Top National Parks Hikes to see the Fall Foliage.

Exploring Autumnal Beauty Through Tennessee Trails

Top National Parks Hikes to see the Fall Foliage.

Fall is one of the best times for an outdoor adventure in Tennessee. The crisp autumn air carries the smell of changing seasons, and the warm glow of falling leaves decorates every inch of the state’s beautiful forests. Tennessee’s diverse array of trees ensures a vibrant range of autumnal colors throughout the state, creating a beautiful display of fall beauty. With such a varied landscape of well-preserved parks, you can enjoy autumn’s beauty from atop some of the highest peaks in the Smoky Mountains, traversing through picturesque lakes and valleys, or watch amber leaves dance across the currents of hidden waterfalls.

From challenging mountain treks to easy trails with rewarding scenic views of changing leaves, these hikes provide breathtaking opportunities to see fall foliage in Tennessee.

East Tennessee

Abrams Falls Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Gatlinburg

Cades Cove is a valley nestled within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park known for its breathtaking mountain views, abundant wildlife and charming historically preserved buildings. The 11-mile loop road surrounding Cades Cove takes you around the entire valley and to the entrance of the various hiking trails, including Abrams Falls Trail and Cades Cove Nature Trail. Abrams Falls Trail, one of the most popular in the region, is a 5-mile trail that features some stunning fall scenery. The trek to Abrams Falls is relatively easy terrain, and the running waterfalls provides a beautiful backdrop to the changing leaves. Plus, hikers often come across wildlife like white-tailed deer, raccoons and other critters. Cades Cove also has a visitors center, several campsites and picnic areas. Visit during the last two weeks of October for the brightest autumnal colors.

Obed Wild & Scenic River - Wartburg

Want to see amazing fall colors? Head out on the Lilly Bluff Trail in Obed Wild and Scenic River. Considered a trail of moderate difficulty, this 4.2-mile round-trip trail leads past a hidden natural arch, guiding you along the bluff to a secluded view overlooking the Obed river gorge. The breathtaking panoramic views are must-snap photo opportunities, and the varying terrain provides beauty at every turn. Thinking about bringing your canine companion? Just be sure to keep them on a leash. Lilly Bluff also offers a climbing wall for intermediate to expert climbers in the heart of Obed Wild and Scenic River. You can also enjoy kayaking, camping, canoeing, and swimming .

Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area - Oneida

Be surrounded by fall colors when you explore the Twin Arches, considered the largest natural bridge in the states of Tennessee and Kentucky, in Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. The Twin Arches Upper Loop is considered easy to moderate and is about 1.2 miles round trip. The short loop goes to the Twin Arches. Or, you could access the Twin Arches through the Twin Arches Lower Loop, classified as difficult, which takes you by a series of rock houses, Charit Creek Lodge, Jake’s Place and cliffs before ending up at Twin Arches. With either loop you choose, pack a picnic (and pack out your trash and other belongings) and enjoy the solace nature brings. 

Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park - Flag Pond

Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park offers expansive views of the southern Appalachian Mountains with 2,076 acres of outdoor adventure. Nearly 20 miles of marked trails provide views of the Southern Appalachian Forest and direct access to the famous Appalachian Trail. Multiple granite and quartzite cliff faces can be found in the park, making it a great place to rock climb. Make your way to Whitehouse Cliffs for nearly 40 routes currently developed or in development. A climbing permit for each climber is required.

Middle Tennessee

Fall Creek Falls Trail, Fall Creek Falls State Park 

One of the most picturesque places in Tennessee, Fall Creek Falls State Park is known for its lush forests and stunning array of gorges, streams and waterfalls. Due to the area’s botanical diversity, the scenery is embellished with a bright display of changing leaves in autumn, making the park full of fall photo opportunities. The park has 56 miles of hiking trails ranging in length and difficulty, with the most popular being Fall Creek Falls Trail. This moderate loop trail is a bit more than 2 miles, taking you to the base of a 256-foot waterfall, the highest in the area. The rushing water provides a lovely setting for fall foliage photo opportunities. In addition to Fall Creek Falls, other scenic waterfalls within the state park include Piney Falls, Cane Creek Falls and Cane Creek Cascades. The park has a multitude of campsites and cabins for overnight trips, so you have time to explore the entire park. Fall Creek Falls State Park reaches peak autumnal beauty in the last two weeks of October. To commemorate the season, the park holds the Fall Colors Spooktakular Festival Oct. 21, 2023 with autumn-themed activities, campground trick-or-treating, guided tours and more.

