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.
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.
Best Places to See Fall in Tennessee Guide
(Arranged geographically & alphabetically)
- Chattanooga TN
- Fall Creek Falls State Park
- Prentice Cooper State Forest
- Southern Belle Riverboat on the Tennessee River
- Tennessee Valley Railroad
- Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area
- Bristol TN
- Cherohala Skyway
- Cherokee National Forest
- Gatlinburg TN
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Roan Mountain State Park
- Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park
- Natchez Trace Parkway near Nashville
- Warner Parks
Chattanooga Tennessee Fall Foliage
1. Chattanooga TN
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.
2. Fall Creek Falls State Park
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.
3. Prentice Cooper State Forest
Located just 10 miles west of Chattanooga, Prentice Cooper State Forest encompasses nearly 25,000 acres of protected forest in the Tennessee River Gorge.
Our favorite highlights in the Prentice Cooper SF include Blowing Wind Falls, Indian Rockhouse Hiking Trail, North Suck Creek Bridge, and Ransom Hollow Overlook.
4. Southern Belle Riverboat on the Tennessee River
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 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.
5. Tennessee Valley Railroad
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.
East Tennessee Fall Foliage
6. Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area
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.
7. Bristol TN
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
8. Cherohala Skyway
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.
9. Cherokee National Forest
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.
10. Gatlinburg TN
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.
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.
11. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
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.
12. Roan Mountain State Park
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.
Memphis, Tennessee Fall Foliage
13. Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park
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.
Nashville, Tennessee Fall Foliage
14. Natchez Trace Parkway near Nashville
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.
15. Warner Parks
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.
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