As locals begin to don sweaters and hats to guard against chilly fall air, the trees prepare to shed their leaves.
The bright greens of spring and summer are slowly changing to glorious reds, oranges and purples for the fall season, and there is no better place to enjoy the beauty than the Smoky Mountains.
“We typically see a million people within the month of October. They come from all over the world,” said Dana Soehn, a spokesman for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. “We have so many people exploring the trails to see fall color, we always have guided walks from the Visitor Center.”
Color has begun to peak in the highest elevations of East Tennessee, with more color expected to develop within the next couple of days, according to the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development’s Fall Leaf Report.
The season also is a boost for Knoxville economy and tourism, according to Kim Bumpas, president of Visit Knoxville.
“Knoxville gets a ton of visitors staying here, and many of them travel to Gatlinburg for the fall colors,” Bumpas said. “But there is great leafing right here in Knoxville, and the State is advertising that in a unique way through Leaf Peepers.”
Leaf Peepers is a guide from tennesseevacation.com with suggestions on how to spend an autumn weekend in Knoxville. The guide highlights spectacular leaf areas and fun activities, as well as hotels and restaurants.
“We had roughly 2.1 million room stays last October, with an average $91 daily rate,” Bumpas said. That basically boils down to almost $199 million in revenue from Knoxville room stays alone.
The numbers were reported by Smith Travel Research, a third-party reporting service that surveys properties on a monthly basis.
“October is a great month for all of us,” Bumpas said. “People love to come here because they can see the leaves, go to the UT games, and still have outdoor adventures. It’s a beautiful time.”
Red leaves are starting to pop out on dogwoods and maples, and Virginia creeper vines are turning a vivid crimson, according to the report, while fall flowers such as white asters and black-eyed Susans are still prolific along trails and highways.
The spectacle makes a perfect setting for hikers, bikers, and sightseers drawn to the approximately 100 species of trees the Smoky Mountains has to offer.
There are 850 miles of hiking trails throughout the Smokies for hiking lovers to enjoy, according to Soehn. For those who prefer to see nature’s beauty less strenuously, 380 miles of driving trails are available.
“They were designed to provide a viewing experience for the driver,” Soehn said. “People can drive through the highest peaks of the Smokies and see the colors change. Because of the elevation, visitors can find fall color in the Smokies from late September to early November.”
East Tennessee offers an endless number of opportunities for nature lovers to indulge in fall’s finery.
“A popular spot is Cumberland Gap. You can drive up on the pinnacle at the border and see into Virginia and Tennessee. It’s a real pretty place,” said Darren Bailey, a district forester with the Tennessee Division of Forestry.
If you are looking for a trek through the foliage, Bailey recommends House Mountain. Located less than a half-hour from downtown Knoxville, the mountain’s 2,100-foot crest allows plenty of space for visitors to see mountain ranges 30 miles away.
“House Mountain is a hike about five miles round-trip,” Bailey said. “You’ve got a western overlook toward the Kingston area, the Cumberland Mountains and the Smoky Mountain area.”
The east end of the mountain gives an eagle-eye view of the Clinch Mountain range, which runs to Southwest Virginia. A favorite location of bird watchers, House Mountain is home to hawks, woodpeckers, wild turkeys and many other species.
“Look Rock is another interesting place,” Bailey said. “You’ve got a panoramic view of the Smoky Mountains from there.”
A half-mile hike will get you to the highest point of Look Rock, according to Bailey, which has a fire tower with a wide view of the surrounding area.
The most photographed parts of the park include Cades Cove, Balsam Mountain, Foothills Parkway, Clingmans Dome, and Cataloochee Overlook, according to smokymountainfallcolors.com.