We’re lucky here in Tennessee to have a whole bunch of seasons.
And this time of year, when fall foliage hitsWe have plenty of locations within a few hours’ drive to accommodate them all. this is Four destinations worth driving It is just the right time to enjoy the best that Mother Nature has to offer at this time of year. Just be sure to check local websites for visitor directions before you hit the road.
Blue Ridge Parkway, Asheville, North Carolina
A long strip of road, Blue Ridge Parkway passes some of the most spectacular scenery from Virginia to North Carolina. And while the entire Parkway itself offers vistas and stopping points, it’s easier to cover small stretches at a time. Most of the Pisgah area stretches from Asheville to Cherokee and during October and November the entire length is a rainbow of auburn, yellow, orange, and gold.
Plan to stay in Asheville and use that as a starting point when you set out on day trips from there. One might include winding your way around the Cherokee for a leisurely, colorful drive. Or break things up and take several short hikes to get to nature.
Good place to jump nearby BiltmoreLegendary Vanderbilt property. From there, you can easily get to the North Caroline Arboretum, then spend the afternoon sailing along the Parkway toward Brevard.
You can also get close to Asheville and explore Chimney Rock State Park, where panoramic views of autumn colors will take your breath away. (So is the hike. There are stairs as well as a lift to get to the top.) Once you reach the top, you’ll find the 404-foot Hickory Nut Falls as well as hiking trails throughout the park.
Whether you spend the day driving, hiking or relaxing, a night in Asheville will refresh you with a robust selection of locally made brews and a meal at one of the city’s dynamic and delicious restaurants.
walking long distances
Craven Gap – A moderate 4.8 mile hike that takes you deep into the jungle with steady climbs and a few creek crossings.
rock gardens Nestled among the high-altitude peaks, this trail will take you to the Pinnacle Trail, where you can enjoy 360-degree views.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg, Tennessee
October is peak foliage season in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, which covers 500,000 acres and is the most visited national park in the country. At its heart, you’ll find Gatlinburg, a mountain town that bustles with visitors all year round. Use the town as a launching point to explore the nearby mountains by car, on foot, or by condola.
The Newfound Gap Trail is a fun windy way to enjoy the colors of fall. A slow 30-mile drive takes you through the mountains toward Cherokee, North Carolina, and offers a number of viewing points along the way.
If you prefer lace-up shoes, there are nearly 800 miles of trails in the area. Stop along the Newfound Gap to head up the four-mile-high Chimney Tops, a steep incline that takes you along the Sugarland mountain range until you reach the summit, where you’ll get a clear view of Mount LeConte.
For a more interactive, natural experience, head over to ANAKISTA. This huge outdoor park has views of Gatlinburg and the mountain range – you can get there by heading downtown and looking for Chondola, which takes you on a slow climb towards the park. Once the sky’s high, traverse the Treetop Skywalk and take a ride on the Rail Runner, a thrilling one-rail mountain ship, or sip a beer at one of the watering holes while gazing at the valley below. Are you looking for a scenic trip? Go to Kid CoveGreat Smoky Mountains National Park destination. The 11-mile one-way ring road circles the cove and provides sightseeing at a comfortable pace. In addition, it is full of history and is a great place to see wildlife.
walking long distances
Charlies Bunion This trail segment of the Appalachian Trail offers a strict hike of 8 miles round trip.
Rainbow Falls Trail – 5 mile round trip that gives you a view of the waterfalls; A longer trek takes you to the top of Mount LeConte.
Central Kentucky, Louisville, Kentucky
Driving to Louisville may be a straightforward and easy shot, but hop off I-65 and you’ll find multiple places to stop and enjoy the natural world. Of course, Louisville should be on your agenda, either as a stopping point, or a parking spot as you take a day trip into the surrounding woods—but venture out of town for the best fall beauty.
Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest It is located southeast of Louisville and is spread over an area of more than 16,000 acres. The main draw is that you can get straight into the shimmering autumn forests and examine the fall colors up close. Wander around and you’ll explore the many strategically located hiking trails, fishing pits, and public arts. While you’re in the area, why not hang out with a distillery or two? Jim Beam is across the road and close to it, Bardstown is home to Willett Distillery and others. (Check individual websites for COVID-19 restrictions.) You’ll get plenty of peeks along the way.
From there, take a leisurely ride on the Lincoln Heritage Scenic Highway, which winds its way from Abraham Lincoln’s Birthplace National Park, past the Heaven Hill Distillery, and onto the Lincoln Legacy Museum—with all the glorious colors of fall along the way.
walking long distances
jungle ring knobs – Easy Loop 3.3, the moderately busy path meanders through the wildlife management area.
Millennium Path in the Bernheim Forest Take a day to enjoy this challenging 13.8-mile hike around the Arboretum.
Chattahoochee National Forest, Dahlonega, Georgia
The quaint town sits on the edge of the Chattahoochee National Forest, putting you in the heart of the stunning fall colors of the Appalachian Mountains. Set out to explore the many hiking trails, waterways, and mountains nearby, then take a detour to discover Georgia’s official wine country.
Dahlonega has a long and rich history that includes gold mining—in the 1820s, the area was one of the richest deposits east of the Mississippi—and loves to celebrate that fact, especially during the Gold Rush Festival in mid-October. But even just a stroll around the square itself will take you in the spirit, as it is lined with trees that glow red and gold in November. For the mile seasonally, there’s also a historic ghost tour on the weekends.
If you prefer to head out into the woods, there are dozens of trails nearby, including the Appalachian, which crosses near the town. Amicalola Falls State Park is a good hike – a staircase path takes you to the top of a 729-foot waterfall. Wineries thrive in this part of the South and are well worth a visit for tastings and views.
walking long distances
Lake Zwerner Trail – Loops around the Yahula Creek Reservoir on the outskirts of town.
Desoto Falls Trail A 1.9 mile loop suitable for all levels and takes you around a waterfall.