Top 6 Fall Hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Fall is the perfect time for hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park! The weather is cooling down from summer, especially in the higher elevations, and the colors of the leaves start to change, giving you an incredible view no matter where you are in the park! Here are the top 6 fall hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that you should try when you visit:

1. Gregory Bald

Best fall hikes smoky mountainsIf you want to see an incredible view of the fall colors and the mountains, you should hike Gregory Bald. This trail is challenging, with a roundtrip length of 11.6 miles. It’s definitely worth every step though! The views of the mountain range are incredible, especially in the fall when you’ll see reds, oranges, and yellows spotted across the mountains. You’ll also see great fall colors on your hike up to the bald.

2. Andrews Bald

Another great bald hike is Andrews Bald. It’s considered moderate with a roundtrip length of 3.5 miles. You’ll climb rock stairs that were built by the Trails Forever program to make the hiking trail safer and easier for people. Near the end of the hike, you’ll finally come to the bald. A bald is actually a grassy meadow at a high elevation in the mountains. This makes a great area to stop for a picnic and to take pictures of the incredible views you’ll see.

3. Alum Cave

Best fall hikes smoky mountainsA moderate trail at 4.4 miles roundtrip, Alum Cave is a great fall hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A highlight of this trail is Inspiration Point, where you’ll have incredible views! Along your hike, you’ll cross water on log bridges and even go through a narrow tunnel through Arch Rock. Once you reach Alum Cave, you’ll be able to look out and see all the fall colors. Plus, you’ll have the bluffs behind you, which is a sight to behold!

4. Mt. Cammerer

The hike to Mt. Cammerer is also considered difficult because of its 11.9-mile roundtrip length. Along your hike to the top, you’ll definitely see the fall colors in the trees. You’ll also pass the trail that leads to the Appalachian Trail, and there are plenty of rocky parts. Once you reach the top though, you’ll have an amazing view of the surrounding mountains. There’s also an octogonal fire lookout at the top that’s pretty cool!

5. Baskins Creek Falls

Best fall hikes smoky mountainsBaskins Creek Falls is located along the Roaring Fork Motor Trail, which is a beautiful area in the Smoky Mountains in the fall. You’ll see the fall colors and a waterfall along this 3-mile round trip trail. At the beginning of this hike, you’ll have some great views of the mountains covered in fall foliage. At the end of the hike, you’ll see the 40-foot-tall, two-tier waterfall, which will be beautiful with the fall foliage around it.

6. Meigs Creek Trail

Another moderate hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Meigs Creek Trail. The round trip length is 7 miles, and you’ll start at The Sinks, which is a popular roadside waterfall. In the fall, you’ll be walking through the forest and seeing the reds, oranges, and yellows in the trees. This is a great hike if you want to enjoy being in the woods, and you’ll also get to see the 18-foot Meigs Creek Cascades!

Fall hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are both beautiful and fun. The truth is, there’s never a bad time to plan a hiking trip to the Smoky Mountains, just like there’s never a bad time to start planning your white water rafting trip with us! Start planning your next visit now by learning more about our white water rafting trips!

— Update: 19-03-2023 — found an additional article 6 of the Best Trails to Hike During Fall in the Smoky Mountains from the website for the keyword best fall hikes smoky mountains.

Fall is a beautiful time in the Smoky Mountains. Gorgeous shades of oranges, yellows, and reds can be seen everywhere you turn. Each year, visitors flock to the Smokies to see the fall colors at their peak. One of the best ways to experience fall in the mountains is by going for a hike! To help guarantee you have the best time while you’re here and the best views, we’ve made a list of the top 6 trails for you to hike during fall in the Smoky Mountains:

1. Laurel Falls

Best fall hikes smoky mountainsLaurel Falls is one of the most popular trails in the park all throughout the year. This is partly because it’s great for families and is beautiful during every season. The star of the hike is the 80-foot waterfall you’ll reach after walking for 1.3 miles. The waterfall has both an upper and lower section that is separated by a walkway at the base of the upper falls. Accompanying the stunning sight of Laurel Falls itself are thousands of colorful fall leaves.

