In Search of Fall Color in the Smokies – A Photo Essay

There is no denying 2017 has been a disappointing year for fall foliage in the Smokies so far. That’s why I titled this essay In Search of… you really have to look hard to find much beyond a few patches of yellow. The oranges and reds have been nonexistent.

I started the day before dawn from Cades Cove driving toward Gatlinburg on Little River Road, where I turned onto Newfound Gap Road for a climb up into the Tennessee Smokies. First stop was Maloney Point where the sun was casting light above the ridges, but had not yet risen.

Next stop: Chimney Tops Trail. I didn’t go far, just enough to see what the trees looked like hanging over West Prong and Road Prong. Unfortunately, still not much.

Alum Cave Trail was next on the agenda, and I managed to snare one of the last parking places. Even on a week day the trail was quite busy with others who had the same idea as me. The sun was still not above the ridges, but there was enough natural light to navigate without a flashlight. Things looked a little better here, with a few beech trees exhibiting their bright yellow sheen. I kept hoping for more, so I went as far as Arch Rock with several stops along the way to shoot Alum Cave Creek.

Last stop was Newfound Gap. On the south end of the parking lot is a grassy two-track road that plunges gently into the forest below. I’ve been wanting to explore this path for some time. There was a nice canopy of yellow and gold trees overhanging as I walked onward. The nicest surprise was the wealth of wildflowers that were still blooming here, even as late as October 20th.

After about a half mile, the path narrowed to single track and was somewhat overgrown, so I took that as a sign that it was time to turn around and call it a day. After all, I still had a two hour drive to get back home.

The pictures below will give you an idea of the limited fall color there was this third week of October, quite unusual for the Smokies. It has been very warm this year, without much rain. I’m sure that had something to do with it. Perhaps this will still be a wonderful year for leaf peepers in November. We shall see. Please feel free to leave your comments and suggestions below the gallery. Thanks for visiting!



This post was created by Jeff Clark. Please feel free to use the sharing icons below, or add your thoughts to the comments. Pack it in, pack it out. Preserve the past. Respect other hikers. Let nature prevail. Leave no trace.


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  1. Very unusual this year. Colors just starting to change over here. But on the Parkway around Grandfather Mountain, they are just incredible. Go figure…. Beautiful photos, by the way, as usual. Vann

  2. Tim Truemper

    Two years ago we hiked Alum Cave Trail in the first week of October and it was near peak and quite vivid. I showed my wife your pictures and was quite surprised.

    So will see how colors are in Davidson River and on the way back Tuesday may go up toward Big Pinnacle and Craggy Gardens to see what its like there.

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