Gatlinburg Fall Colors Forecast and Foliage Report 2017
Each year, we post the very first Gatlinburg Fall Colors Forecast before anyone else, which we we have historically posted in August…way before anyone else even attempts to “guess”. We put a lot of research and experience into providing the most accurate forecast, which have been right on the money since we started posting our fall foliage forecasts years ago! Before you think we’re crazy, keep reading to see the science behind our prediction and see when we expect fall colors to start appearing throughout the Smoky Mountains.
Fall is a special season in Gatlinburg, TN and the Smoky Mountains as the temperatures drop, sweet aromas fill the air, and trees turn into an incredibly beautiful display of colors. The fall colors in Gatlinburg are one of the most beautiful sights that you will ever see. Each year, people always ask when the leaves will change color in Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains in hopes of planning a visit at just the right time to see the colors at their peak (when they are the brightest). Below, we provide information on what makes the leaves change color, when they normally peak, when the estimated peak color dates are for 2017, and links to live webcams to see what the colors look like. We’ve even provided a video to give you an idea of what the Gatlinburg fall colors look like! We’ve packed everything we could think of into this ultimate guide to the 2017 Gatlinburg fall colors forecast to help you prepare the best vacation possible to the Smokies!
How Leaves Change Color in the Fall
Understanding what makes leaves change color in the fall will give you an idea of how to know when the colors will peak. There’s a long, detailed, scientific explanation available at the USDA Forest Service website, but here’s a basic overview. Leaves begin to change color as days become shorter and nights become longer. That’s the primary catalyst for getting the fall colors developing in the foliage. During the fall, the nights are longer so trees slow down their photosynthesis process (which is what makes leaves green). When photosynthesis comes to a halt, the leaves go from green to a gorgeous display of red, orange, and yellow. Historically, fall colors normally peak in mid-to-late October in Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains. Will this year’s peak fall foliage be during that same time? Read on to find out!
The length of day isn’t the only factor, but it’s arguably the most important. Two other major factors are temperature and weather heading into autumn. To get the most brilliant fall colors, there needs to be a string of warm, sunny days with cool (not freezing) nights. This is the perfect recipe for bright, fall foliage so be sure to check weather forecasts for the area you plan to visit to look for a pattern such as that.
Freezing temperatures are the worst enemy for fall colors. If temperatures dip to freezing levels, leaves will brown up almost immediately and begin to fall. So also be on the lookout for a “cold snap” of freezing temperatures and try to get your visit in before it happens!
So When Will the Leaves Change Color in Autumn 2017?
Ah, so the big question everyone wants an answer to. The answer is often as accurate as guessing the weather… after all, they are both connected. Fortunately for you, we put enormous amounts of time and effort in analyzing all sorts of data to provide you with as accurate of a forecast as possible. We know many of you plan vacations around the fall colors and we hope that our accurate report helps you time the best possible visit this year!
Foliage Forecast #7: October 30, 2017 – Wow, what a difference a week makes! We had temperatures near 80 recently, but all of a sudden we drop below freezing this weekend along with the season’s first snow! The snow mixed with fall colors is absolutely breathtaking and those of you that were in town this weekend got a rare and special visual treat!
Now, the unfortunate thing about the freezing temps is that they “shock” foliage, which basically means fall foliage will rapidly dry out and fall to the ground at a faster pace now. If you want to see the best fall foliage left in the Smokies, you’ll need to visit before next weekend. We’ll likely still have some fall colors lingering around Pigeon Forge for another couple of weeks, but the Smokies have now peaked for the season.
Foliage Forecast #6:October 18, 2017 – Fall colors have peaked in the highest elevations (very top of the mountains) as expected, but the abnormally warm weather in the first half of October has pumped the brakes on colors fully appearing near downtown Gatlinburg. Cooler weather rushed in this past Sunday night, however, and the colors will begin to accelerate now. We still don’t have any freezing temps in the forecast for the rest of October, which is great news for fall colors (freezing temps put an abrupt end to colors and cause leaves to rapidly fall).
This weather pattern means that the fall colors near downtown Gatlinburg will now kick in and linger a bit longer throughout the rest of October, and leaves in Pigeon Forge should fully transform toward the last week of October/first week of November and continue to show color throughout the first half of November.
Check out the photo below from Brad Justice Photography showing the colors on top of the Smokies this week. Beautiful!
Foliage Forecast #5: September 29, 2017 – Colors are starting to spread throughout the upper elevations! Due to the warmer-than-usual weather for this time of year, the colors are transforming slowly…but that will change as cooler weather trickles in over the next week. When that happens, colors will begin to accelerate.
We’re still anticipating the best colors in the upper elevations for the first half of October and the best colors for the valley in the last half of October and possibly into early November.
Check out the photos shared by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park today on their facebook page!
Foliage Forecast #4: September 19, 2017 – Fortunately for the Smoky Mountains, Hurricane Irma steered west and had very little impact on the region and fall foliage. Leaves remain attached and healthy as we are starting to see some color popping up in the higher elevations as shown in the photo below from Ober Gatlinburg today (Sep 19)!