Long Hunter State Park - Hermitage  

You can find 25 miles of hiking trails of various difficulty and length at Long Hunter State Park. The day loop is a rock trail that winds through a mature oak-hickory forest, several scenic bluff overlooks of Percy Priest Lake and more. This trail is great for fall photos. The Bryant Grove Trail is 4 miles of flat, winding trail connecting the Couchville Lake area to Bryant Grove Recreation Area which is a great area for birding and wildlife viewing. Volunteer Trail is the longest trail in the park at 5 miles that follows the shore of Percy Priest Lake and climbs up the bluffs overlooking the lake. You'll see rocky jumbles, hillsides, majestic trees and scenic lake views.

Martha's Pretty Point at Virgin Falls State Natural Area - Sparta

Experienced hikers will love the view that can be seen from the Martha's Pretty Point in Virgin Falls State Natural Area. Generally considered a moderately difficult hike, the 4.2-mile out-and-back trail shows you multiple waterfalls along the trail. Enjoy the bright foliage along the way and spend some time at the bases of falls like Big Laurel Falls and Virgin Falls.

Cumberland Mountain State Park - Crossville

Immerse yourself in the beauty of fall at Cumberland Mountain State Park. You can enjoy 14 miles of trails around the lake, through the woods and next to the creek. Hikes range from easy to moderate and are a great way to spend a day full of movement. Take the Byrd Creek Trail that follows the banks of Byrd Creek where you'll see the CCC dam and loop back to the park office where you started. The Cumberland Plateau Nature Trail is one of the most easily accessible trails that takes you through dense forest and completes with a beautiful view of the dam and Mill House Lodge. The Pioneer Loop Trail begins just past the swinging bridge and takes you along Byrd Creek upstream to a one-lane sandstone arch bridge. You'll cross the bridge and then return on the opposite side of the creek. 

West Tennessee

Chickasaw Bluffs via Blue Trail, The Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park - Millington

Just 15 miles outside Memphis, the Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park is one of the most visited parks in Tennessee. The park is more than 12,500 acres of dense large oak, tupelo and cypress forests; two lakes; a diverse wildlife population; and beautiful wildflowers throughout. The Chickasaw Bluffs Trail is an 8-mile trail leading to Poplar Tree Lake, providing amazing views of fall foliage embellishing the water’s edge. Along with a diverse array of autumnal colors, this trail is also known for wildlife sightings: deer, turkeys, beavers and more than 200 species of birds are abundant in the area. The Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park also has campgrounds and plenty of opportunities for water activities, including canoeing and fishing.

Shelby Farms Park - Memphis

Yes, you can see amazing fall colors while visiting Memphis. Head to Shelby Farms Park and set out on the 2.75-mile, picturesque Chickasaw Trail. The popular trail winds through the northern portion of the park. You'll see three lakes, pine and hardwood forest areas. Don't be surprised if you stop multiple times for perfect fall photos. The park is home to more paved and unpaved trails. Check out their trails page for more.

Wolf River Greenway

The Wolf River Greenway takes you on a beautiful trail that leads from the north end of Mud Island in downtown Memphis through the neighborhoods of Central Memphis, to Shelby Farms Park, then to  Germantown and Collierville. You can see trees colorfully vibrant and enjoy the peace and solitude nature brings while still being conveniently close to Memphis. There are 14 miles open to the public and the greenway will eventually include 26 complete miles. 

No matter where you are in Tennessee, there are endless ways to experience the beauty of autumn. For more ideas on how to see incredible fall foliage, check out ways to experience the perfect Tennessee fall.

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