Gatlinburg Fall Events
There’s something about fall that sets it apart from the other seasons. It just feels a little slower, a little more relaxed… a little more Gatlinburg. The weather cools off, making the parkway even more walkable and perfect for fall-foliage trips. The changing leaves color our little mountain town with robust reds and vibrant yellows. See miles of nature’s perfection from Newfound Gap or from one of our scenic mountain overlooks. Catch a natural high at the highest point in Tennessee, Clingman’s Dome. Walk downtown Gatlinburg, and see the shops all decked out in autumn colors for the harvest. In Gatlinburg, simply stepping outside and breathing in the fresh mountain air can be a life-affirming, natural relaxant.
Autumn in the Smoky Mountains | Dates: October 1 - November 18
...when a glorious leaf season of several weeks is enjoyed by visitors as fall colors travel down the mountainsides from the highest elevations to the foothills. The kaleidoscope of fall colors in the Smoky Mountains is magnificent and varied because of the amazing diversity of trees. Some 100 species of native trees live in the Smokies, the vast majority of which are deciduous. The timing of fall color change depends upon so many variables that the exact dates of “peak” season are impossible to predict in advance.
In the Smoky Mountains, autumn color displays above 4,000 feet start as early as mid-September with the turning of yellow birch, American beech, mountain maple, hobblebush, and pin cherry, clearly visible from such vantage points as Clingmans Dome Road.
The fall color display usually reaches a peak at middle and lower elevations between mid-October and early November. This is the park’s most spectacular display as it includes such colorful trees as sugar maple, scarlet oak, sweetgum, red maple, and the hickories.
By the later stages of September, the right ingredients are beginning to emerge, the time when cooler temperatures and sunny days mix with some rainfall to bring on a spectacular autumn color display in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The timing of color change and leaf fall is primarily sparked by the calendar; that is, the increasing length of night. As days grow shorter and nights grow longer and cooler, chemical processes in the leaf begin to paint the landscape with Nature’s autumn palette in the Smoky Mountains.
While the typical peak of fall leaf color is at the middle to lower elevations where the greatest diversity of trees live, emerging changes above 4,000 feet begin the parade of fall colors, which then moves down the mountainsides into the valleys of the Smoky Mountains. The high country is still predominantly green, but fall is coming.
Sourwood, dogwood, maple, sassafras, and birch trees are the first to make the change, turning red, orange, and yellow. At this point, there is just a hint of fall color change among those early autumn starters. Perhaps more notable now are the autumn wildflowers in the Smoky Mountains, including cardinal flower, black-eyed Susan, coreopsis, great blue lobelia, skunk goldenrod, southern harebell, ironweed, and a variety of asters, as well as the bright fruits on trees and shrubs such as hearts-a-bustin. September suggested scenic drives for seeing fall colors in the Smoky Mountains include: Parsons Branch Road, Newfound Gap Road, and Clingmans Dome Road.
September’s suggested hikes for seeing the Smoky Mountains in autumn: Albright Grove and Sugarland Mountain Trail as well as high elevation hikes to Andrews Bald or Mt. LeConte would be time well spent.
Another colorful fall foliage opportunity includes a motor tour of the recently reopened Parson Branch Road, an eight-mile one-way narrow, low-speed byway. The road provides motorists an opportunity to drive through a large area of mature second-growth forest and experience the quiet and solitude a back-in-the-woods journey has to offer.
By the beginning of October, trees in the Smoky Mountains high country that are now showing bright fall colors are the yellows of American beech and yellow birch and different shades of reds on mountain ash, pin cherry, and mountain maple. In the lower elevations, a few early colors changing species such as sourwood and sumac are showing bright reds now, but are scattered. Some dogwoods and maples are beginning to turn different colors in some areas as well. Fall wildflowers such as goldenrod and asters are colorful throughout the park and some blueberry and blackberry shrubs are also changing color, as well as the Virginia creeper plant.
Bright golds and yellows of American beech, yellow birch, and yellow buckeye and different shades of reds on mountain ash, pin and black cherry, and mountain maple are painting the landscape. The big rounded leaves of witch-hobble are showing fine displays of color ranging from yellow to red.
The majority of the deciduous forest at 4,000 feet elevation and below is still predominantly green, but now with splashes of color dotting the slopes. Sourwood and sumac are showing bright reds; some dogwoods and maples are turning different colors in some areas as well. Fall wildflowers such as mountain gentian, black cohosh, and goldenrod are colorful throughout the park and some blueberry and blackberry shrubs are also in color, as well as the Virginia creeper plant.
