Autumn colors at East Rim Overlook Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Tennessee.

13 Top Places To Visit In Tennessee In The Fall

Fall begins properly in Tennessee in late September and ends in November, so you have a few months to discover the best places to visit in Tennessee to witness autumnal transitions. The Cherokee National Forests is one of those places with stunning fall colors and hosts various mammals, such as white-tailed deer and foxes, reptiles like northern copperheads, and different bird species. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park also provides an excellent avenue for wildlife exploration amidst mountain views, hiking trails — notably the Appalachian Trail, and pristine lakes.

These destinations also fulfill recreational opportunities, including hiking on Woodland Trail in Meeman-Shelby State Park, horseback riding in Cades Cove, biking in Prentice Cooper State Forest, and playing ball in Cumberland Mountain State Park. Travelers aim to get an all-packed fall experience in small towns like Gatlinburg and Bristol. All set to have the most eventful fall experience? Embark on an endless journey of adventure in these 13 top places to visit in Tennessee in the fall.

Cades Cove

Vibrant autumn landscape taken in Cades Cove valley in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee.
Vibrant autumn landscape taken in Cades Cove Valley in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee.

Cades Cove is a part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee, approximately 31 miles from Pigeon Forge. It is the most popular attraction in the park, welcoming visitors all year round owing to its stunning views characterized by verdant valleys, historic cabins, and wildlife displays. There are pathways amidst the vibrant red leaves of Cade Cove Loop, with stops and stories to explore embedded in each distinctive historic structure, such as the John Oliver Cabin, Cable Mill, Primitive Baptist Church, Elijah Oliver Place, Corn Crib, and more.

Exercising outdoors is embraced with hiking available at trails, including Abrams Falls Trail, Rich Mountain Loop, and Spence/Russell Field Loop. The adventure continues with horseback riding or spending one or two more nights camping in Cades Cove campground, exploring the area's beauty.

Cherokee National Forest

Bald River Falls, Tellico Plains, Cherokee National Forest. Appalachian Mountains, Tennessee
Autumn at Bald River Falls, Tellico Plains, Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee.

The Cherokee National Forest is the largest tract of public land in Tennessee, measuring over 650,000 acres and presenting the best of nature in its raw form, which makes it a favorite destination in the fall. The forest has several named mountains, the most prominent of which is Roan High Knob, developed campgrounds and picnic areas, and seven whitewater rivers. The site also has 11 official wilderness areas: Unaka Mountain Wilderness, Pond Mountain Wilderness, and more.

These areas are perfect for leisure walks, backpacking, or hiking. One of the best parts of this place is that you are never alone, as various wildlife animals, such as black bears, white-tailed deer, raccoons, foxes, and coyotes, inhabit the forest. You will also find reptiles like eastern box turtles, southeastern five-lined skink, and two venomous snakes: northern copperhead and timber rattlesnake. The iconic Appalachian Trail provides spectacular views of the Unaka Mountains along red-blushed trees for the ideal hiking experience.

Meeman-Shelby State Park

Female visitor smiles, she is sitting quietly on a log besides PoplarTree Lake in Meeman-Shelby State Park near Memphis, Tennessee.
PoplarTree Lake in Meeman-Shelby State Park near Memphis, Tennessee.

Meeman–Shelby Forest State Park is an over 12,000-acre state park bordering the Mississippi River in Shelby County. The Park has two lakes, including Poplar Tree Lake and Lake Piersol, for paddlers who seek a calm trip on the water while observing the colored foliage around it. Travelers often hike and move with the wind along the park's golden carpeted 20 miles of hiking trails, comprising the wooded Chickasaw Bluff Trail, Woodland Trail, Pioneer Springs Trails, and more.

The 5-mile Shelby Forest Bike trail is an ideal choice for mountain biking as it is ideally designed to guide you through the right parts. There is also the nature center for a little trip down memory lane to discover the area's origin. You may want to spend a few more days ticking off every area of the park before the real-world calls, and cabins are at one’s disposal to make each day an adventure.

Natchez Trace Parkway

Tennessee highway 96 as seen from Double Arch Bridge at Natchez Trace Parkway near Franklin, Tennessee, fall scenery
Double Arch Bridge at Natchez Trace Parkway near Franklin, Tennessee, in the fall.

This Parkway was preserved to commemorate the historic Natchez Trace and has now become a popular recreational site, an excellent choice for fall adventurers. It is in the Southeastern United States, featuring a two-lane road that stretches 444 miles from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee. The long ride allows time to soak in and really enjoy the breathtaking views of fantastic foliage on either side.

