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Fall Colors In The Great Smoky Mountains

Posted by Leif Palmer in Seasons Smoky Mountains

The weather around these parts has been strange this year, for sure. It had been unseasonably warm for fall, and a lot of our visitors were wearing shorts and sandals well into October. As a result, the transformation of our area foliage has been a little behind schedule. Normally, this would be the time of year that the colors would be peaking, but right now, we're just now starting to see those first patched of red, orange and yellow in the lower elevations.

See all the fall colors in the Smoky Mountains

The good news is that it's finally starting to feel like fall around here, and we've had some really sunny days, so maybe we can still salvage a fall-color season.

This week, we'll pass along some of the latest information about the progress of the color change, and we'll also give you some recommendations for the best places to view the colors if you happen to be visiting the Smokies in the next week or so.

According to the National Park Service, the colder nights in the higher elevations are causing more leaves up there to go ahead and drop. Except for the reds of the mountain ash berries and the oranges of witch hazel trees, most of the higher sections of the national park are a spectrum of yellows and golds.

In the mid-elevations, you'll see more yellows from the beech, birch, buckeye and tulip poplars, while the black gums and red maples show off their fiery reds. Also look for the orange tints from the sugar maples.

Right now, the lower elevations are colored predominantly by the reds of the dogwood trees as well as poison ivy and Virginia creeper. Maples are finally beginning to develop rich colors in scattered areas, and although the landscape is still mostly green, the rate of color change is increasing.

Why do people love coming to the Smokies to see the fall colors? One reason is that the mountains offer an unmarred palette of colors. Its valleys, undulating foothills and majestic mountains are blanketed in hardwoods and vegetation, making it a sweeping blanket of color.

Also, the Smokies boast a lot of tree diversity. Some 100 species of native trees can be found in the Smokies, the vast majority of which are deciduous (the kind that drop their leaves in the fall).

And in case you were wondering exactly how the leaves change colors every year, here's the quick science lesson. As summer ends, the green pigments in the leaves begin to deteriorate, giving the other ones a chance to emerge. Carotenoids, the pigment that makes carrots orange and leaves yellow, are exposed as the green fades. Red and purple shades come from anthocyanins, a pigment that's formed with sugars in leaves break down in bright autumn sunlight. That's why sunlight is so important to the fall-foliage equation.

Want great views of all the color magic? Call us today to reserve one of our Wears Valley cabin rentals. With proximity to and great views of the national park, you'll have a front-row seat to one of the most popular (and free) shows in the Smokies.

Leif Palmer - Smokies blogger

About Leif Palmer

Leif Palmer loves residing in the Smoky Mountains. He is an avid outdoorsman: rowing for exercise on the lake, trail hiking, and free climbing rocks in the mountains. He indulges his arty side by periodically beating up pieces of marble by sculpting. He is always frustrated by his inability to sink long putts, and hates his curly hair (but his wife loves it). Leif has been known to muster enough courage to change a diaper, and hopes his son will become a chip off the old block.


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