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 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 forecasts, 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 2021, 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 2021 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 2021?

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 4, 2021 – We are finally starting to see hints of yellow and gold appearing sporadically in higher elevations. This is one of the first signs that fall colors are on their way! There are slightly cooler temps in the forecast, which will help to push the transition as well. The great news is that there are no freezing temperatures in the forecast for the next couple of weeks, which will help foliage stick around as colors begin changing.

We anticipate the highest elevations to start showing color over the next couple of weeks and then trickle down into the lower elevations (Pigeon Forge) around the last half of October. If temperatures remain above freezing, there should be colors remaining into November as well.

Welcome to fall in the Smokies!

Foliage Forecast: September 17, 2021 – While the weather has been warm and enjoyable, the higher temps haven’t helped foliage get in the color-changing mood just yet. A quick look at the webcams around Gatlinburg show that pretty much everything is still green. There are some cooler temperatures in the forecast for the next two weeks, which look a bit more favorable for fall colors. However, the highs will still be in the 70’s and the rain in the forecast for the next week throws in a slight speedbump as well.

The higher temps and wet weather may very likely delay fall colors, but we still hope to see vibrant colors appear in the highest elevations around mid-October. Once that begins, colors will slowly spread down the mountain and into Pigeon Forge over the following weeks. The biggest things to watch out for are 1) temperatures that dip below freezing or 2) storms with heavy winds. If either of those happen, it will negatively impact foliage. Thankfully, neither are in the forecast in the next couple of weeks…so we’re hopeful for a beautiful fall!

Foliage Forecast: August 16, 2021 – The fall season is getting closer and the Smokies will soon be filled with incredible colors! This year’s weather patterns are looking very similar to last year, which included a wet summer followed by a calm fall & winter. Based on those expectations, our first prediction for the 2021 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 if we don’t have below-freezing temperatures or heavy storms. 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 simple 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:

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

https://www.skylinewebcams.com/en/webcam/united-states/tennessee/gatlinburg/tennessee-gatlinburg.html

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

https://youtu.be/LQpGUOJtdnY

Webcam from the Gatlinburg Space Needle:
http://www.gatlinburgspaceneedle.com/webcam/

Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort webcam to see snow and snow-making:
http://www.obergatlinburg.com/ski/webcam/

Webcam from a vacation home in Gatlinburg:
http://view.gatlinburg-getaway.com/

Preserve Resort Smoky Mountain Webcam

Webcam of foliage from Look Rock:
https://www.nps.gov/subjects/air/webcams.htm?site=grsm

Webcam of foliage from Purchase Knob:
https://www.nps.gov/subjects/air/webcams.htm?site=grpk

Newfound Gap Webcam
https://www.air-resource.net/grsmnfgap/

Clingmans Dome Webcam
https://www.nps.gov/subjects/air/webcams.htm?site=grcd

Mountain Mall
http://www.smokyfrontier.com/gatlinburg-downtown-web-camera

Video of Fall Colors in the Smoky Mountains

Below is a video 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!

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