With endless parks and forests throughout the state, Tennessee is the perfect place to soak up the brilliant colors of fall.
Due to the state’s diverse tree species, a full spectrum of autumnal colors from deep reds to vibrant amber are showcased.
Brightly colored leaves cover every part of Tennessee’s beautiful landscape, creating stunning fall foliage around every corner. While the leaves change this time of year all over the country, Tennessee has a particularly impressive fall display.
And now, Tennessee has made it easier for those with protanopia and protanomaly (more commonly known as red-green color blindness or red-blind) to enjoy these vibrant colors, too by installing specially equipped viewfinders featuring the latest technology lenses for alleviating red-green color deficiencies.
Areas at which these viewfinders are available include the East Rim Overlook of Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Ober Gatlinburg, the Lake View Overlook of the Cherohala Skyway, Fall Creek Falls, Hwy. 111 over the Sequatchie Valley at Dunlap, Ruby Falls/Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, South Cumberland State Park at Monteagle and Standing Stone State Park at Hilham.
What makes fall foliage special is its temporal nature. For just a couple weeks, trees light up with the warm glow of autumn before they begin to drop their leaves. Tennessee’s varying topography and the state’s length means autumnal colors appear at different times, making it a challenge to catch the perfect moment for fall foliage photos.
To help make the most of scenic tours through the state this fall, the Tennessee Department of Tourism has created a guide identifying when changing leaves are at their peak in each part of the state.
Also included are places and activities from each region that provide the best photo opportunities.
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 that includes more than 100 native tree species with 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.
Take a ride on the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway for a breathtaking view of the Smoky Mountains. This 2-mile ride to the Gatlinburg Amusement Park & Ski Area provides aerial photo opportunities for fall. Once at the top, take a ride on the Gatlinburg Mountain Coaste rand 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.
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.
Another exciting way to see the beautiful seasonal foliage lining the Tennessee River is by biking Chattanooga’s 10-mile paved Riverwalk. Rent a bike through the Chattanooga Bicycle Transit System or bring one along to 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 for a full day of exploring autumnal beauty on two wheels.
In Knoxville, the Three Rivers Rambler tourist train operation conducts special All Hallow’s Eve rides. Cruise through beautiful landscapes embellished with the colors of autumn on the two-hour family-friendly ride. The All Hallow’s Eve Special includes whimsical decorations, festive treats and an audio presentation of the story “The Phantom Railway.”
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.
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 visitors can make a full day of this fall foliage stop.
Take a scenic train ride through the best fall foliage and scenery in Middle Tennessee at the Tennessee Central Railway Museum in Nashville. The museum has three fall foliage-themed day trips in October, each with a destination to a charming little towns outside Nashville, including Baxter for its annual Harvest Festival.
Natchez Trace State Park at Wildersville has some of the best scenic locations in the fall 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.
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 with a spectacular view for miles. While in the area, stop by the historic town of Franklin 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.
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.
In the Northwest corner of Tennessee near Tiptonville, 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 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.
Home to gigantic beech, oak and elm trees, the Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park in Memphis 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 foliage photos.
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.
No matter where Tennessee roads wind, there are tons of scenic locations to explore during fall.