The 15 Best Places to See Fall in Tennessee

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The state of Tennessee in Fall is a truly a glorious sight to behold.

Its climate conditions are just right for a long Autumn, because it’s far north enough to have true seasons. And the Smoky Mountains are especially spectacular at this time of year.

Fall foliage in Tennessee is the stuff of legend because the place is riddled with scenic byways, charming mountain towns, and lookout towers that serve to showcase the state’s natural beauty.

So you may be wondering, when do the leaves change in Tennessee? In our experience, there are plenty of fun things to do in Tennessee in October.

Early to mid October in Tennessee is the time for Fall colors in the mountains. Mid to late October is great for leaf-peeping in Nashville and Middle Tennessee, while late October to early November is ideal for Memphis.

I’ve been enjoying top-quality Tennessee Fall foliage for years. I lived in Memphis for 4 years during graduate school in the early 2000s, and now I live in the North Carolina mountains, just an hour from the TN border.

Read on for our in-depth guide to the best places to see Fall in Tennessee, including great spots spanning the entire state where you can see those lovely Fall colors in TN.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Apple Orchards in Tennessee for Apple Picking & More

Best Places to See Fall in Tennessee Guide

(Arranged geographically & alphabetically)

  1. Chattanooga TN
  2. Fall Creek Falls State Park
  3. Prentice Cooper State Forest
  4. Southern Belle Riverboat on the Tennessee River
  5. Tennessee Valley Railroad
  6. Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area
  7. Bristol TN
  8. Cherohala Skyway
  9. Cherokee National Forest
  10. Gatlinburg TN
  11. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  12. Roan Mountain State Park
  13. Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park
  14. Natchez Trace Parkway near Nashville
  15. Warner Parks

READ MORE: Where are the Blue Ridge Mountains? A State-by-State Guide


Chattanooga Tennessee Fall Foliage

Chattanooga in fall
Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga in Fall

1. Chattanooga TN

Official Website

While natural spaces tend to get a lot of press for their Fall foliage, Chattanooga in Fall makes a convincing case that cities can be great for leaf-peeping, too!

There are lots of great attractions in Chattanooga that make the most of the “scenic city” and its fabulous Fall colors.

The the Julia Falls Overlook, Rock City, Sunset Rock, Stringer’s Ridge, and Ruby Falls are all located within 10 miles of Downtown Chattanooga.

Other great leaf shows can be found at the Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center, as well as paddling the Tennessee River or biking at Enterprise South Nature Park.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Lookout Mountain GA/TN

Tennessee fall foliage - Upper Piney Falls, Fall Creek Falls State Park
Upper Piney Falls in Fall Creek Falls State Park

2. Fall Creek Falls State Park

Official Website

Fall Creek Falls State Park encompasses nearly 30,000 acres, making it one of the largest State Parks in TN. It’s also absolutely stunning, making it one of the most popular.

Located on the Cumberland Plateau, the park is replete with gorges, streams, and virgin hardwood forests. But it’s best-known for its abundance of beautiful waterfalls.

Some of our favorite waterfalls in the park include the 256-foot Fall Creek Falls, Piney Falls, Cane Creek Falls, and Cane Creek Cascades.

The park also has a golf course and a Canopy Challenge Course with bridges, rope swings, ziplines, and cargo nets.

If you want to make it a weekend getaway, the park boasts 222 campsites, 30 cabin rentals, and an 85-room lodge for visitors to enjoy.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Campgrounds in Tennessee to Visit

Tennessee Fall Colors - Snooper's Rock in Prentice Cooper State Forest
Snooper’s Rock in Prentice Cooper State Forest, photo courtesy of

3. Prentice Cooper State Forest

Official Website

Located just 10 miles west of Chattanooga, Prentice Cooper State Forest encompasses nearly 25,000 acres of protected forest in the Tennessee River Gorge.

