Plan Your Autumn Trip to Bryson City with our Leaf Color Guide

Webb Overlook Mountain Scene

In the Smoky Mountains, leaf color changes generally occur from late September through early November. It can vary based on scenarios such as the date of the first cold snap, and heavy rain or wind.  

Leaf color starts at the highest elevations first, considering the prevailing cooler temperatures at this level, and moves its way down the mountains. In Bryson City, given the highest elevation starting at 6,643 at Clingmans Dome (Great Smoky Mountains National Park) and 6,411’ at Richland Balsam (Blue Ridge Parkway), there are several rolling peaks of color change.

Looking for scenic fall color drives? Learn more about our scenic drives to plan the best route for fall color viewing, including the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Cherohala Skyway, and the Tail of the Dragon.

Or relax, take a seat, and travel by rail through the Smoky Mountains for brilliant color viewing on the Fall Foliage excursion of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. Fall excursions depart daily from the depot in downtown Bryson City.

Our Guide to Fall Color will help you decide the best time to plan your vacation in the Smokies. As you consider your travel date options, keep in mind that there could be strong variations from one week to the next.

Last week in September

Graveyard Fields Fall

At the highest elevations, there is some color, but can be very spotty and muted. A notorious frontrunner to kick off fall color is Graveyard Fields. Second Falls can be particularly vibrant. Areas to the west of Graveyard Fields such as Devil’s Courthouse and Cowee Mountain Overlook may begin to show colors along the drive. Clingmans Dome and Newfound Gap may also show color at this timeframe, although the surrounding trees at Clingmans Dome are of the pine variety and don’t change color.  The downward views from these locations will be mostly green, since the areas viewed are lower elevations.

Recommended Scenic Drives: Newfound Gap Road, Clingmans Dome Road, Blue Ridge Parkway

First week in October

Waterrock Knob Fall

This is generally peak time for areas above 5,000 feet.  This would include: Clingmans Dome, Waterrock Knob and Graveyard Fields (the first location on the Parkway to turn colors) and higher elevations of The Blue Ridge Parkway (between Asheville and Cherokee) and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Recommended Scenic Drives: Newfound Gap Road, Clingmans Dome Road, Blue Ridge Parkway

Second week in October

Mountain scene Blue Ridge Parkway

Elevations from 4,000 - 5,000 feet will most likely be changing colors at this time. This would include almost all Blue Ridge Parkway locations including Cowee Mountain Overlook, and the majority of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park including Swinging Bridges Overlook and Oconaluftee Valley Overlook.

Recommended Scenic Drives: Newfound Gap Road, Cherohala Skyway, Blue Ridge Parkway

Third week in October

Mingo Falls

While the highest elevations will be losing their leaf color, generally there is still plenty of fall color at elevations from 3,000 - 4,000 feet.  This would include places like: Nantahala National Forest which includes the Tsali Recreation Area and Wesser Bald. Also consider waterfalls such as Mingo Falls, Soco Falls, and the 3 waterfalls at Deep Creek. Or consider a fall color excursion by kayaking and stand-up-paddleboarding on Fontana Lake with Carolina Bound Adventures.

Recommended Scenic Drives: Newfound Gap Road, Cherohala Skyway, Blue Ridge Parkway, Nantahala Gorge, Hellbender 28, Tail of the Dragon.

Fourth week in October

Entrance Sign to Park in Fall

As we reach the end of October, fall colors can widely vary. The highest elevations have most likely been stripped of their leaves, so it’s best to look for fall colors in lower elevations at 2,000 feet - 3,000 feet.  This would include downtown Bryson City, Fontana Dam, the Nantahala Gorge, the Road to Nowhere, Deep Creek, Cherokee, and many others.  Places of interest include the Mountain Farm Museum and Mingus Mill.

Recommended Scenic Drives: Blue Ridge Parkway, Nantahala Gorge, Hellbender 28, Road to Nowhere

First week in November

Road to Nowhere

Peak fall color locations during early November can be hit or miss. We have witnessed peak colors occurring in very popular locations at this time. Deep Creek is a great place to explore, as is the Road to Nowhere and the Nantahala Gorge.

Recommended Scenic Drives: Nantahala Gorge, Road to Nowhere, Little River Road, Cades Cove, Roaring Fork

Bryson City’s location in the Great Smoky Mountains, with easy access to the Blue Ridge Parkway and the National Park, provides excellent opportunities to see fall colors at various elevations.

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