Fall hiking is ideal in the Smokies; there are many trails that will take you to incredible overlooks and through tunnels of ever-changing leaves. The various elevations in the park change colors at different points in the season, so there are some hikes that are better in early fall, and others that are better in late fall. We have broken down the best hikes in the fall, based on the elevation of the trail and when the leaves will be in their peak color.
The best hikes in mid to late-September are:
- Andrews Bald: Start at Clingmans Dome, and hike 1.7 miles to an outstanding overlook. From the top of the bald, you have panoramic views for as far as the eye can see. The trail is easy to moderate with an elevation gain of 514 feet.
- Mount LeConte: Start at the Alum Cave trailhead on Newfound Gap Road, and hike 5.5 miles to Cliff Top, where you will receive expansive views of warm-colored trees for miles and miles. The trail is strenuous with an elevation gain of 2763 feet.
- The Jump-Off: Start at the trailhead on Newfound Gap Road, and hike 3.2 miles; where you will be rewarded with fantastic views along the trail. From the vantage point of the Jump-Off, you will have incredible views of Mount LeConte, Charlies Bunion and the Appalachian Trail. The trail is moderate with an elevation gain of 1725 feet.
In early to mid-October, the best hikes are:
- Gregory Bald: Start from the Gregory Ridge Trailhead in Cades Cove, and hike 5.7 miles to an outstanding vista. On a clear day, you will be able to see Cades Cove, Thunderhead Mountain, Clingmans Dome, and Fontana Lake. The trail is strenuous with an elevation gain of 3020 feet.
- Albright Grove: Start at the Maddron Bald Trailhead, and hike for 3.3 miles to the grove. The Albright Grove is home to one the largest hardwood forests in the world, with some of the oldest and largest trees in the park. Red maples, American beech, yellow birch, buckeyes and sugar maples abound. This is a moderate trail with an elevation gain of 1475 feet.
- Spence Field: Start at the Anthony Creek Trailhead at the Cades Cove picnic area, and hike 5.2 miles to an amazing vista of the North Carolina side of the Smokies. The trail is strenuous with an elevation gain of 2842 feet.
In mid to late-October, the best hikes are:
- Shuckshack Fire Tower: Start at the trailhead, located in the southern corner of the park, near Fontana Dam. You will hike on the Appalachian Trail until you reach the junction for the fire tower. After you climb 78 steps to the top, you will receive expansive views to the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Smoky Mountains and the Nantahala Mountains. This trail is moderate to strenuous with an elevation gain of 2120 feet.
- Charlies Bunion: Start at the trailhead on Newfound Gap Road, and hike 4 miles to the popular rock outcropping. Throughout the entire hike, you will be treated to stunning views of the North Carolina Smokies. This trail is moderate to strenuous with an elevation gain of 1640 feet.
- Grapeyard Ridge Trail: Start at the trailhead in Greenbrier, and hike for 2.8 miles through the dense and colorful forest. This trail is moderate with an elevation gain of 980 feet.
And, in early November, the best hikes are:
- Abrams Falls: Start at the Abrams Falls Trailhead in Cades Cove, and hike for 2.6 miles through a rhododendron and hemlock forest to Abrams Falls—a short and squat waterfall; only 20 feet tall, but the large amount of water that pours over its’ side makes up for the lack of height. This trail is easy to moderate with an elevation gain of 675 feet.
- Oconaluftee River Trail: Start at the trailhead just behind the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, and take the 3 mile loop trail. The trail winds next to the river, through forests of eastern hemlock, sugar maple, yellow birch, and basswood, creating a rainbow of colored leaves. The trail is easy with an elevation gain of 70 feet.
- Deep Creek Trail: Start at the trailhead, just north of Bryson City, North Carolina, and hike for 2.3 miles through a thick forest. The low elevation of Deep Creek makes for perfect hiking in November, when the fall colors have reached the lowest points in the park. This trail is moderate to easy with an elevation gain of 579 feet.
Check out the best fall hikes in the Smokies
for a comprehensive list .
Another great option for hiking in the fall is to join a guided day hike
—where you will trek through incredible landscapes, while gaining insight about the natural and cultural history of the region. With local and professional guides, and the appropriate gear provided, you are given a comprehensive experience of the Smokies.