The forest offers 35 miles of hiking trails, 2 designated camping areas, and routes for OHVs, horseback riding, mountain biking, and rock climbing.

Our favorite highlights in the Prentice Cooper SF include Blowing Wind Falls, Indian Rockhouse Hiking Trail, North Suck Creek Bridge, and Ransom Hollow Overlook.

READ MORE: Non-Venomous vs Venomous Snakes in Tennessee (ID Guide)

Chattanooga in fall - Southern Belle Riverboat on the Tennessee River
Southern Belle Riverboat on the Tennessee River, photo courtesy of

4. Southern Belle Riverboat on the Tennessee River

Official Website

One of the great things about seeing Fall foliage via boat is that the mirror-like reflections on the water make it a two-for-one experience.

The Southern Belle Riverboat out of Chattanooga has two 1.5-hour cruise options– the Sights Cruise and the Sunset Cruise. Both are great for seeing Fall leaves in all their glorious splendor!

The Sights Cruise teaches passengers about Chattanooga history and provides fantastic glimpses of Lookout Mountain, local bridges, and the Bluff view.

The Sunset Cruise is a little more laid-back, with relaxing tunes to enjoy the colors of the sky contrasted against the changing Fall colors of the trees.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Civil War Sites in Tennessee to Visit

fall foliage in Tennessee
Photo by Ryan Robinson and Mark Wurst, courtesy of the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum

5. Tennessee Valley Railroad

Official Website

The Tennessee River Valley is massive, spanning some 900 miles and traversing 7 states. As part of FDR’s New Deal in the 1930s, the TVA began damming the river to make dozens of lakes.

Today, the Tennessee Valley Railroad in East Tennessee is a fantastic way to see it all, offering three great train rides worth taking.

From Chattanooga, the Missionary Ridge Local Train Ride is the most popular journey and takes a little over an hour.

Departing from Delano, the Hiwassee Loop is an amazing 50-mile train ride that runs for about 5 hours through amazing Tennessee leaf-peeping country.

READ MORE: The 15 Most Haunted Places in Tennessee to Visit


East Tennessee Fall Foliage

Fall Tennessee - East Rim Overlook Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area TN
East Rim Overlook at the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area 

6. Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area

Official Website

The Big South Fork of the Cumberland River is in both Tennessee and Kentucky. It’s part of the Cumberland Plateau, which is renowned for its gorgeous gorges and bluffs.

This national park is filled with 180 miles of hiking trails, breathtaking overlooks, and historic sites mixed with classic Southern Appalachian forest ecosystems.

Beyond hiking, the park can be experienced via mountain biking and rock climbing, as well as whitewater rafting. There are also 200 miles of equestrian trails for horseback riding enthusiasts.

Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area also has five campgrounds, the Big South Fork Scenic Railroad, and boardwalks along the river’s edge.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Places for White Water Rafting in Tennessee

fall in Tennessee
Virginia Creeper Trail

7. Bristol TN

Official Website

Located on the border between Tennessee and Virginia, Bristol is a small town with a big impact. It has an entertaining downtown area and more than its fair share of amazing outdoor attractions.

It’s also a sweet spot for seeing Tennessee’s fall foliage. The town is littered with lake-laden municipal parks and ringed by beautiful mountain peaks.

South Holston Lake is located just outside of town and is great place for leaf-peeping. Within the town of Bristol, Steele Creek Park and Sugar Hollow Park both have Tennessee lakes, colorful leaves, and lovely hiking trails.

There are also two significant trails nearby. The Mendota Trail is 12.5 miles, while the beloved Virginia Creeper Trail is a 17-mile route. Both are open to biking and hiking.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Things to Do in Bristol TN/VA


Smoky Mountains Fall Foliage

Tennessee fall colors - Cherohala Skyway Drive in Fall
Cherohala Skyway Drive in fall

8. Cherohala Skyway

Official Website

Completed in 1996, the Cherohala Skyway is a 43-mile scenic route shared between Tennessee and North Carolina.