Because the Great Smoky Mountains provide a range of elevations between 875 and 6,643 feet in the Park with differing moisture conditions and habitats, many trees will still produce significant color as the Park moves into its peak autumn season. Recommendations: High elevation trails such as Sugarland Mountain Trail and Appalachian Trail, accessed at Clingmans Dome or Newfound Gap, would be good hikes for this time of year. Also, roads leading into the high country, including Newfound Gap Road, Heintooga Ridge Road, Foothills Parkway West and East, and Rich Mountain Road out of Cades Cove, are the best options for seeing fall colors in the Smoky Mountains.
By mid-October at the lower elevations, fall color is nudging along. It is the sunny days and cooler nights that instigate the biochemical processes in the leaf to begin. The Park continues to experience very dry and warmer-than-normal conditions. These conditions will affect the timing, duration, and intensity of fall leaf season. The peak of color at the lower elevations is over a week away. In the valleys, black gum, dogwood, sumac, and sourwood trees continue to show vivid reds. Golds are coming along on tulip trees, black walnut, birch, beech, and hickories. A few scattered maples and oaks are showing the first signs of fall colors in lower regions of the Smoky Mountains.
A succession of warm, sunny days and cool crisp, but not freezing nights will bring about the most spectacular color display. At this part of the autumn season, some areas of the Smoky Mountains are showing more reds throughout the landscape than in other years. This may be due to the fact that the pigment anthocyanin, which gives color to such familiar things as cranberries, red apples, and blueberries, is in high production because of drought conditions. Anthocyanin is produced in response to lots of light and excess plant sugars within leaf cells. The carotenoids which produce yellow, orange, and brown colors are present in the green leaf but begin showing after the chlorophyll breaks down.
As the leaf color increases, so does the number of autumn leaf peekers. While scenic drives are a good way to see fall colors in the Smoky Mountains, taking to the trails is a wonderful way to enjoy the splendors of autumn.
Recommendations: Suggested easy to moderate rated hikes through hardwood forests include Lower Mount Cammerer, Baskins Creek Falls, Little River, Old Settlers, and Porters Creeks Trails. For the more hardy outdoor enthusiasts hikes that provide scenic overlooks include Sugarlands Mountain, Low Gap, Appalachian, Mt. Sterling, and Goshen Prong Trails. Roads providing views of good displays of fall color are the Foothills Parkway segments on the east and west side of the Park; Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441) with its many scenic overlooks; Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail; Balsam Mountain Road; and Cove Creek Road.
As October begins to fade away up top, autumn colors at mid-elevations, from 3,000-5,000 feet, are at or slightly past peak and are very impressive. Reds are more pronounced now than in recent years, especially on the North Carolina side of the park. Colors at the very highest elevations (above 5,500) are now past peak.
At the lower elevations of the Smoky Mountains, fall colors are quickly developing. The first frost of the season occurred this week in the low elevations, so the remaining leaves should begin to change color within a few days. Black gum, dogwood, sumacs, and sourwood trees continue to show vivid reds. Golds are present on tuliptree, black walnut, birch, beech, spicebush, and hickories. The peak of color at the lower elevations is still a few days away and will probably spill over into November.
It is not unusual for some autumn color to last through certainly the first week of November in the Smoky Mountains, but if the weather cooperates autumn displays could last through mid-November as well.
While fall colors are past peak in the Smoky Mountains high country and many trees have already shed their leaves, a number of species of trees in the middle elevations are still showing color. Oak trees are just beginning to change color, although their hues are somewhat muted compared to maple, hickory, and other trees. Some pockets of green can still be seen at the middle to lower elevations so there is still some new color to appear in these isolated areas if mild weather continues.
Recommendations: Good places to see fall colors in the Smoky Mountains include Newfound Gap Road from Alum Cave Trailhead to Kephart Prong Trailhead, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Foothills Parkway East & West, and Heintooga Ridge Road to Balsam Mountain Campground. Suggested hikes include Rich Mountain Loop, Chestnut Top Trail, Smokemont Loop, Kanati Fork, and Sutton Ridge Overlook (Lower Mt. Cammerer Trail).
Taste of Autumn
Gatlinburg celebrates the beginning of the fall season with an evening filled with delicious signature dishes from area restaurants and top-notch entertainment at the Annual Taste of Autumn on Thursday, September 13 from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Taste of Autumn will be held in the Tennessee Ballroom at the Gatlinburg Convention Center. Tickets are $30, and children 5 and under are free. A reserved table for a party of 10 is available for $300. A corporate VIP package for a party of 10 is available for $500 and includes priority seating, meet and greet with the talent, and wine on the table.
