Fall foliage at Laurel-Snow State Natural Area near Dayton, TN
Photo Credit: @monkeytrent

When Autumn Starts in Tennessee: 2023 Fall Foliage

The best times and places to catch fall foliage in full bloom in each region of the state.

Featured in this Article:

Fall Colors Near the Appalachian Mountains, the Smoky Mountains, Knoxville and Chattanooga
Fall Colors Near Nashville
Fall Colors Near Memphis

With endless parks and forests throughout the state, Tennessee is the perfect place to get your peak fall foliage fix. Due to the state’s diverse tree species, you can go leaf peeping to see the full spectrum of autumnal colors when the leaves change, from deep reds to vibrant amber. So you might be wondering, "Are the leaves changing in Tennessee yet?" According to the Farmer's Almanac 2023, Tennessee will see peak colors across the state Oct. 12-28, 2023. Here's where to see peak fall colors in Tennessee for the 2023 season: 

Fall Colors Near the Appalachian Mountains, the Smoky Mountains, Knoxville and Chattanooga

Best time to visit: Early to Mid-October (depending on altitude).

With dense forests, beautiful hiking trails, and rolling landscapes of mountains and valleys, East Tennessee is considered one of the country’s best places to see fall foliage. Every fall, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park sees an influx of visitors who have come to hike, camp and take in the area’s autumnal beauty. With more than 100 native tree species in the Great Smoky Mountains, you are sure to see an array of colors. Prime fall foliage in East Tennessee varies by elevation; in the higher altitudes, leaves begin to change at the end of September and reach their peak from early to mid-October, whereas autumnal beauty reaches its prime mid-October in the lower altitudes.

Appalachian Mountains

Nestled in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains and surrounded by Cherokee National Forest, Unicoi County offers autumn outdoor adventurers more than 50 miles of Appalachian Trail, eight waterfalls, Rocky Fork State Park and dozens of walking and hiking trails. No matter where you are, you’re sure to see stunning fall foliage. A few favorite spots for leaf peeping include the aptly named Beauty Spot (crowned as a “best sunset hike” by Travel and Leisure) Pinnacle Mountain Fire Tower and Nolichucky Ridge Cliff. Viewing the vibrant colors of fall is accessible for even more travelers and residents in Unicoi County since one of the state’s colorblind viewfinders is located at the I-26 Westbound Scenic Overlook. From this viewfinder, you’ll see views of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina’s stunning hills and valleys. 

Ober Mountain - Gatlinburg

Take a ride on the Ober Mountain for a breathtaking view of the Smoky Mountains. This two-mile ride to the attraction provides aerial photo opportunities for fall. Once at the top, take a ride on the Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster and experience the Smoky Mountains in a whole new way. Zoom down a more than half mile of track through dense forest at speeds of more than 25 mph as the vibrant colors of changing leaves fly past.

Gatlinburg SkyPark - Gatlinburg

Wake up early for a Smoky Mountain Sunrise at Gatlinburg SkyPark (Fridays in October through Oct. 27, 2023). Take the scenic chairlift to the SkyDeck and start the day with an immaculate bird’s eye view of a grand illumination of the Great Smoky Mountains and downtown Gatlinburg. Additional fall events include the Boo Bash Oct. 1-31, 2023 and the family-friendly Fall Fest Oct. 27-28, 2023.

Southern Belle Riverboat - Chattanooga

As one of the top places for outdoor activities in Tennessee, Chattanooga is an amazing place to take in the loveliness of autumn. See a brilliant display of fall colors from the water on the Southern Belle Riverboat. The three-hour fall color ride travels down the Tennessee River to the River Gorge for an amazing view of brightly colored foliage. Included on the ride is live music, tour information and a delicious lunch.