2. Alum Cave Trail

Alum Cave Trail is a must-do hike during fall in the Smoky Mountains. Its high elevation offers the best views of all the fall colors. A highlight of the trail is Inspiration Point, which you will reach after hiking for about 2 miles. Inspiration Point is a bald that offers incredible panoramic views of the Smoky Mountains. After about 2.2 miles, you will reach the Alum Cave Bluffs, a concaved bluff that is about 80 feet high. If you want to continue along the trail, you can follow it to the summit of Mt. LeConte, the third highest peak in the Smoky Mountains, for even greater fall views.

3. Rainbow Falls

Best fall hikes smoky mountainsRainbow Falls is one of the most popular waterfall hikes in the Smoky Mountains and one of the best to do in the fall. On sunny afternoons, hikers can see a rainbow that is produced by the mist of the waterfall. Rainbow Falls is 80 feet tall and a miraculous sight. If you’re looking for a hike with a little bit of a challenge, this is the one for you. The fall foliage that surrounds you every step you take combined with the waterfall views makes every moment on this trail special. The distance to and from the waterfall is 5.4 miles. Keep in mind that through November 15, the trail is only open to visitors Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

Read more  Top 8 Places to Hike in Winter

4. Porters Creek

You’ve heard that Porters Creek is a popular spring hike because of the spectacular wildflowers, but did you know it makes for a great hike in the fall as well? This trail has it all — from historic sites to a waterfall! It runs through a heavily wooded area, which means it’s perfect for seeing the leaves once they’ve changed colors. About 2 miles into the trail, you will reach Fern Branch Falls. Fern Branch Falls is a 60-foot waterfall that is even more beautiful during high water flows.

5. Ramsey Cascades

Best fall hikes smoky mountainsRamsey Cascades may be a challenging hike, but it is definitely one of the most rewarding. The trail itself gains almost 2,200 feet in elevation during its 4-mile course to the falls. And we all know that the best places to see the fall foliage are at higher elevations! On your way to the waterfall, you’ll pass through an old-growth forest that is full of fall colors and follow along rushing rivers and streams. Make sure you have your camera for when you reach Ramsey Cascades itself! Water drops 100 feet and collects into a small pool at the bottom for a picture-perfect scene.

6. Gregory Bald

Gregory Bald is one of the best fall hikes in the Smoky Mountains. It is perched above Cades Cove, its high elevation making it a great spot to see the colors of fall. What’s just as beautiful as the view from the top, however, is the view you’ll get along the trail on your way there! You will hike through a forest that comes alive in the fall. On a clear day from Gregory’s Bald, you can see Cades Cove and Rich Mountain in one direction, Fontana Lake in another direction, and Clingmans Dome in another direction. The views from this hike cannot be beaten.

Where to Stay

Best fall hikes smoky mountainsThere is no better place to stay for your fall vacation than our Smoky Mountain cabins. Not only will you have incredible fall views on your hike, but you can see the gorgeous scenery from your cabin as well! Enjoy the fall weather as you sip a cup of coffee on your deck or soak in the bubbling hot tub as you admire the fall scenery. Whether you’re roasting marshmallows in the fire pit, shooting a game of pool, or just relaxing outside, you will have a blast when you stay with us at Hearthside Cabin Rentals.

Now that you know where to hike and where to stay when you visit during fall in the Smoky Mountains, it’s time to plan your trip! Browse all of our Smoky Mountain cabins and book your stay today.

— Update: 19-03-2023 — found an additional article 12 BEST Smoky Mountain Hiking Trails for Fall Foliage Views from the website for the keyword best fall hikes smoky mountains.

Looking for the best Smoky Mountain hiking trails for fall foliage views? You’ll enjoy breathtaking vistas and be surrounded by awe-inspiring displays of autumnal color on these favorite trails…

The Smoky Mountains are without a doubt one of the best places to be when fall arrives. If you time it just right, you’ll see the fall colors in the Smoky Mountains and you’ll be treated to scenery and color you just can’t find anywhere else.

