Fall Colors in the Great Smoky Mountains! 2016 Autumn Color Forecast and Guide

It’s beginning to look a lot like Autumn! We’re ready for the big show of fall colors in the Great Smoky Mountains and we’ve got your 2016 Autumn Color Forecast and Guide so you can get the most out of Leaf-Peeping Season in the Smokies!

Fall Color in Great Smoky Mountains | 2016 Autumn Color Forecast and Guide

The Oconaluftee River in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Most folks want to know when is the “peak” of the fall color in the Smokies? Well, the answer is that it depends on just where you are at a particular time. Luckily, there’s not singular “peak ” in the Great Smoky Mountains. You can experience “peak color” throughout the month of October and on into November because of the range of elevations in the Park. From 875 ft. (at the mouth of Abrams Creek) to 6,643 ft. (at Clingmans Dome) you have several opportunities to view the fall colors at their best.

On this first full day of Autumn 2016, it’s still mostly green in the Highlands with a few pops of color here and there. And great news! Park Rangers report that this could turn out to be a banner year for a big show of color with indications that areas above 5,000 ft. will be looking pretty good in a few weeks.

“Some of our most vibrant seasons have happened after there has been a drought and we get several days of good fall rains and we’ve had some explosions of color after that,” says Dana Soehn a National Park spokeswoman reporting yesterday to WVLT-TV’s Kyle Grainger, “For the first day of fall, we are about where we should be, especially at the lower elevations, but that change is around the corner.”

Former Park Ranger and author Rose Houk writes in her book Exploring the Smokies, “It isn’t frost so much as sunny, clear, warm days combined with a drop in temperature at night, that will produce the finest colors. And in a year when that combination occurs, there is no better place in the world to be than in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.” We couldn’t agree more! And current weather predictions expect a cool down and possible rain within the next week or so!

With 130 different species of trees living in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you can plainly see why Autumn in the Smokies is so spectacular! As a general rule, the peak of colors can be at some certain elevation in the Smokies between October 15-30. Here’s your guide to a few of the highlights:

SPRUCE-FIR FOREST (above 4,000 ft.) and NORTHERN HARDWOOD FOREST (4,500 to 6,000 ft.)
@ Newfound Gap, Clingmans Dome and Blue Ridge Parkway

  • American Mountain-Ash – This northern species is found only above 5,000 ft. and you can’t miss the bright orange-red berries of this small tree. It can be found in the parking lot of Newfound Gap and in the Clingmans Dome area. It’s said that when the striking fruits appear that the fall colors will soon follow in the highlands.
  • Witch-Hobble or Hobblebush – One of the first shrubs to change colors to both yellow and red, even on the same bush. Has large, roundish, heart-shaped leaves and flat clusters of red berries.
  • Pin Cherry – This northern species turns a pinkish red and has bright red berries. Also called the Fire Cherry because it needs an area disturbed by fire, windstorm or some other event to become established.
  • American Beech – A common tree up to elevations of 5,800 ft. with yellow to orange brown leaves. It’s easy to recognize because of its smooth gray-colored bark. Many small beech’s dry, beige leaves persist throughout the winter.
  • Yellow Birch – One of the most dominant trees you’ll see from 3,500 to 5,000 ft., with yellow leaves of course! The bark of this tree is a shiny, yellow-silvery color and peels off in shaggy, papery curls.
  • Mountain Maple – This northern species fall color is from orange to red and is common from 3,000 ft. to the highest elevations in the Park. North of the Smokies, the Mountain Maple doesn’t grow as tall and is considered a shrub.

COVE HARDWOOD FOREST (below 4,500 feet) @ Cataloochee Valley, Foothills Parkway East, Greenbrier, and Oconaluftee.

  • Sugar Maple – Not only does this wonderful tree yield the sap to make everyone’s favorite maple syrup, its leaves in Autumn turn to vibrant oranges and yellows that wow the eyes. The Sugarlands Valley, between the Sugarlands Visitor Center and and Chimneys Picnic Area was named for the abundance of Sugar Maple trees in the area.
  • Red Maple – The Red Maple is probably the most common trees in the Park since it grows at the lowest elevations all the way up to 6,000 ft. Its fall color ranges from yellow to red. Red Maples have red twigs, buds and fruits. You’ll notice this tree’s bright red flowers that bloom from February to April each year.
  • Sweet Gum – This tree’s star-shaped leaves and round, spiny fruit make it easily recognizable. It prefers moist areas along streams below 2,000 ft. The Sweet Gum’s fall color can range from yellow to red to purple all on the same tree.
  • Yellow Poplar or Tuliptree – One of the most common trees in the Park below 4,000 ft. These trees grow big and straight up so they’re easy to spot. Spectacular stands of giants can be found along Little River Road and Laurel Creek Road. When the sun hits the tree’s leaves just right, they seem to glow a brilliant, golden yellow.
  • Black Cherry – The dark fruit of this tree is a favorite of bears. It’s quite common below 5,000 ft. and its bark resembles burnt potato chips. It fall foliage is yellow to red.

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Top 5 Waterfall Hikes in the Smokies! Beat the Heat and Hike to a Smoky Mountain Waterfall!

