On September 27, 2023
A scenic drive in the Smoky Mountains is one of the best ways to experience nature and its beauty during the fall season. There are several scenic drives through Great Smoky Mountains National Park that offer spectacular views of the changing fall colors.
Typically, in early October, the leaves begin to change colors in higher elevation areas first. The fall colors peak starting around mid-October, and through early November, gradually make their way down to lower elevation areas. Fall is the perfect time to visit Pigeon Forge and experience the Great Smoky Mountains at their finest!
Discover some of the best scenic drives in the Smoky Mountains to view fall colors on your next visit to Pigeon Forge.
For wildflower viewing and historic buildings, you’ll want to check out Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. This 5.5-mile one-way loop is just a short drive from Pigeon Forge. And there are several overlooks throughout the park where motorists can pull over and take in the magnificent views of the fall colors without ever having to leave the car. If it’s a waterfall you’re chasing, trailheads for both Grotto Falls and Rainbow Falls can be accessed from the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.
Visitor Tip: Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is closed during the winter, so plan to take the scenic drive while the trail is still open (April 9 – November 28, 2021). And remember that buses, motorhomes, vans longer than 25 feet and passenger vehicles towing trailers are prohibited on this road.
Getting There: Turn at Stoplight #8 off the Parkway in Downtown Gatlinburg onto Historic Nature Trail-Airport Rd and continue until you reach the Cherokee Orchard entrance to the national park. The entrance to the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is just beyond the Rainbow Falls trailhead.
About an hour’s drive from Pigeon Forge is one of the park’s most popular areas, Cades Cove. Cades Cove Loop Road is an 11-mile one-way scenic loop road that offers some of the most beautiful views you’ll find anywhere in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s also a great area for spotting wildlife such as deer, coyotes, wild turkeys, bears and more. You’ll also find several historic structures to stop at and explore along the way.
Getting There: Located about 27 miles from Gatlinburg, off Laurel Creek Road.
Another great scenic drive within the Cades Cove area is Rich Mountain Road. Located along the Cades Cove Loop Road, this one-way 7-mile drive takes you north out of Cades Cove to the town of Townsend. Although the road is easily accessible, this area of Cades Cove is quieter and less traveled. The winding road takes you by beautiful waterfalls, streams and one of the most incredible scenic overlooks where you can view the Primitive Baptist Church in the valley of Cades Cove.
Visitor Tip: Rich Mountain Road is open through November 8, 2021. Buses, motorhomes, vans longer than 25 feet, and vehicles towing trailers are prohibited on Rich Mountain Road.
Getting There: The entrance to Rich Mountain Road is across from the Missionary Baptist Church in Cades Cove at about the halfway point along Cades Cove Loop Road.
Drive or bike along the Foothills Parkway for even more of the breathtaking views Great Smoky Mountains National Park has to offer. The final section of the 16-mile stretch of roadway between Walland, Tennessee and Wears Valley, Tennessee was recently completed and opened to the public, and it was certainly worth the wait! Motorists can now admire the fall colors of the Smoky Mountains on this beautiful 33-mile scenic drive from Chilhowee Lake to Sevier County.
Getting There: Most visitors to the Foothills Parkway enter at the north end from US-321 in Walland, Tennessee, a small town located between Maryville and Townsend.
US Highway 441, which runs through Newfound Gap and connects to Clingmans Dome Road, is the best route for sightseers wishing to catch an early glimpse of the beautiful natural color display. Some of the first spots where fall colors appear can be found along Newfound Gap Road, which is the lowest pass through the Smoky Mountains. The overlook at Newfound Gap is a great place to stop and snap a few photos. It’s also where you’ll find the Rockefeller Memorial and the spot where President Franklin D. Roosevelt stood to dedicate Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Visitor Tip: Purchase a driving tour booklet for Newfound Gap Road at the Sugarlands Visitor Center that will give you detailed information about the park and its history.
Getting There: From Sugarlands Visitor Center, this 31-mile stretch of road takes you all the way to Cherokee, NC.
Autumn is a magical time in the Smokies. Soak up the vibrant fall colors from the comforts of your own vehicle on one of these scenic drives in the Smoky Mountains. Check out even more fun things to do during fall in Pigeon Forge.