Scenic drives are a fun way to see the fall colors, but if you enjoy the outdoors, then consider taking one of the Smokies’ spectacular mountain trails. You’ll not only see the colors up closer and at your leisure – you won’t have to deal with traffic jams, and you’ll get some great exercise.

When out on the trail, look for the American beech and birch trees to transform into bright yellow and gold. You’ll spot red, crimson, and orange from sumac, cherry, white mountain ash, scarlet oak, sweetgum, hickory, and mountain maple.

The peak time for fall colors in the Smoky Mountains is mid-October but aim for making your fall hike in the Smokies anytime between mid-September to early November.

Here are 12 of our favorite fall hiking trails in the Smoky Mountains that you’ll have to share with other fall color enthusiasts. Try to wake up early to beat most of the crowds if you want to have your own bit of tranquility and outdoor therapy in the Smoky Mountains.

Best fall hikes smoky mountains
Appalachian Mountains – Max Patch

The Appalachian Trail

Total distance: 3.4-miles round-trip

The granddaddy of all Eastern US trails, this classic 2,200-mile landmark covers 14 states. But you just need to focus on the portion that crosses the Newfound Gap, which displays the most amazing spectrum of foliage in the area.

You can also hike from Clingman’s Dome to the Gap for a longer hike, about 7.5 miles. If you choose to trek this historic trail, it’s certain to be one of if not the highlight of your trip to the Smokies.

Best fall hikes smoky mountains
Alum Cave Trail

Alum Cave Trail

Total distance: 3.5 to 5 miles round-trip

A recent post about this trek to Mt. LeConte mentioned the first half of this hike, which goes to this well-known spot. From this vantage point, you’ll see a blanket of red, gold, and orange from Little Duck Hawk Ridge to Myrtle Point.

A shorter trek takes you to Inspiration Point and incredible views of mountains and old-growth forest. Along the way, you’ll pass through a narrow tunnel on the way to Arch Rock, cross water on log bridges, and look out in the distance to see vibrant fall colors.

Best fall hikes smoky mountains
Oconaluftee River Trail | photo via @denisetami

Oconaluftee River Trail

Total distance: 3 miles round-trip

This North Carolina-side path is short but sweet. In addition to seeing beautiful late-season colors, you can explore the primitive sites (the Davis House and the Mountain Farm Museum) representing Smoky Mountains life in the late 19th century to early 20th century. Gaze in wonder at the asters that line the river banks and put on a colorful show.

Best fall hikes smoky mountains
Mt. Cammerer | photo via Frank Kehren

Mt. Cammerer

Total distance: 12 miles round-trip

Another classic Smoky Mountain hike, this challenging trail takes its visitors through a six-mile one-way steady climb on the Low Gap, Appalachian and then Mt. Cammerer routes along the Cosby Creek Valley.

Along the way, you’ll see valleys and mountainsides awash in autumn hues. Of course, you won’t have to hike the entire trail, but feel free to do so for bragging rights among your friends. Some locals consider the views on this trail to be among the best in the Smokies, so if you make the journey, you’re in for a real treat.

Best fall hikes smoky mountains
Porters Creek Trail | photo via @lgordnierjr

Porters Creek Trail

Total distance: 4 miles round-trip

If you want to see a little bit of everything that’s quintessential fall colors in the Smoky Mountains, come along on this moderate hike. If this is your first time hiking the Smokies, this is a great trail to pick because you’ll see a lot of color and a lot of sites.

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Following the namesake creek, you’ll then come across primitive sites, including the cantilevered Messer barn. To see the 60-foot Fern Branch Falls, be sure to go left on the Brushy Mountain trail fork.

Best fall hikes smoky mountains
Rainbow Falls Trail | photo via @inrugco

Albright Grove Trail

Total distance: 7 miles round-trip.

