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Tennessee Fall Foliage: Nature’s Autumn Palette

When the temperatures start dropping and the days get shorter, the vibrant green of a Tennessee summer starts to turn into the earthy colors of fall.

Rich browns, firey oranges, deep reds, and golden yellows are hallmarks of fall foliage in Tennessee.

If you’re wondering where to go to see all of these beautiful fall colors in person, this list is for you. Grab your flannel shirt and a hot apple cider and get ready to see some beautiful Tennessee fall foliage!

tennessee fall foliage

When to See Fall Foliage in Tennessee

Depending on where you are in the state, fall foliage in Tennessee usually peaks somewhere between late September and early November.

In the eastern part of the state, including the Great Smoky Mountains, early October is usually the best time to see peak fall color. Higher elevations peak even earlier.

In West Tennessee, the peak is usually later, sometime either just before or just after Halloween.

Even if you don’t visit during the peak, fall foliage in Tennessee is lovely all throughout the fall season!

East Tennessee

Deer crossing in Cade's Cove in Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee.

1. Cades Cove

Cades Cove is one of the most popular places to see Tennessee fall foliage. This beautiful valley in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers stunning views and frequent wildlife sightings.

To get to Cades Cove, take TN-73 East from Towsend or take TN-441 from Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge.

In addition to the fall foliage, the drive is filled with historic sites to see. Several old churches, a working gristmill, log cabins, barns, and more are all located along the 11-mile loop road.

Since this area is so popular, it tends to get crowded if you can, go on a weekday or go early in the day to avoid the worst of the traffic.

2. Gatlinburg

Gatlinburg is a storybook town nestled into the Great Smoky Mountains. Views of the Tennessee fall foliage can be seen from just about anywhere in town.

Plenty of shopping, restaurants, and activities keep you busy while you enjoy the fall colors.

For even more incredible views, take the skylift to Gatlinburg Skypark or the aerial tramway to Ober Gatlinburg.

3. Lookout Mountain Scenic Parkway

The Lookout Mountain Scenic Parkway located near Chattanooga offers beautiful views of the fall foliage in East Tennessee.

Take a leisurely drive up the mountain to enjoy the scenery, or stop in at one of the many tourist attractions.

Rock City, Ruby Falls, the historic Point Park, Chickamauga Battlefield, and the Incline Railway are all located along the drive. Driving the parkway is free, but most of the attractions require entrance fees.

4. Signal Mountain

Signal Mountain is another gorgeous drive located near Chattanooga. Signal Mountain has similar scenery but tends to be much less crowded than Lookout Mountain because there aren’t as many attractions located along the drive.

You’ll still be able to see plenty of Tennessee fall foliage though! For the best views, take Highway 127 up to Signal Point Park.

From there you can stop to enjoy the view before driving back down to Chattanooga or take one of the many hiking trails.

5. The Riverwalk

The Riverwalk in downtown Chattanooga is the perfect place to view Tennessee fall foliage without getting out of the city.

This lovely path runs for 16 miles along the Tennessee River. There are plenty of shops, restaurants, and attractions along the way to stop and take a break or grab a bite to eat.

Renting a bicycle from Bike Chattanooga is one of the best ways to make the most of the trail. Rental stations are located at several sites right on or very close to the Riverwalk.

6. Bristol

Best known as the birthplace of country music, Bristol is a stunning place to view fall foliage in Tennessee.

This small city is located right on the border between Tennessee and Virginia. The fall colors in Bristol are extra vibrant. You’ll see rich reds, deep oranges, and stunning yellows.

For some of the best fall foliage viewing in the city, take a boat out on South Holston Lake.

Middle Tennessee

Landscape  at Radnor Lake State Park, Nashville, Tennessee.

7. Radnor Lake State Park

Radnor Lake State Park is located about nine miles south of downtown Nashville.

The park is designated by the state as a natural space and it’s one of the best places to view wildlife in the area. While you’re enjoying the fall colors, you’ll also have the chance to see owls, herons, deer, and other wildlife.

For a relaxing walk to enjoy the views, take the 2.8-mile loop around the lake. The trail is mostly flat and takes about an hour to complete.