Currently, there aren’t any freezing temperatures in the near forecast, which means we are on track for some beautiful fall colors soon! The bright yellows and oranges will continue to be spotty throughout the higher elevations over the next couple of weeks as the other colors join along.
Our prediction for the 2017 Fall Color Forecast for the Smoky Mountains remains the same as colors are beginning to appear on the very top of the Smokies throughout late September…it’ll be scattered, but if you’re visiting from late September to mid October, you can see fall colors if you make the drive up to Newfound Gap). As always, the colors will begin to change in the highest elevations first and then trickle down into the valley (Pigeon Forge) over the following weeks. Downtown Gatlinburg should be full of color around mid October and then Pigeon Forge will follow in late October/early November.
Foliage Forecast #3: September 8, 2017 – First, the good news. Our forecast for cooler weather arriving this week was right on the money and it provided the perfect ingredients to start the transition to beautiful fall colors.
Now the “bad” news. The biggest variable right now is how hurricane Irma affects the area. If it tracks toward the Smokies with high winds, it will likely wipe out a LOT of foliage from trees, which will drastically reduce the fall colors this season. We’ll update this forecast after this weather system passes…most likely around Wednesday, September 13.
If this weather system stays away from the Smokies or if it dramatically weakens and has little effect on foliage, our forecast will continue to remain the same.
Foliage Forecast #2: August 31, 2017 – The forecast for the Smokies is looking GREAT starting September 6th as cooler, drier air settles in. This is the perfect combo and perfect timing to kickstart the fall color season. It’s not quite “cold” enough for us to move our fall color forecast earlier, so we’re sticking with out original prediction for now, but adding a small clarification:
As of right now, our prediction for the 2017 Fall Color Forecast for the Smoky Mountains is October 15 – November 15. (Small update: colors should begin appearing on the very top of the Smokies in late September…it’ll be scattered, but if you’re visiting from late September to mid October, you can see fall colors if you make the drive up to Newfound Gap). As always, the colors will begin to change in the highest elevations first and then trickle down into the valley (Pigeon Forge) over the following weeks. As temperature and weather patterns change over the next couple of months, we will update this forecast accordingly if necessary. If colder (near freezing) weather approaches before mid-September, it could bring fall colors earlier in October.
Foliage Forecast #1: August 13, 2017 – The Smoky Mountains have had a rather “mild” summer and a good amount of rainfall….not too hot & not too wet nor dry, which means the trees are extremely green & plush with leaves. Foliage is healthy, and the conditions are on track for a beautiful fall! This has created an enormously full canvas for what we expect to be an incredibly vibrant, beautiful, and hopefully long-lasting fall foliage season! The biggest variable in predicting when the colors will change is the temperature. Everything will kick into gear when we have cool (but not freezing) nights starting in September as the daylight becomes shorter.
As of right now, our first prediction for the 2017 Fall Color Forecast for the Smoky Mountains is October 15 – November 15. As always, the colors will begin to change in the highest elevations first and then trickle down into the valley (Pigeon Forge) over the following weeks. As temperature and weather patterns change over the next couple of months, we will update this forecast accordingly if necessary. If colder weather approaches before mid-September, it could bring fall colors earlier in October.
We’re looking forward to a gorgeous fall color season in the Smokies!
Identifying Trees by Their Fall Colors
Each kind of tree typically turns a specific color in autumn, which often makes it easy to identify exactly which tree is which color. So if you’re curious as to what color each tree turns or if you want to impress your family and friends, here is a simply guide of the colors that some of the most abundant trees change to during the fall.
- Oaks: red, brown or russet
- Hickories: golden bronze
- Dogwood: purple-red
- Birch: bright yellow
- Poplar: golden yellow
- Maple trees:
Black Maple: glowing yellow
Red Maple: bright scarlet
Gatlinburg and Smoky Mountain Webcams
Want to see what the leaves look like right now? Click here to see our full list of live Gatlinburg webcams or check out some of the most popular webcams below to see what the foliage looks like in various locations in and around Gatlinburg, TN:
Webcam from a vacation home in Gatlinburg:
Pioneer Cabin Rentals Webcam:
Webcam of foliage from Look Rock:
Webcam of foliage from Purchase Knob:
Video of Fall Colors in the Smoky Mountains
Below is a video that created by the USDA Forest Service showcasing the beautiful autumn colors found throughout the Smoky Mountains and various scenery that can be found. Pretty much everywhere you look resembles a postcard! In the video, they also share how to get more information on fall color reports directly from the Forest Service.
Final Thoughts about Fall Colors in Gatlinburg
The fall foliage is amazing throughout the entire Great Smoky Mountains National Park and there are numerous parkways, highways, side-roads, etc to drive and enjoy the views. When you visit Gatlinburg, be sure to at least drive up the Gatlinburg bypass (accessible from both ends of Gatlinburg) to see some scenic views of the mountains for some great photos of the Gatlinburg fall colors!