This trail first starts out on the Maddron Bald Trail for about 2.5 miles before coming to some of the oldest trees in the National Park. Less than a mile in, you’ll view the small Baxter cabin, given as a wedding present from an area settler to his son.

At Indian Camp Creek, climb the loop trail toward Albright Grove and notice the cove hardwood forest, mostly poplars, and hemlock, showing off the autumn cover.

Best fall hikes smoky mountains
Gregory Bald Trail

Gregory Bald Trail

Total distance: 11.3 miles round-trip

High above Cades Cove, Gregory Bald is a great spot to see the fall colors as they come in. From here, you’ll get magnificent, unencumbered views of Cades Cove and the mountains in the southeastern part of the national park.

As you traverse the trail, you’ll make your way through a mature hardwood forest that just pops with color as fall arrives. Be warned, this trail is very strenuous, but the views you’ll get are worth the trek to get up the mountain.

Best fall hikes smoky mountains
Rich Mountain Loop | photo via @kcakezzz

Rich Mountain Loop

Total distance: 8.5 miles round-trip

Located in Cades Cove, this is the perfect way to explore this breathtaking valley and see a wide spectrum of color. This trail is a short loop that takes visitors through sections of forest while offering memorable views of Cades Cove.

If you’re planning a late fall visit, October is perhaps the best time of year to see fall foliage at its best. If you’re up for a little exploration, stop by the John Oliver Cabin or the Primitive Baptist Church.

Cades Cove is always a popular destination, so park in the campground parking lot and walk a short distance to the start of the trailhead.

Best fall hikes smoky mountains
Middle Prong Trail | photo via @downing2930

Middle Prong Trail

Total distance: 8.3 miles round-trip

This relaxing, low-elevation hike started in the Smokies’ Tremont region and is a little bit different from other trails. You won’t get mountain views, but you will get to see lots of beautiful cascades and waterfalls.

These are a sight to see in the fall as the beautiful reds, yellows, and oranges are the perfect compliments to the already stunning waterfalls.

A nice short hike is the one-mile Spruce Flats Falls Hiking Trail, which takes you up to see a 20-foot tall waterfall and views of the mountains.

Best fall hikes smoky mountains
Chimney Tops

Chimney Tops

Total distance: 2 miles round-trip

This just might be one of the coolest trails you’ll find anywhere in the Smokies! It’s a tough one to be sure, but the effort is well worth it.

This steep trail climbs about 1,400 feet to the Chimney Tops rock outcropping and passes through some colorful stretches of forest. You can also find great panoramic views of the Smokies along the way. If you’re up for the challenge, visit in early to mid-October for peak fall colors.

Best fall hikes smoky mountains
Ramsey Cascades | photo via @woodswanderer88

Ramsey Cascades Trail

Total distance: About 8 miles round-trip

This hike is considered very strenuous, but if you can make the journey, this trail offers something for everyone. It passes by the tallest waterfall in the National Park, but you can also travel through beautiful sections of old-growth forest.

In the forest, you’ll see a variety of trees, including tulip poplars that are at least 100 years old. October is a great time to hike this trail and you’ll see exquisite beauty along this route.

Best fall hikes smoky mountains
Andrews Bald Trail | photo via @gayla_d_seale

Andrews Bald Trail

Total distance: 3.5 miles round-trip

For years, this was considered one of the Smokies’ most rugged trails and was marked by a rugged pathway, loose boulders, and uneven services.

Today, this trail is considered to be of moderate difficulty, but the Trails Forever program has taken steps to make it easier for visitors to travel.

Along the way, you’ll climb rock stairs that make the trail easier and safer to walk. Once you get to the bald at the end of the trail, the views are totally worth it. It’s a great place to stop for a picnic and snap a few pictures.

Best fall hikes smoky mountains
Abrams Falls | photo via @the_bluegrass_hiker

Start Planning Your Fall Hiking Trip to the Smokies Today 

Fall driving color tours are a great way to experience fall in the Smokies, but there’s something magical about getting outside and seeing all those pretty colors up close and personal.