Chattanooga's Riverwalk - Chattanooga

Another exciting way to see the beautiful seasonal foliage lining the Tennessee River is by biking the 10-mile paved Riverwalk. Rent a bike through the Chattanooga Bicycle Transit System or bring your own and take the path down to the picturesque Bluff View Art District. The River Walk also connects to several bike trails at Stringer’s Ridge and Enterprise South Nature Park, so you can make a full day of exploring autumnal beauty on two wheels.

Sharp's Ridge - Knoxville

Photo Credit: @mothompson90

In Knoxville, you can hike up to Sharp's Ridge Memorial Park for a stunning view of the city and distant mountains thanks to the overlook platform located about halfway up the ridge. There is a 1.2-mile, all-access, adaptive nature trail with 4.7 miles of multi-use trails that wind through the wooded hills, perfect for hiking and biking. The park has sheltered picnic areas as well and is a great place for wildlife viewing and birding.

Fall Colors Near Nashville 

Best time to visit: Mid to Late October.

In Middle Tennessee, the leaves begin to change around mid-October, reaching their peak at the end of the month.

Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park - Nashville

The Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park, one of Nashville’s most popular attractions year-round, is a beautiful spot to see fall foliage within the city. The main lawn is lined with a variety of trees that come alive with color in October. The park always has events and festivals, especially in the fall, so you can make a full day of this stop on your fall foliage tour.

Tennessee Central Railway Museum - Nashville

You can also take a scenic train ride through the best fall foliage and scenery in Middle Tennessee at the Tennessee Central Railway Museum that depart from Nashville and travels through the Upper Cumberland region. The museum has a variety of excursions including a wine tasting train tour, each taking you to charming little towns outside of Nashville.

Natchez Trace Parkway - Franklin

The Natchez Trace Parkway traverses Middle Tennessee and goes through Williamson County, which has stunning photo opportunities on the Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge. This bridge is surrounded by fall colors toward the end of October and you can see for miles. While in the area, stop by the historic town of Franklin, also located off the Parkway. The quaint, historic architecture here creates a beautiful backdrop for seasonal colors. Franklin is also full of autumn festivities and fall decorations.

Fall Colors Near Memphis 

Best time to visit: Late October to Early November.

In West Tennessee, fall foliage begins to emerge mid-to-late October, typically reaching the height of autumnal beauty in the weeks before and after Halloween. This part of the state is full of forests with a wide array of tree species that yield bright ranges of colors in autumn.

Natchez Trace State Park - Wildersville

Natchez Trace State Park has some of the best scenic locations in the fall in Middle Tennessee, with endless trails to explore and snap some photos. Rent a kayak to take out on Pin Oak Lake to see a stunning display of autumnal colors reflecting off the water.

Reelfoot Lake State Park - Tiptonville

Located in the Northwest corner of Tennessee, Reelfoot Lake State Park is a beautiful place for fall outdoor activities. Fall color pontoon cruises take place on the weekends during October and November at Reelfoot Lake. See the changing leaves and water birds on a two-hour tour with an experienced naturalist. Tour guides will share their knowledge of the area’s history and ecology while helping you find the best photo ops for fall foliage. Large groups of eagles and ducks migrate to Reelfoot Lake for the winter, arriving just as autumnal colors reach their peak.

Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park - Millington

Home to gigantic beech, oak and elm trees, the Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park comes alive with a myriad of colors toward the end of October. See the foliage by water in a canoe on Poplar Tree Lake, or hike one of the many trails within the park. The 3-mile loop Woodland trail has some stunning vantage points for changing leaves. Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park is also known for abundant wildlife, so explore the trails for some critters to add to your foliage photos.

Memphis Botanic Garden - Memphis

The Memphis Botanic Garden is another beautiful place for fall photo opportunities in West Tennessee. The 96 acres of gardens and trails have all kinds of trees displaying fall foliage in late October to early November — even some flowers are still in bloom during this time. The Memphis Botanic Garden offers classes year-round, including educational tours and oil painting.

For more information on Tennessee's fall foliage:

Tennessee Fall Foliage Map

Find Colorblind Viewfinders around Tennessee

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