Gatlinburg Fall Colors Forecast and Foliage Report
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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 2023, 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 2023 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!
Foliage Forecast: October 8, 2023 – The hot, dry conditions over the past month are causing some trees in the area to turn rapidly and fall prematurely. However cooler temperatures finally arrived over the weekend! This will help to kickstart the colors in the rest of the trees, so we should start seeing fall colors appear over the next couple of weeks.
We are seeing spots of colors in the highest elevations, and expect it to pick up the pace now with the cooler weather.
The great news is that there are no freezing temperatures nor high winds expected in the next couple of weeks, so leaves have a better chance of hanging around for most of October. If you plan on visiting the Smokies in the later half of the month, we’re hoping for some beautiful fall colors!
Foliage Forecast: September 16, 2023 – September has been filled with many hot, dry days and the forecast is calling for the high temps to hit the 80’s throughout the rest of September. This is a similar weather pattern as last year, which can cause fall colors to delay into later October.
The dry summer can also lead to leaves dropping faster than normal as well, so we’ll be on the lookout for signs of that in October. Last year, we saw many (but not all) leaves falling in the highest elevations around October 10th. The colors closest to downtown Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge became the most vibrant during the last 10 days of October. We appear to be on a similar track this year.
Our current fall color prediction for 2023 is that we expect 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 happens, it will negatively impact foliage and cause a shorter season of color. Thankfully, neither are in the forecast in the next couple of weeks…so we’re hopeful for a beautiful fall!
As weather and colors begin to change, we will continue to update this forecast.
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.
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!