No matter what hike you take in the Smokies, you’ll be treated to some of the most breathtaking fall colors in the area, if not the entire country. Whether you’re a first-time hiker or an experienced hiker with hundreds of miles under your feet, there’s a trail in the Smokies that everyone can enjoy.

There’s no better time to start planning your trip to the Smokies than right now. With careful planning, you’ll catch the fall colors in the Smokies at just the right time, no matter which trail you take.

Staying at a Gatlinburg bed and breakfast, ensures that you’ll have a comfortable place to rest and relax after your day on the trails.

So start planning your trip now and let us know what your favorite Smoky Mountain hiking trail is to see the fall colors!

— Update: 23-03-2023 — found an additional article 10 Best Fall Hikes Smoky Mountains | Autumn Hiking Guide from the website for the keyword best fall hikes smoky mountains.

Why is Autumn so beautiful in the Smoky Mountains?

When hiking through the Smoky Mountains in the fall, you’ll be struck by all the gorgeous colors of the forest. You can thank trees like American beech, yellow birch, red maple, sugar maple, hickory, mountain maple, pin cherry, and scarlet oaks that show off brilliant shades of yellow, gold, orange and red. The diversity of trees in the Smoky Mountains produces a truly spectacular display year after year.

During the fall season, visitors to the Smokies are affectionately known as “leaf peepers,” who come droves to see these dazzling colors of fall. And it’s no secret why: the colors of fall in the Smokies are simply incredible.

To get the most out of your trip, we’ve made a list of the top 10 fall hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountains!

Best fall hikes smoky mountains

Fall Hiking Tips

To see the best fall colors in the Smokies, it’s key to know when and where you should go. Timing and elevation are the biggest factors in choosing the best trail for your fall hike. 

The prime time to see fall foliage in the Smokies ranges from late September to early November. The forest’s colors begin changing at higher elevations for the first several weeks of fall. As the nights grow cooler, lower elevation forests begin to change. The best time to see peak fall in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is usually around Mid-October when the mid-elevation regions of the park are showing their full colors. 

Read more  A Pro Hiker Shares 6 of the Best Hikes in Yosemite National Park

When choosing a fall hiking trail, it’s key to note factors such as the trail’s elevation and forest type. For example, the highest parts of the Smokies around Clingmans Dome and Newfound Gap have large sections of Spruce-Fir Forests that are green year-round. So to view the changing fall colors, you’ll want to explore mid-level and low-level elevations in the park for much of the season.

To make it easy to find the best hike for seeing fall in the Smokies, we’ve made this list of the top 10 trails to explore for this beautiful season! Many of these trails explore mid-elevation regions of the park, so they are ideal for seeing peak fall colors in the mountains!

Overall, fall in the Smoky Mountains is a dryer, cooler time of year, so it’s excellent weather for hiking. Be sure to bring water, sturdy shoes, a trail map, and snacks for your trip before checking out these suggested fall hikes in the Smokies!

1. Gregory Bald Trail

Perched above Cades Cove, this high elevation Bald is an excellent place to view the changing colors of fall. From the top of Gregory’s Bald, you’ll witness uninterrupted views of Cades Cove and mountains in the Southeastern part of the park. Better yet, the journey to Gregory’s Bald is just as beautiful as the destination.

On your way, you’ll pass through large stands of mature, hardwood forest that become exceptionally colorful during the fall season. All in all, the total trip is about 10 miles of hiking, but the beautiful views from this high elevation bald are well worth the effort.

2. Mt. Cammerer

This lesser-known destination in the national park can be reached by taking the Low Gap Trail out of Cosby Campground up to the Appalachian Trail. This 11-mile round trip hike passes through beautiful, old-growth, hardwood forests, so this fall hike offers a fall foliage display to remember.

The fire tower at Mt. Cammerer is the true highlight of the hike. This Western-style fire tower offers panoramic views of the Tennessee Valley, the Little Pigeon River, and nearby Mt. Sterling in North Carolina.

