Fall in eastern Tennessee is the ideal time of year to go hiking in the Smokies. The fall foliage display, courtesy of Mother Nature, runs from September through November, but keep in mind the foliage starts changing color at the higher elevations first. By mid-October the mountains put their full splendor on display from midway to peak, making this time of year the best time to go hiking in the Smokies. Here are three of our favorite hikes for viewing the fall foliage.

1. The Rich Mountain Loop Trail

Located in Cades Cove, the trail is a delightful way to explore what many consider to be “one of the most picturesque valleys” anywhere in the country. Hiking along this trail takes you past several spectacular views of Cades Cove and through some incredible areas of forest. If you come here in late October, the fall colors are at their peak.

The trail itself is only mildly challenging and should be fine for all family members. You can also include hikes to the John Oliver Cabin and the Primitive Baptist Church located in the Cove while you are here. Since this is a very popular trail, you should park in the campground and walk to the trailhead; it’s not very far.

2. The Middle Prong Trail

The trailhead for the Middle Prong Trail is located near the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. The trail stays at a low level, making it perfect for the less experienced hiker and younger children. There are many other trails that take you higher into the mountains where you look out over the mountains. You won’t find views like that on the Middle Prong Trail. But what you will find is a delightful trail winding through glorious woods covered in a shroud of fall colors including golds, yellows, oranges, reds, and browns.

The trail also takes you past a number of waterfalls and cascades as it winds near and over the creeks that curve lazily down the mountainside. While you are here, why not take the one-mile trip on the Spruce Flats Falls Hiking Trail. The trailhead is located at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont and offers mountain views and a 20-ft waterfall. Bring the family and make sure you grab your camera; both trails offer spectacular photo opportunities.

3. The Gregory Bald Trail

“I’m on top of the world, ma!” Well, at least it will feel that way by the time you get to the top of Gregory Bald. From here you have an uninterrupted view of the southeastern corner of the park, including Cades Cove. While the view from the top of the bald is incredible and a fantastic destination, the journey itself is worthy of comment. As you hike towards the top, your journey will take you past the stands of hardwood that make the mountains so glorious at this time of year. It’s a ten-mile hike, but more than worth the effort.

The Peaceful Side of the Smokies has dozens of trails for you to explore in the fall. One thing you can count on is that no matter which hike you take, you will never be disappointed by the scenery.