Although the timing of fall foliage season varies widely depending on everything from annual rainfall and temperatures to elevation and other issues, we all know that, in the South, mid-September through November is the time to “leaf peep.” The Smokies, though, are a very unique place thanks to the majestic mountains standing high above the lush valleys and beautiful landscape.

Way up at their peaks, autumn arrives a bit sooner and, combined with the wide array of trees, the seasonal foliage is quite stunning, but not exactly predictable. If you want to do a bit of hiking as you enjoy foliage, you’ll have a lengthy window of opportunity that runs from the middle of September and often into the first week or so of November. It is a safe bet to say that autumn colors peak in the lower elevations, typically, from mid-October to early November. The weather is usually quite fine and clear, and so it is the perfect time to get outdoors and see the leaves before they drop.

The question is, “where”? Here are our three most recommended hikes:

Maryville-Alcoa Greenway (AKA the Greenbelt Trail)

Ideal for walkers and hikers of any age or ability, it is a nine-mile trail that is literally covered in a canopy of trees, many of which are deciduous and ready to wow visitors with their flashes of gold, red and orange. It is open to walkers, but is also fully accessible for wheelchairs, bikes and inline skaters, making it the perfect way to savor the amazing beauty of the foliage without traveling too far from the more peaceful side of the Smokies.

Cades Cove

There are several amazing trails in this popular area, and though a drive through the region is packed with color and scenery, some of the best hiking can be found just off the main road. This includes the popular Abrams Falls Trail that is a moderate hike of roughly five miles and which leads you to stunning Abrams Falls. The most powerful of all of the waterfalls in the park, it is often framed by stunning foliage and is a wonderful destination for an autumn hike.

Grotto Falls

Though this is among the more challenging hikes, it is only 2.5 miles and offers some of the most amazing forest and valley views. It is accessed from the Trillium Gap Trail, which is part of the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. It leads to a 25-foot high waterfall and a place where many hikers have spotted black bears in the autumn months. Because of that, dogs are not allowed on the hike, but if you are eager to see foliage, waterfalls, and even some local wildlife, this might be a good choice.

Of course, you can enjoy foliage even without a walk or a hike, and as we have recommended many times in the past, a drive through Townsend and the surrounding areas can provide you with some of the most amazing foliage scenery. Just pick your favorite country road and then savor the stunning colors all around!