August 1, 2016
With endless miles of two-lane roadways against a backdrop of the Smoky Mountains, East Tennessee is ideal for spectacular fall foliage driving tours.
Slow down and enjoy the splendor of autumn. Here's an invitation to cross over bridges spanning sun-dappled rivers, down winding backroads speckled with changing leaves and through one-stoplight towns adorned with the colors of autumn.
East Tennessee's roadways have received national and state recognition for their scenic beauty; this part of the state has two National Scenic Byways and the majority of the six Tennessee Scenic Byways. The Tennessee Scenic Highways are identified with signage featuring the Tennessee mockingbird.
Motorists on the East Tennessee Crossing National Scenic Byway travel a course steeped in history. You trace the path used by Cherokee warriors, follow the original Wilderness Road carved by pioneers across Clinch Mountain, and traverse the Dixie Highway used heavily in the Civil War era. Stunning lookout points along this byway make it appear as though these forests have been untouched since the path was first used hundreds of years ago.
The Cherohala Skyway National Scenic Byway lets you drive through stunning fall scenery as you ascend into the deeply forested Southern Appalachian Mountains on the Tennessee-North Carolina border. Departing from Tellico Plains, you drive along clear, burbling streams lined with vibrant colors of changing leaves. The Cherohala Skyway goes from 800 feet in elevation to 5,300 feet, providing breathtaking fall photo opportunities.
The Tennessee Overhill region is also along the Ocoee Scenic Byway. It unspools through a historic copper and coal mining area and features steep bluffs, rushing rivers and peaks shrouded in mist. The Hiwassee River Road, named after Tennessee's first state scenic river, meanders through forest and farmland where deer and songbirds animate the timeless landscape. Bright foliage is set against a backdrop of silhouetted mountains and winding waterways, creating the perfect setting for unadulterated photos in the fall.
This southeastern corner of Tennessee also features the Sequatchie Valley Scenic Byway, or State Route 28, which follows the contours of the Sequatchie River for about 60 miles. You may drive past a farmer riding a tractor across freshly mowed acreage, weathered barns, pumpkin patches, wildflowers carpeting a meadow and fields decorated with colored leaves. The simplicity of these small rural towns perfectly complements the beauty of autumn.
The Great Smoky Mountains Byway, which leads into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, winds through the foothills and offers many fall foliage photo opportunities of mountains thick with evergreens and hardwoods. Vividly colored panoramas of autumn’s burnt orange and amber make it clear why this national park has millions of visitors every year. Traffic can be heavy during this season, so stick to the country roads outside the park boundaries. Great Smoky Mountains National Park provides Weekly Fall Colors Updates; reference its leaf-peeping guide to navigate your colorful cruise through the park.
The roadways lacing Northeastern Tennessee transport you away from the commotion of major highways to beautifully tranquil settings. Heritage sites punctuate U.S. Highway 11E, and the diverse landscape of lakes, forests and mountains come together to create picturesque viewpoints at every turn. The rolling hills and glistening rivers along the Bristol stretch are especially stunning in autumn.
U.S. Highway 27 in Morgan and Scott counties bears the essence of Tennessee as the seasons change — white-frame churches decorated with autumn leaves, roadside farm stands selling pumpkins and squash, and quilt shops and antiques stores radiating with the season’s warm glow. State Route 63 across Scott, Campbell and Claiborne counties rambles through a sparsely populated rural area full of scenic locations in the fall.
East Tennessee has six Discover Tennessee Trails and Byways (Pie in the Sky, Tanasi, Rocky Top, Top Secret, White Lightning and Sunny Side) for visitors eager to explore the heritage, culture, cuisine and recreation of a region. Our Road Trip section has complete driving directions, maps, details on interesting stops along the way and links to recommended websites for major attractions.
Additionally, the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development recently added the first-ever scenic viewers outfitted with color vision deficiency technology in 12 of the most beautiful lookouts across the state. Now people who have never seen the full spectrum of Tennessee color can experience the beauty. Each of our Colorblind Viewers are outfitted with innovative EnChroma® lenses designed to alleviate red-green colorblindness. This spectral lens technology enables people with colorblindness to see a broader range of clear, vibrant color. The viewfinders located in East Tennessee include: the South Rim Overlook at Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area; Ober Gatlinburg; South Cumberland State Park; I-26 Westbound Scenic Overlook; Ruby Falls/Lookout Mountain; Veterans/Clinch Mountain Overlook; the Lake View Overlook along the Cherohala Skyway and along Highway 111 in the Sequatchie Valley.
You can put the leisure back into leisure travel by stopping overnight at country inns, bed-and-breakfast establishments and farm stays. More on these accommodations can be found at the Bed and Breakfast Association of Tennessee and Smoky Mountain Bed and Breakfast Association. For farm stays, check the Tennessee Department of Agriculture website.
To explore all of Tennessee's Trails and Byways, head here.