Its Visitors Center is located just 22 miles south of Craighead Caverns & the Lost Sea Adventure.

The Skyway has a collection of unobstructed overlooks for stunning vistas of the Great Smoky Mountains, Nantahala National Forest, and Cherokee National Forest.

This is considered one of the Top 10 motorcycle routes in the United States, famed for its long sweeping curves and switchbacks through the mountains.

In addition to being a world-class driving route, there are also plenty of trails for hikers, waterfalls, and myriad other attractions to enjoy along the way.

READ MORE: The 20 Best Places to See Fall Foliage in the Smoky Mountains

fall colors in Tennessee -Watauga Lake, Cherokee National Forest
Watauga Lake, Cherokee National Forest in fall

9. Cherokee National Forest

Official Website

Encompassing 650,000 acres, the Cherokee National Forest is the largest area of public land in the state of Tennessee.

It’s even larger than Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

This National Forest is home to 30 campgrounds, 700+ miles of hiking trails, 2 scenic byways, and 7 whitewater rafting rivers. In short, it’s a phenomenal place to see the best of Autumn in Tennessee.

Areas of interest here include the Watauga Lake Area, Iron Mountains, Bald Mountains, the French Broad River, and the Holston Mountain Area.

It should also be noted that over 150 miles of the Appalachian Trail winds through the Cherokee National Forest.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Great Smoky Mountains Campgrounds to Visit

Gatlinburg TN in fall
Gatlinburg TN in fall

10. Gatlinburg TN

Official Website

Gatlinburg can honestly be a bit garish for many travelers, but that doesn’t stop it from having some of the best places to see Fall foliage in Tennessee. It just means that there are tons of great things to do in Gatlinburg in October.

A tourist town to the bone, Gatlinburg TN in Fall really capitalizes on its mountain setting. Located right in the heart of Downtown, the Gatlinburg Space Needle lifts visitors over 400 feet to get exceptional overlooks of the area.

The Gatlinburg SkyLift was recently updated to have a SkyBridge and SkyDeck, all of which offer awesome vistas.

Anakeesta also has a lift, as well as treetop ziplines, while Ober Gatlinburg has the Ober Aerial Tramway. These are all wonderful options to see Fall colors in Gatlinburg TN for a fee.

For a free glimpse, visitors can go to the Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook on the Gatlinburg Bypass, between the Gatlinburg Spur and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

READ MORE: 10 Best Caverns and Underground Caves in Tennessee

fall colors in the smoky mountains - Early Morning below Clingmans Dome
Early Morning below Clingmans Dome

11. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Official Website

It goes without saying that Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the best place to see Fall foliage in Tennessee. There’s a very good reason why it’s one of America’s most visited National Parks!

The bigger issue is choosing which things to do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. So I’ve tried to provide a collection of options to suit all needs with this list.

Cades Cove is the marquee spot, offering a wildlife-rich 11-mile route for driving. For far-reaching views, it doesn’t get much better than Clingmans Dome, with its high elevation and 360º panoramas.

Oconaluftee River Trail is ideal for an easy hike beside a beautiful waterway lined with hardwood trees.

The 2-mile Chimney Tops Trail is a challenging hike with knock-out scenery, and the widely popular Alum Cave Trail offers a good mix of water and mountaintop.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Smoky Mountain Waterfalls to Visit

Things to do in Tennessee in October - Roan Mountain State Park
Road through Roan Mountains TN in Fall

12. Roan Mountain State Park

Official Website

Roan Mountain is a relatively small State Park at just 2,000 acres. However, it has just the right setting for appreciating colorful Autumn leaves.

The park is located at the base of Roan Mountain, which climbs to 6,285 feet above sea level, with hardwood forests covering its ridges.

Accommodations options at Roan Mountain State Park include a campground with 106 sites, 86 of which have full hookups for RVs. There are also 30 decked-out cabin rentals.

