Gatlinburg Fall Colors Forecast and Foliage Report

Fall colors in the Smoky Mountains
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 2018, 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 2018 Gatlinburg fall colors forecast to help you prepare the best vacation possible to the Smokies!

How Leaves Change Color in the Fall

gatlinburg fall foliageUnderstanding 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 2018?

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: October 20, 2018 – Fall colors are progressing nicely in the higher elevations! Below are a couple of photos shared on the facebook page for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The higher elevations are gradually showing more yellows and deep reds, and these colors will trickle down into the lower elevations. If we can avoid a deep freeze, we should be seeing falls colors well into mid-November this year in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge!

Anytime between now and mid-November (and possibly beyond if temps remain cool, but not freezing) is a great time to see colors, but the peak colors will likely be around the very end of the month for higher elevations and around the 2nd weekend in November for lower elevations. It has been the wildest fall foliage season we have experienced since we started these forecasts over 10 years ago!

Foliage Forecast: October 10, 2018 – First…it has been HOT…abnormally hot…and the temperature is one of the primary ingredients in kicking off color change. Because of the unseasonably warm weather, the foliage basically thinks it is still summer in the Smokies and the leaves remain plush and green throughout the majority of the area. However, this all changes soon…because cooler weather is finally rolling in!!!

The forecast for the next couple of weeks has high temperatures in the upper 60’s and lows in the 40’s (in Gatlinburg and higher elevation), which is perfect for finally kicking off fall colors! We expect to see colors intensify most likely by October 19th in the upper elevations and then spread into the valley (Pigeon Forge) through mid-November. So for those of you who are visiting the Smokies a little later in the fall, you should still have some fall colors to enjoy!

It has definitely been the whackiest fall color season we have ever experienced in the Smokies, but it looks like fall is FINALLY arriving…better late than never. 🙂

Foliage Forecast: September 21, 2018 – While the recent hurricane skirted the Smokies, much of the foliage survived the winds and rain. However, the lingering warm weather has slowed down the transition in fall colors. Cooler weather is forecast to arrive by Oct 1, which means we are about 2 weeks behind on where we should be with falls colors. We forecast a slightly later-than-normal color peak with transitions in the upper elevations being mostly noticeable mid-October, but color in the valley should be visible through mid-November (as long as we avoid severe storms or deep freezes between now and then). For those of you visiting in late October, early November you should have some spectacular fall colors to enjoy!

Foliage Forecast: September 6, 2018 – Foliage in peak elevations remain green…for now! Cooler weather is creeping into the forecast, which means leaves will begin their slow transition soon! It’s an exciting time in the Smokies with the change of seasons as fall colors will soon pour down the mountains and into the valley. We anticipate seeing somecolor at the highest elevations by the end of this month! Get ready, because fall is here!!

Foliage Forecast: July 27, 2018 – The Smoky Mountains have enjoyed a fairly “normal” summer without being too not nor dry. As of right now, our first prediction for the 2018 Fall Color Forecast for the Smoky Mountains is for colors to begin noticeably appearing around October 15 and remain visible in areas through mid-November. 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.

So far, it’s shaping up to be a beautiful fall 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:
  • Sugar Maple: orange-red

    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! Also, be sure to check out our list of the best fall events in Gatlinburg to see numerous things to do!