Oktoberfest at Ober Gatlinburg
Ober Gatlinburg is celebrating October with a fantastic festival featuring Bavarian-style food, drink, and music, but you don’t have to don your finest lederhosen or dirndls to be a part of the fun.OktOBERfest returns to its Gatlinburg-style roots with 38 days of merrymaking from September 28 through October 30, 2018 as the resort commemorates the 207th anniversary of the popular festival held in Munich, Germany.
The Bavarian Fun Makers Band, in authentic costumes, will perform traditional Bavarian folk dances, schuhplattling, oompah music, sing-a-longs, yodels, and more with daily shows and multiple performances every day during Oktoberfest. Special Oktoberfest Biers will be served along with traditional German wurst, schnitzel, sauerkraut, strudel, pretzels, and more.
Oktoberfest was a popular event when the Heidelberg Castle operated its restaurant at Ober Gatlinburg in the 1980s.
The first Oktoberfest was not really a festival at all, but the public celebration of the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig I and Princess Therese of Bavaria on October 17, 1810. Held on a large meadow named the Theresienwiese in Munich, the party featured a horse race, beer, food, music, and dancing. Anniversary celebrations continue each year, usually starting in late September and ending in the first week of October, with some six million people attending annually.
Gatlinburg Craftsmen's Fair
The celebration of fall also encompasses one of the southeast’s most popular events… the Annual Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair. From October 4 through 21, the Gatlinburg Convention Center blossoms into a multi-level mecca of the top craft people from all across the United States.
Autumn’s brisk air signals all of nature to transform the Great Smoky Mountains from lush green to a majestic patchwork quilt of colors.
A unique characteristic of the Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair is the fact that artisans not only make their art available for viewing and sale, but also demonstrate their special talents and skills during this show, which is recognized as one of the top 20 events in the Southern U.S. by the Southeast Tourism Society.
Tentative hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Music shows are scheduled at 12, 2 and 4 p.m. daily, 12 and 2 p.m. on Sundays.
Gatlinburg Trick or Treat
A fantastic family Halloween day event from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm. Fun for visiting guests and local residents – contests, costumed characters, candy, and a pumpkin contest plus trick or treat safety from the Gatlinburg Police Department and fire safety from the Gatlinburg Fire Department.
Winter Magic Kickoff and Chili Cookoff
Offering mouth-watering recipes of homemade chili ranging from mild and delightful to wild and adventurous, the City of Gatlinburg hosts its annual Winter Magic Kickoff and Chili Cookoff on Wednesday, Nov. 7 from 5 to 8 p.m. in downtown.
City dignitaries will signify the start of Gatlinburg Winter Magic with a ceremonial lighting of more than 3 million lights throughout the city.
Great Smoky Thanksgiving Arts and Crafts Show
Unique handcrafted gifts made by members of the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community are offered as they host their annual Thanksgiving show at the Gatlinburg Convention Center.
Craft show hours:
- Weekdays | 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
- Friday and Saturday | 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
- Sunday | 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
The Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community is the nation’s largest organization of independent artisans that makes its home in Gatlinburg and the 8-mile Arts and Crafts Loop along Route 321, Buckhorn Road, and Glades Road. The Tennessee artists and craftspeople here create beautiful and useful things with techniques handed down for centuries. Find gorgeous quilts, old-fashioned straw brooms with hand-carved handles, exquisitely woven baskets, hand-dipped scented candles, Victorian ceramic pitchers, pottery, dulcimers, stuffed bears, and leather vests. There is handmade jewelry, unlike anything you’ll find in the malls back home. Painters capture scenes of landscapes and mountain life, while potters and weavers work magic with clay and cloth.
Tennessee Whiskey Experience
The Tennessee Whiskey Experience will highlight the distilleries that make up the Tennessee Whiskey Trail with product samples and cocktails straight from the distillers.
Complimenting these spirits, Park Vista Executive Chef Jeremy Hemen will be creating dishes highlighting authentic Appalachian cuisine.
All tickets include:
- Shuttle service from Downtown Gatlinburg to the Park Vista and back running from 4:30pm- 11:30pm
- TN Whiskey Experience commemorative glass
- Access to the Whiskey Sampling Floor and Whiskey Conversation featuring samples from all participating distilleries (Unlimited sampling)
- Access to the Cocktail Lawn featuring signature cocktails from all participating distilleries (Unlimited Sampling)
- Live Music (TBA)
- Opportunity to purchase spirits and merchandise from participating distilleries from the Bottle Shop
- Appalachian Dinner curated by Chef Jeremy Hemen.