8. Warner Parks

Together, Percy Warner Park and Edwin Warner Park make up the Warner Parks system. The two parks are located right next to each other less than 10 miles from downtown Nashville.

With more than 3,000 acres of forest, the parks are the perfect place to view Tennessee fall foliage without venturing far from the city.

The Warner Park Nature Center is a great place to start your visit. They offer interactive exhibits and programming for all ages. Ample parking is available and the nature center is close to the start of several hiking trails.

9. Long Hunter State Park

Convenient to Nashville, Long Hunter State Park is located on the edge of Percy Priest Lake.

The park includes over 20 miles of hiking trails that range in difficulty level from easy to moderately challenging. The paved arboretum trail is a great place to take in the fall foliage.

To get to the park from Nashville, take I-40 East to TN-171 South.

10. Fall Creek Falls State Park

At nearly 30,000 acres, Fall Creek Falls is Tennessee’s largest state park. It’s a beautiful place to take in the fall colors.

Book a campsite or cabin to enjoy the park longer, or drive down for the day and have a picnic by one of the park’s many waterfalls.

The Gorge Overlook trail takes you to see the park’s namesake waterfall, Fall Creek Falls. The trail starts at the Betty Dunn Nature Center and is just over 2 ½ miles.

11. Natchez Trace Parkway

The Natchez Trace Parkway runs North to South between Nashville, Tennessee, and Natchez, Mississippi.

This scenic road has a rich history that’s over 10,000 years old. The parkway was once a forest trail that connected the Mississippi River to the Tennessee River.

Now, the trail is a fully paved two-lane road spanning 444 miles with scenic views all along the way. About 100 miles of the parkway are in Tennessee.

To get to the parkway from Nashville, take I-40 West to the McCrory Lane exit. Head South on McCrory Lane until it ends at Tennessee Highway 100. Turn right, and you’ll see the entrance to the Natchez Trace Parkway.

Stop at the famous Loveless Cafe to enjoy some delicious Tennessee biscuits before starting the scenic drive.

West Tennessee

Autumn view of Bald Cypress trees, Reelfoot Lake State Park, Tennessee

12. Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park

Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park has many varieties of trees including oak, sweet gum, birch, and hickory. Together these create a wide range of fall colors resulting in a brilliant display of foliage.

Take one of the many hiking trails to enjoy fall foliage in different areas of the park. The views along Poplar Tree Lake are especially beautiful.

The park is located less than 30 minutes from downtown Memphis. To get there, take US-51 North to TN-388 North.

13. Reelfoot Lake State Park

All the way in the Northwest corner of the state is Reelfoot Lake State Park. The park is popular for fishing and boating. If you like being out on the water, renting a boat is a great way to enjoy the Tennessee fall foliage in the park.

For those who prefer to stay on dry land, the Reelfoot Lake Boardwalk is an easy trail located just behind the park visitor’s center.

Plenty of other hiking trails located throughout the park offer scenic views of all the fall colors as well.

14. Cypress Grove Nature Park

Cypress Grove Nature Park is the perfect place to see Cypress Trees in all of their fall glory. Their fall colors typically include shades of brown or orange.

The boardwalk trail includes over a mile of finished boardwalk that wanders through the forest. Benches and gazebos are located along the path for visitors to stop and enjoy the scenery.

The park is easy to access from I-40. Take exit 80A for the US-45 Bypass South, then turn right onto US-70 South.

15. Memphis Botanic Garden

Just 20 minutes east of downtown you can find the Memphis Botanic Garden.

The garden is certified by the Tennessee Urban Forestry Council as a level four Arboretum, so it’s full of trees to enjoy.

In fact, the garden is home to thousands of trees from over 180 different species. You can see trees in all shapes, sizes, and colors. It’s a great way to enjoy some Tennessee fall foliage without getting out of the city.

Time to See Some Tennessee Fall Foliage

From the lakes in Bristol to the heart of Memphis, there’s fall foliage to be seen in every corner of Tennessee. Whether you want to venture out to the state parks or stay close to one of the cities, Tennessee fall foliage can be found just about anywhere you go.

For more Tennessee fall fun, check out the Best Pumpkin Patches in Tennessee.