Points of interest along the route include Mount Locust and the Abandoned Town of Rocky Springs, a ghost town/historic site between Natchez and Jackson. In Tennessee, a trip to Meriwether Lewis Monument and grave site provides for a bit of history, and trails such as Fall Hollow Trails and the Trail to Jackson Falls and Baker Bluff Overlook are great to stretch and a bit of fresh air with hiking opportunities. 


Gatlinburg Tennessee, fall cityscape.
Gatlinburg, Tennessee, fall cityscape.

The magic of the season in Gatlinburg spotlights a beautiful small mountain town in eastern Tennessee, the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This town offers ravishing views of the park from its various attractions, such as the Gatlinburg Space Needle observation tower, which stands 407 feet tall. Scenic places to watch the verdant vegetation include the Anakeesta Mountain Adventure Park, AnaVista Tower, Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook, and Gatlinburg SkyBridge for pedestrians overlooking the Smoky Mountains. 

The park’s natural areas can be found while hiking on the Appalachian Trail. Autumn lights up this little town with several festivals to celebrate the season, including Bear-Varian Fall Festival in Anakeesta, Boo Bash at Gatlinburg SkyPark, Ripley's Haunted Adventure, and more. 

Fall Creek Falls State Park

A Walk Through Fall, Fall Creek Falls State Park, Pikeville, Tennessee, United States
A walk through fall, Fall Creek Falls State Park, Pikeville, Tennessee.

This State Park is in Van Buren and Bledsoe counties, Tennessee, stretching approximately 30,000 acres in the center of the upper Cane Creek Gorge. It is mostly known for its fascinating geological formation and pristine vegetation that shines even better in the fall. The park houses Fall Creek Falls, the tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi River. The water flows from the rocks to a pool below, an absolutely delightful sight to behold amidst the transitioning leaves reflecting on the water. Several campsites are in the area, as the park has over 200, attracting its visitors for an extended stay in the mountains. There are also 30 cabins comprising both fishermen and landside cabins and an 18-hole golf course.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Man hiker standing on top of the mountain enjoying beautiful fall scenery. Smoky Mountains National Park, near Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Fall hike in Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee.

The famous Great Smoky Mountains National Park is all shades of fun in autumn's glory, bordered between North Carolina and Tennessee. The iconic landscape, rivers, and waterfalls accompany lush forests that present a unique glimpse into nature's wonders. Spanning over 500,000 acres, a hike through the park's beauty is seen through the infamous Appalachian Trail. Other equally scenic trails, such as Middle Prong Trail, Andrews Bald Trail, and Alum Cave Trail, are other popular options.

The sight of crashing waterfalls in Ramsey Cascades, the tallest waterfall in the Park, Laurel Falls, and Abram Falls are a must-see to absorb their heights and glory. As you tour the park, watch for wildlife, including thousands of plant species and animal life, such as mammals like black bears and birds like Eastern screech owls. Some more outdoor activities to take advantage of are fishing in the Little Pigeon River, which also runs through Gatlinburg and Greenbrier. Horseback riding is also a top-tier activity this fall, riding out through the park's leaf-colored paths and watching wildlife frolicking.

Cumberland Mountain State Park

Cumberland Mountains State Park in Fall, bridge
Cumberland Mountains State Park in the fall.

A trip in Cumberland Mountain State Park, spanning 1,720 acres around Byrd Lake, is set amidst an environmental microcosm of the Cumberland Plateau that radiates in the fall. Fishing is a popular pastime with various species, such as bluegill, catfish, trout, and bass, on Byrd Lake. There are numerous hiking trails, including the 5-mile Pioneer Trail Loops and the 1-mile Cumberland Plateau Trail, in the tree-lined paths with opportunities to observe wildlife.

The Park provides recreational facilities for tennis, volleyball, and basketball, allowing players to leave the natural adventure for a minute and channel their sports skills here. For golfers, the Bear Trace course, measuring 6,900 yards, is perfect for a full day of golfing in the natural view of yellow vegetation.

Cherohala Skyway

Overlooking the Cherohala Skyway in Tennessee with fall colors.
Cherohala Skyway in Tennessee with stunning fall colors.

Cherohala Skyway is a National Forest Scenic Byway that runs from Tellico Plains, Tennessee, to Robbinsville, North Carolina, 43 miles long. The skyway construction started in 1958 and was completed in 1996, now a go-to path for road enthusiasts. It features heavily flanked routes by trees, mountains, and waterfalls. Its landscape vividly shines in the red-transitioned leaves and gains over 4,000 feet in elevation, with several highlights in the area, including Hooper Cove and Shute Cove in North Carolina, valleys with picnic areas and viewing. For short trails, Hooper Bald in North Carolina, a grassy bald mountain trail, is suitable for hiking. Fall Branch Falls Trail is also a short hiking area in Tennessee with small water flows. The Tennessee Cherohala Skyway Visitor Center provides information and shopping, while the Charles Hall Museum encourages learning and exploration.


