumberland parks.
7. Frozen Head State Park and Natural Area is found in Morgan County and features some of the tallest peaks in the Cumberland Mountain chain.
Overlooks, which can be followed for miles, can be found on top of the bluffline. The hiking is difficult at times and should not be taken to lightly.
8. South Cumberland State Recreation Area in Marion, Grundy and Franklin counties is a system of natural areas and day-hike trails perched atop Monteagle.
The entire area is known for waterfalls, gorges, rock bluffs and scenic overlooks with amazing views of fall foliage. It includes Savage Gulf and Sewanee Natural Bridge natural areas, as well as Fiery Gizzard and Stone Door trails.
9. Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area offers a weekend of fall fun with the Fall Frolic Weekend Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 10-11.
Hayrides, games, music and hiking around the park are available, all under the canopy of changing fall leaves. Even Smokey the Bear will visit the park to enjoy the season.
For more information, visit www.lbl.org or call (270) 924-2000.
On a Train
10. Tennessee Central Railway Museum in Nashville ventures to Lebanon, Watertown and Cookeville with a 1950’s era diesel-powered engine and passenger cars.
Watch the fall foliage slip by as the train rolls through the countryside. For the best view, reserve a seat in the Northern Pacific Railway dome-coach car.
More information is available at www.tcry.org or 615-244-9001.
In the Air
11. For the more adventurous among us, several companies in the mid-state offer hot air balloon rides.
Flights over the countryside usually last about an hour with launch times at dawn and dusk.
Ace High Ballooning and Fly Aeromax, serves Nashville and Franklin. Holmestead Aviation is located in Lebanon. And HAHA Farm Ballooning makes its home in Shelbyville.