3. Baskins Creek Trail

Best fall hikes smoky mountains

Baskins Creek Trail is a popular waterfall hike in the especially scenic Roaring Fork Motor Trail area of the Smokies. This short, beginner-friendly hike goes through beautiful stretches of forests that show dazzling colors in autumn. Better yet, this trail is close to several historic cabins like the Bud Noah Ogle Cabin that are perfect for photographing in fall.

4. Rich Mountain Loop

This lovely hike in Cades Cove is the perfect way to explore one of the most picturesque valleys in the nation. This short loop hike offers several views of Cades Cove and passes through some lovely sections of forest. Ideally, this hike is best to enjoy in late October when peak fall foliage has arrived in this lower area of the park.

While you’re in the neighborhood, you could also hike to other Cades Cove sites like the John Oliver Cabin and the Primitive Baptist Church.

Since Cades Cove is quite popular this time of year, we recommend parking in the campground and walking to the trailhead that rests only a short distance from the start of the one-way, loop road.

5. Meigs Creek Trail

This trail begins at the Sinks Waterfall and follows a beautiful creek deep into the mountains. This peaceful trail doesn’t offer many mountain views, but it’s an ideal hike for walking among the trees during fall. There are many small stream crossings and cascades on the trail, with the largest one being the 18-ft Megs Creek Cascades. This peaceful hike is also less crowded than other trails in the Smokies.

6. Alum Cave Trail

This trail is perfect for exploring the mid-level elevations in the park. During the fall season, this section of forest is most spectacular in Mid and Early fall.

Alum Cave’s 5-mile, one-way trail passes through some of the most interesting geologic formations in the park including Arch Rock and the Alum Cave Bluffs. Additionally, there are several overlooks along the trail including Inspiration Point, a beautiful spot with panoramic views of the mountains. If you make it to the top, you’ll be treated to spectacular views from the LeConte Lodge and the Cliff Tops overlook.

7. Middle Prong Trail

Best fall hikes smoky mountains

This lovely, low elevation hike begins in the Tremont region of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This hike doesn’t offer mountain views, but it does offer the chance to see lots of beautiful waterfalls and cascades. These are especially gorgeous in autumn since fallen yellow and orange leaves add stunning accents to the creeks and cascades. If you have time, consider hiking the nearby, 1-mile, Spruce Flats Falls Hiking Trail that begins at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont to see a 20-ft tall waterfall and several mountain views.

8. Laurel Falls Trail

As one of the most accessible and beautiful hiking trails in the park, it’s no wonder that Laurel Falls is a great place to visit during the changing of the seasons. Visitors should know that this trail is very crowded during this time of year, so it’s best to start a hike at Laurel Falls early in the day.

Along the way, this trail offers several views of nearby mountains and hikers will get to explore a beautiful, multi-tiered waterfall. As a lower elevation hike in the park, it’s best to visit Laurel Falls in late October.

9. The Chimney Tops

Best fall hikes smoky mountains

This short hike is only 2 miles in length, but it’s really one of the most challenging hikes in the park. This is due to its steep route, which climbs some 1,400 feet to the Chimney Tops rock outcropping.

Luckily, the hard work this trail requires is well worth the effort. The Chimney Tops Trail passes through some gorgeous stretches of forest and the summit yields excellent, panoramic views of the mid-elevations of the Smoky Mountains. As a result, this trail is best to hike in early or mid-October.

10. Ramsey Cascades Trail

Not only does this hike go to the tallest waterfall in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but it also passes through some stunning sections of old-growth forest. In fact, Several Tulip Poplars on this trail are greater than 8-ft in diameter and are around 100 years old. For best results, try to aim for hiking this trail in early to mid-October when the fall colors should be at their peak.

Final Thoughts

For some great fall views without hiking, check out Morton Overlook on the Newfound Gap Road or Look Rock on the Foothills Parkway.

Also, check out our fall foliage guide with tips on when to see fall in the Smokies and some other ideas for how to explore autumn in the mountains!

Written by Mark Frazier


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