Park bench sits besides Steele Creek Lake, in Steele Creek Park, Bristol, Tennessee
Autumn colors at Steele Creek Lake in Steele Creek Park, Bristol, Tennessee.

Bristol, Tennessee, is the twin city of Bristol, Virginia, in Sullivan County. It’s known for being the birthplace of country music, so it's only fitting that the town's musical legacy offers fall exploration. Make a brief visit to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, which showcases the town's heritage through exhibits and displays on Bristol Sessions of 1927. You can hear the music play while by the waters of South Holston Lake, surrounded by Mountain vistas and bright orange and red colors in Tennessee and Virginia.

Steele Creek Park hosts a 52-acre lake walled by hills and knobs highlighting fall's awesomeness. The picturesque Sugar Hollow Park in Virginia is also a must-see, providing a stunning view of the leaves changing as you bike or hike in the park. The Mendota Trail, measuring 12.5 miles, reflects an excellent forest overlook and a refreshing ride.

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area

East Rim Overlook, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Tennessee
East Rim Overlook, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Tennessee.

Boasting gorgeous landscape views, sandstone bluffs, mountains, and more, the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area preserves the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River and welcomes visitors who seek to witness the natural wonders. Fall visits start touring with whitewater paddling in the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River and its primary feeders (the North White Oak, New River, and Clear Fork), highlighting the area's agricultural and mining heritage. Adventure can be sought by mountain climbing in the miles of the cliff in the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, surrounded by rich red-orange vegetation. Hiking in the area's extensive trail system includes Slave Falls/Needle Arch, Middle Creek Conversation Loop Trail, and Honey Creek Loop, allowing you an incredible time amidst the season's magical transitions.

Prentice Cooper State Forest

A scenic view of the Prentice Cooper State Forest in Tennessee
Prentice Cooper State Forest in Tennessee.

Prentice Cooper State Forest sits in Marion County on the Tennessee Gorge, spanning over 20,000 acres. It is named after Prentice Cooper, an American politician and 39th Governor of Tennessee. It now features various picturesque areas, including rolling hills, 35 miles of hiking trails, and more, revealing the area's colorful foliage and natural arts. Hiking trails include Edward's Point Trail, Cumberland Trail: Mullens Cove Loop, Indian Rockhouse Trail, and Rainbow Lake to Edwards Points, featuring beautiful vistas of autumn tints. Visit Snoopers Rock, which offers a picture-perfect overlook of the Tennessee River Gorge with a flattering landscape view. The forest also provides horseback riding, camping, biking, and hunting opportunities, marking an iconic time with nature.

Warner Parks

Percy Warner Park in Nashville, Tennessee with fall colors.
Percy Warner Park in Nashville, Tennessee, in autumn.

Edwin Warner Park and Percy Warner Park, jointly called Warner Parks, are gorgeous parks in Nashville, Tennessee, with impressive features explored every season but elegant for fall foliage viewers. The parks' roads are lined with over 200-year-old stone walls, one of the oldest being a stacked stone wall along Old Hickory Boulevard. The views at these parks are fantastic, especially when soaked in a red-orange hue. Discover gorgeous scenery as you hike through the Mossy Ridge Trail along Percy Warner Park, with hills and open meadows along the paths, as well as animals. Ride through the 1/3-mile loop of Hungry Hawk Trail in Edwin Warner Park, passing through a stream and woods of vibrant colors. Check out golf courses at the parks, including Harpeth Hills Golf Course and Percy Warner Golf Course. There are many other iconic places to see in these parks, such as Iroquois Steeplechase, Christ Presbyterian Church, St. Henry’s Catholic Church, and Luke Lea Heights.

Fall trips are always exciting in Tennessee, especially along the Cherohala Skyway and Natchez Trace Parkway, featuring significant highlights to watch the season bloom. The glory of the forest is on display with wildlife like raccoons and black bears, and with hiking options on the scenic trails overlooking the Tennessee River Gorge, such as Snoopers Rock, and horseback riding in the Middle Prong Trail of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The best fall feeling is in Gatlinburg, hosting picturesque attractions like Anakeesta Mountain and various fall festivals, including Bear-Varian Fall Festival in Anakeesta and Boo Bash at Gatlinburg Skypark. You can also find fishing opportunities in the Little Pigeon River and rivers in Great Mountain National State Park. These destinations in Tennessee will weaken your defense against outdoor recreation this season for endless exploration.


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