Fall in Tennessee is my absolute favorite time to visit the state. The opportunities to see fall foliage are endless, and the photos you take home with you will probably rival those found in top travel magazines. In this Fall Foliage Tennessee Road Trip Itinerary, we detail the absolute best spots to see the golden yellows and crisp apple-reds of autumn. We’ve included everything from national parks like the Great Smoky Mountains to fall festivals in multiple Tennessee cities and even our favorite streets and highways to experience fall without ever needing to leave your car.
Here’s our top picks for fall in Tennessee:
Fall in Tennessee on Lookout Mountain
Lookout Mountain is one of Chattanooga’s most-visited tourist attractions as well as my favorite place to visit during fall in Tennessee. There’s even an entire city (of sorts) that lies at the top of the mountain–appropriately titled Rock City–where you can see seven US states from the top of a breathtaking waterfall. This city of rocks is formed by winding paths that have been carved through massive, moss-covered boulders, and I’ve never before seen anything quite like it. There’s also a garden of gnomes, caverns full of storybook creatures, photo ops with the Fall Fairy, a suspension bridge, and an annual fall festival.
Read more about it here: 10 Best Things to See in Rock City on Lookout Mountain Near Chattanooga
Fall in Tennessee at Great Smoky Mountains National Park
People come from all over the United States to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the fall. It’s probably the most-visited tourist attraction in the entire state, and it’s certainly the best place to see fall foliage in Tennessee. The Smoky Mountains host an almost endless list of things to do for people of all ages and all activity levels. You can take a fall foliage Tennessee road trip through the park without ever needing to leave the comfort of your vehicle, or you can elect to hike to the top of the highest peaks, pretty waterfalls, and observation towers.
Cades Cove Loop – A Short & Easy Tennessee Road Trip in the Fall
One of the most popular destinations located within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cades Cove is an isolated valley surrounded by mountains that looks especially beautiful during fall in Tennessee. The best way to experience the fall foliage is through a drive along the 11-mile-long Cades Cove Loop which spans the perimeter of the valley. You’re likely to spot an abundant of wildlife such as deer and black bear. There’s also a visitor center, a working mill, and other historic buildings located along the drive. Another scenic road–Sparks Lane–dissects the loop route and offers incredible scenery as well.
Foothills Parkway – The Prettiest Road Trip in Tennessee in the Fall
Foothills Parkway is one of the most popular road trips in Tennessee. It’s especially scenic during October and November, when the changing leaves transform the surrounding mountain landscape into one of the absolute best places to see fall foliage in Tennessee. If you’re not the type of person to enjoy hiking or camping, you can still experience the Great Smoky Mountains without ever needing to leave the comforts of your car. The open segments of Foothills Parkway currently span approximately 40 miles of gorgeous terrain, but construction has not yet finished on the entire project and, once completed, the entire-length of the national parkway will total just over 72 miles of scenic roads and highways.
Smoky Mountain Tunnels – the Hidden Gems of any Fall Tennessee Road Trip
If you take a Tennessee road trip through the Great Smoky Mountains, you’re likely to cross under one of the famous Smoky Mountain tunnels that pepper the landscape. In addition to being functional, these uniquely-shaped pathways look incredible as the background to any fall foliage photograph of Tennessee.
Fall Foliage Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Trails
There are 150 official hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and all of them will give you spectacular, close-up views of Tennessee fall foliage. Here’s a few of our favorites:
- Clingman’s Dome Observation Tower Hike – This is the highest point in Tennessee–at 6,643 feet! On cloudless days, you can see as far as 100 miles. From the parking lot located at the trailhead, the trail itself is just a short 0.5 mile paved trek to the top. It’s incredibly steep, however, so be prepared to gain an altitude of 332 feet in just a half mile.
- Chimney Tops Trail – This 3.6 mile trail is one of the most popular hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains. The views from the top are amazing (and probably my favorite in the entire park).
Fall in Tennessee at Rock Island State Park
Twin Falls at Rock Island State Park
Twin Falls is 80 feet tall and looks spectacularly stunning when clothed in the colors of fall. You’ll find it inside Rock Island State Park, an 883 acre park that’s located on a peninsula formed by the merging of two rivers–Collins River and Caney Fork River. You can hike down to the waterfall or view it from above at an overlook lying just steps from the parking lot.
Fall in Tennessee at Bays Mountain Park
Lily Pad Cove at Bays Mountain Park
Located in Kingsport, Tennessee, Bays Mountain Park is a 3,550-acre nature park and planetarium featuring a 44-acre lake, hiking trails, nature center, and wildlife habitats. The pavilion at Lily Pad Cove is one of the most scenic spots to relax on the water while enjoying picture-perfect Tennessee fall foliage views.
