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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 2020, 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 2020 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 2020?

Ah, so the big question everyone wants answered. 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 19, 2020 – As forecasted in our previous report, fall colors starting popping over the last week in the highest elevations! We’re also starting to see more colors appearing in the middle elevations (downtown Gatlinburg), which will get even more vibrant over the next couple of weeks.

The forecast is looking extremely favorable as there are no freezing temperatures forecasted for the next two weeks! Also, there are no major storms forecasted, which improves the chances of foliage hanging on for as long as possible. We’re encouraged with the weather we’re seeing as it will allow fall colors to linger into November giving as many people as possible to enjoy fall in the Smokies!

Check out the recent photos shared by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Service over the last couple of days!

Enjoy the yellows of autumn in the Smokies, with this second post for #FallColorFriday. Please keep in mind that…

Posted by Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Friday, October 16, 2020

At high and mid-elevation areas, fall colors are all around, from the reds of the maple to the yellows…

Posted by Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Friday, October 16, 2020

Foliage Forecast: October 5, 2020 – The weather and temperatures the past couple of weeks have been great for getting things rolling with the fall color season. We’re starting to see early signs of colors in higher elevations on a few trees such as maples and dogwoods, which are the first to begin changing.

There aren’t any freezing temperatures in the forecast for the next two weeks, which is fantastic as that will allow the colors to continue changing throughout the month. We anticipate colors to start becoming more visible in the highest elevations after this weekend and then trickling into the lower elevations throughout the rest of the month…and likely into November if temperatures remain above freezing.

The bottom line is if you plan on visiting the Smokies this month, there will be plenty of opportunities to see fall colors!

Below are a few pics showing hints of fall colors starting to pop up. Enjoy!

While the landscape is still primarily green, early signs of fall are beginning to appear! Even at…

Posted by Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Friday, October 2, 2020

Foliage Forecast: September 14, 2020 – The temperatures are gradually falling and the weather forecast starting this coming weekend looks great with dry, sunny days in the 70’s and cool nights in the 50’s. As long as temps remain above freezing, we should have a great display of color in October.

We still anticipate seeing colors in the highest elevations near mid-October and then slowly spilling to the lowest elevations (Pigeon Forge) until mid-November. Again, temperatures and storms play a large role in this. If freezing temps arrive during that time, it will shorten the fall color season. Also, if a major storm arrives as colors are changing, it could wipe out a large part of the foliage. Due to those factors, we encourage you to check our report frequently between now and November as we will update it as conditions change!

Foliage Forecast: August 22, 2020 – The summer heat appears to be easing up, which means fall is just around the corner! Unlike last year’s summer drought which caused leaves to dry out and change color quickly, the Smokies have had much more rainfall this year providing much healthier foliage. Due to this, we’re hopeful for a great transition in colors that are still on track to be on display in the higher elevations around mid-October and then trickling into the valley until mid-November. If you plan to visit during these times, the signs are currently looking great!

As weather patterns change, these dates could move slightly, so stay tuned as we start keeping this report updated frequently until peak foliage arrives!

Foliage Forecast: April 20, 2020 – As of right now, our first prediction for the 2020 Fall Color Forecast for the Smoky Mountains is for colors to begin appearing around mid-October in the higher elevations and will work their way down to lower elevations through mid-November…and possibly lingering around until the end of 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, we will update this forecast accordingly. If colder weather approaches before the end of September, it could bring fall colors earlier in October. So stay tuned!

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:

See Anakeesta’s Firefly Village along with the Great Smoky Mountains in the background!

Gatlinburg SkyLift Park
Check out the beautiful mountaintop view from SkyLift Park high above downtown Gatlinburg!

Webcam from the Gatlinburg Space Needle:

Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort webcam to see snow and snow-making:

Webcam from a vacation home in Gatlinburg:

Preserve Resort Smoky Mountain Webcam

Webcam of foliage from Look Rock:

Webcam of foliage from Purchase Knob:

Newfound Gap Webcam

Clingmans Dome Webcam

Mountain Mall

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!