Other great amenities at the park include a tennis court, playground, picnic area, outdoor museums, and 12 miles of hiking trails.

READ MORE: 15 Beautiful Wildflowers of Tennessee (and Where to See Them)


Memphis, Tennessee Fall Foliage

October in Tennessee - Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park
Poplar Tree Lake photo courtesy of Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park

13. Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park

Official Website

Located on the Mississippi River just 13 miles north of Memphis, Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park encompasses over 12,500 acres of wilderness.

This State Park is famed for its trees, including 10 state champion trees and 2 national champion trees. It’s filled with hardwoods like oak, American beech, hickory, and sweet gum.

Meeman-Shelby Forest SP also has mature bald cypress and Tupelo swamp to add to its beauty, not to mention the 125-acre Poplar Tree Lake.

Popular activities at the park include kayaking, boating, biking, horseback riding, and hiking.

There are over 20 miles of hiking trails to enjoy, and the park is also an important Tennessee bird habitat, with some 240+ species sighted there.

READ MORE: What is Bluegrass? The History & Evolution of Appalachian Music


Nashville, Tennessee Fall Foliage

autumn in Tennessee - Double Arch Bridge on Natchez Trace Parkway
Birdsong Hollow Double Arch Bridge on Natchez Trace Parkway

14. Natchez Trace Parkway near Nashville

Official Website

Stretching some 444 miles (just 25 miles shy of the Blue Ridge Parkway!), the Natchez Trace Parkway is a scenic road that winds through Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi.

The route follows a historic path known as the “Old Natchez Trace,” which was used by indigenous people, settlers, soldiers, slave traders, and even US Presidents.

It runs from Natchez MS north to just southwest of Nashville.

Popular stops near the northern terminus of the Natchez Trace Parkway include Birdsong Hollow Double Arch Bridge, Garrison Creek and the Highland Rim Trail, the Tennessee Valley Divide, and Water Valley Overlook.

Other nearby attractions include the Baker Bluff Overlook and Jackson Falls, an absolutely staggering cascade.

READ MORE: The 20 Best Overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Fall

Tennessee in fall - Percy Warner Park
Percy Warner Park Stairs, photo by Trent Rosenbloom courtesy of Friends of Warner Parks

15. Warner Parks

Official Website

Nashville’s Percy and Edwin Warner Parks are located right across from each other on Old Hickory Boulevard. They were both established in 1927, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

These adjacent parks are just 9 miles from Downtown Nashville. Together they comprise 2,684 acres of wild spaces, greenways, waterways, and recreation areas.

Both parks have beautiful structures, including the Warner Park Nature Center, and two golf courses. They also play host to several annual seasonal events.

With over 60 miles of scenic trails, 8 miles of mountain biking paths, and 10+ miles of horseback riding trails, there are many ways to see the Autumn leaves in Nashville here. -by Jonathon Engels; featured image of Fall in Tennessee at Watauga Lake via Canva


Leave No Trace logo

We encourage anyone who loves the Blue Ridge region to learn about the Leave No Trace principles of responsible environmental stewardship. 

Stay on marked trails, take only pictures, pack out your trash, and be considerate of others who share the trails and parks you explore. 

Remember that waterfalls and rocky summits can be dangerous. Never try to climb waterfalls or get close to a ledge to get a selfie.

When you're exploring the wilderness, it's better to be safe than to be a statistic!

After visiting North Carolina for the first time, Senior Writer Jonathon Engels and wife Emma spent 2 years exploring Western NC in search of a homestead property. They first lived in Brevard, where Jonathon taught writing at Blue Ridge Community College and extensively explored the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest. For the last several years they have lived just off the BRP near Elkin, Southwest Virginia, and the NC High Country. The couple also volunteers with the Surry Old Time Fiddlers Convention, the Elkin Valley Trail Association, and Reeves Downtown School of Music.