Fall in Tennessee in the Cherokee National Forest
The Cherokee National Forest encompasses 650,000 acres of land and is the largest tract of public land in Tennessee, larger even than than the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s comprised of over 600 miles of trails (including 150 miles of the Appalachian Trail), 30 developed campgrounds, 11 wilderness areas, hundreds of miles of cold water streams, 7 whitewater rivers, 3 large lakes, and hundreds of species of wildlife. It’s also one of the most beautiful places in Tennessee to experience the colors of fall.
Bald River Falls in Tellico Plains, TN
The Bald River Falls is located in Tellico Plains inside the Bald Raver Gorge Wilderness area of the Cherokee National Forest. This Tennessee waterfall is 90 feet tall and can be easily accessed from Tellico River Road.
Cherohala Skyway – Tennessee Road Trip
This 43-mile National Forest Scenic Byway connects Tellico Plains, Tennessee to Robbinsville, North Carolina. It took 34 years to complete construction and passes through two separate national forests–Cherokee and Nantahala. Driving the full-length of the Cherohala Skyway road trip will take approximately 2 to 3 hours.
Experiencing Fall Foliage in Tennessee Cities
Fall in Tennessee can be celebrated in the heart of the state’s most vibrant cities or in its cozy little mountain towns that attract millions of visitors every year. Here’s some of our favorite places and ways to celebrate fall foliage in Tennessee cities.
Gatlinburg, Tennessee Fall Colors
With its close proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg has long been considered one of the best cities in Tennessee to experience fall colors. To celebrate the changing of seasons, the mountain dwelling hosts numerous fall festivals and events, including the Smoky Mountain Harvest Festival, Gatlinburg’s Taste of Autumn, and Oktoberfest at Ober.
Fall Festivals in Gatlinburg:
The Smoky Mountain Harvest Festival – The Smoky Mountain Harvest Festival is Gatlinburg’s biggest fall event, running for a full 12 weeks every year beginning in early September. Admission is free!
Gatlinburg’s Taste of Autumn – This annual event features live music and food from over a dozen local restaurants. It requires a ticket purchase, and a portion of the proceeds are donated to charity.
Oktoberfest at Ober – Ober Gatlinburg hosts an annual Oktoberfest festival featuring Bavarian food, beer, folk dances, yodeling, schuhplattling, and more.
For a full list of fall festivals in Gatlinburg, check out Gatlinburg’s website here.
Nashville, Tennessee Fall Foliage
The capital city of Tennessee looks especially pretty in the fall and offers a variety of unique ways to celebrate the changing of the seasons. The Tennessee Central Railway Museum hosts special Super Fall Foliage Trips on its traditional American streamlined passenger train, and Nashville also holds a variety of fall festivals throughout the city and nearby areas.
Nashville Fall Festivals:
Nashville Oktoberfest – Nashville’s Germantown hosts over a quarter of a million people every year at its annual Oktoberfest on the 2nd Saturday of October. The event spans 10 city blocks, and admission is completely free!
Franklin Pumpkinfest – Franklin Pumpkinfest is Middle Tennessee’s largest annual family fall festival located just outside of Nashville. The festival stretches along Main Street in downtown Franklin with over 65,000 people in attendance each year.
Fall Fest at the Hermitage – This annual fall festival features a weekend of art, music, and history at Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage.
For a full list of fall festivals in Nashville, visit Nashville Life’s guide here.
Chattanooga, Tennessee Fall Foliage
Chattanooga is one of my personal favorite places in Tennessee to see fall foliage, and I make a point to visit Rocktoberfest at least once every year.
Chattanooga Fall Festivals:
Rocktoberfest – Rocktoberfest takes place six miles outside of Chattanooga at Rock City Gardens on the top of Lookout Mountain. The fall festival features photo ops with a fall fairy, storytelling sessions with a troll king, pumpkin-painting, and geode-digging in addition to German music, food, and dance lessons.
Chattanooga Oktoberfest – This is Chattanooga’s oldest and largest Oktoberfest celebration.
For a full list of fall festivals in Chattanooga, we love this guide from website Chattanooga Fun.
Fall in Tennessee – Planning Your Trip
There are so many different ways to experience fall foliage in Tennessee. You can pick just one or two things from this list, or you can try to do them all in a single road trip spanning several cities. There’s really no wrong way to enjoy fall or fall colors. Many people opt to stay in Gatlinburg and use it as a home-base for exploring the Great Smoky Mountains. I especially love the charm of Chattanooga. Whatever path you decide to take, you surely won’t be disappointed by a Tennessee road trip in the fall.