To say that fall color has emerged in Great Smoky Mountains National Park would be putting it lightly. As early reports go, high elevations show warm golds and yellows amongst species like the American beech, yellow birch, mountain ash, pin cherry and mountain maple.
At lower points, trees are still predominantly green but several species are showing hints of color including dogwoods, black walnuts, sumac, and Virginia creeper, Among these, you’ll see yellows and burgundy reds against their green counterparts. The way color is looking so far, peak season looks like it could last anywhere from 7 weeks or more as color moves down the mountainsides from the highest elevations.
The Smokies’ majestic fall beauty usually reaches peak color at middle and lower elevations between mid-October and early November most years. Trees such as sugar maple, scarlet oak, sweetgum, and red maple are showing out during this time. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park actually goes more in depth with their comprehensive look at fall color here: http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/fallcolor.htm
As noted, by October the Smoky Mountain high country is littered with trees that are now showing bright fall colors such as the yellows of the American beech and yellow birch and various reds on trees such as the mountain ash, pin cherry and mountain maple. By now, a few early color changing species such as sourwood and sumac are showing bright red versions in the lower elevations, but can be few and far between. Notice that a few dogwoods and maples are also beginning to turn from green to yellow in some areas as well.
Primarily, the American beech, yellow birch, and yellow buckeye and different shades of reds on mountain ash, pin and black cherry and mountain maple are the predominant color species you’ll see right now.
As for fall wildflowers, fall favorites like the mountain gentian, black cohosh, and goldenrod are very colorful and can be found throughout the park and some blueberry and blackberry shrubs are also in color, as well as the Virginia creeper plant.
The Great Smoky Mountains range in elevation from 875 to 6,643 feet in the Park, and with differing moisture conditions and habitats, many different species of trees will still produce significant color as the Park moves into its peak autumn season. Catch some of the best color in the higher elevations on trails such as the Sugarland Mountain Trail and the Appalachian Trail, accessed at Clingmans Dome or Newfound Gap. Also, roads leading into the high country, including Newfound Gap Road, Heintooga Ridge Road, Foothills Parkway West and East, and Rich Mountain Road out of Cades Cove, are some of the best routes for seeing fall color in the Smokies.
Check out color on the Purchase Knob Live Webcam at http://www.nature.nps.gov/air/webcams/parks/grsmpkcam/grsmpkcam.cfm. Viewers can see color at 5,000 feet from this webcam.
A few suggested hikes for those wanting to get closer to nature while viewing the fall colors: Maddron Bald, Lower Mount Cammerer, Brushy Mountain and Trillium Gap Trails.All of these are high elevation trails so pack accordingly. This time of year, the weather can change at a moments notice. Hiking boots, a backpack, rain jacket, and a change of clothes should be the minimum if you are planning on spending a day in the park.