Beat the heat this summer and take a hike to a refreshing Smoky Mountain waterfall! The abundant streams of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are the lifeblood of this International Biosphere Reserve and the waterfalls found within are some of the most extraordinary hiking destinations year-round. When the heat of summer is upon us, there is no better place to be than enjoying a cool, misty breeze near a lush waterfall in the Smokies! We’ve got the Top 5 Waterfall Hikes in the Smokies for you!

Top 5 Waterfall Hikes in the Smokies

Mingo Falls in Cherokee, NC

The fine mist is so refreshing that after only a few moments you may be ready to step back into the sunlight and warm up a bit. Along the trails to the waterfalls there are often quiet, sun-dappled pools in the streams that are perfect for soaking your hiking feet. It is unsafe to swim beneath the waterfalls; just standing near one is really all you need to do to cool down.

Here are a few of our top waterfall hikes in the Smokies when the weather is warm and we’re looking for a favorite place to chill! You’ll find some of the Top 5 Waterfall Hikes are just a short walk from your vehicle, while others offer more time to explore the beautiful summertime scenery. No matter what section of the National Park you’re visiting, you’re sure to find a wondrous waterfall!

CHEROKEE / OCONALUFTEE 
 #1 Mingo Falls
Mingo Falls is actually located on the Qualla Boundary (Cherokee Indian Reservation) and is considered an easy hike at 0.4 miles in length but don’t let that fool you. There are over 200 steps to climb to reach the base of the falls but it is well worth it. Mingo Falls is one of the tallest in the region at 120 feet high and the cooling mist that swirls around its base makes all that “stair mastering” a distant memory.

To reach the Mingo Falls trailhead travel south from Oconaluftee Visitor Center on US-441 toward  Cherokee and turn left on Big Cove Road. Turn left at the first stop sign and drive 4.5 miles to the Mingo Falls Campground and the trailhead. No special permits are required for access to the reservation.

CADES COVE 
 #2 Abrams Falls
Abrams Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park with most hikers reaching it via the Abrams Falls Trail in Cades Cove. From here the hike is 2.5 miles one-way and is considered moderate in difficulty. HeySmokies recommends sturdy footwear (not flip flops) to traverse the rocky terrain encountered on the trail. (For more info on suggested hiking essentials visit our 10 Essentials for Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains)

Abrams Falls is a mere 20 feet high but the volume of water funneling through earns it the unofficial moniker of the “Little Niagara of the Smokies.” The inviting pool beneath the falls can be deadly; swimmers have drowned here due to strong undercurrents and an undertow. Don’t be the next victim, enjoy the falls and its cooling mist from a safe distance. Abrams Falls is named for Cherokee Chief Abram who once lived a few miles below the falls near Abrams Creek Campground.

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Bicycle Mornings in Cades Cove begin May 11th! Passing on your left!

Beginning Wednesday, May 11, 2016 Cades Cove Loop Road will be closed to motor vehicles until 10:00 a.m. on both Wednesday and Saturday mornings to allow bicyclists, runners, and walkers time to enjoy the cove without having to worry about heavy traffic. This special experience on the 11-mile paved loop road will last until late September.

Bicycle Mornings in Cades Cove on Wed and Sat

Enjoy Bicycle Mornings in Cades Cove on Wednesdays and Saturdays until 10:00 am. (photo credit: Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority)

During the season, bicycles can be rented at the Cades Cove Campground Store. For pricing info, give them a call at 865.448.9034. Of course, you can bring your own bikes and helmets to enjoy the scenic ride through this historic landscape. Be mindful that Tennessee law requires cyclists under the age of 16 to wear a helmet. HeySmokies and the GSMNP recommend anyone of any age wear protective head gear…just sayin’!

You won’t find any mountain biking trails within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are only 3 trails in the National Park that allow bicycles:

Gatlinburg Trail
Begins at Sugarlands Visitor Center and travels 1.9 miles one-way toward the outskirts of Gatlinburg along the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River. Leashed pets are allowed on this trail.

Oconaluftee River Trail
Begins at Oconaluftee Visitor Center and travels 1.5 miles one-way toward the outskirts of Cherokee along the Oconaluftee River. Leashed pets are allowed on this trail.

Deep Creek and Indian Creek Trails
From the Deep Creek Campground, cyclists can access both Deep Creek and Indian Creek Trails. Bicycles are allowed on both trails until the point where the old roadbed ends and the hiking trails begin. Pets are not allowed on this trail.

Bicycles are allowed on most roads in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, so drivers need to be alert of cyclists when driving through the park.

For more information on bicycling in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and adjacent National Forests, please visit NPS.gov.

Cantilever Barns? HeySmokies! What’s Up With That?

What’s up with those oddly-shaped barns in the Smokies? Well, the cantilever barn is a late-19th century style of architecture found primarily in Sevier and Blount counties in east Tennessee. The unusual design features an overhang, or cantilever, over one or more storage areas known as a crib to the mountain farmer.

Cantilever Barns Great Smoky Mountains National Park

It’s believed that this architectural style of barns predates the more modern design principle of “form follows function.” Because the Great Smoky Mountains receive over 80 inches rainfall annually, they are one of the rainiest places in the continental United States. This high level of rain and humidity in the Smokies created a constant struggle for farmers to keep their crops from rotting. The cantilever barn provided a great solution for funneling rain off the roof and away from the storage cribs. The open space between the cribs kept the structure ventilated allowing air to circulate further reducing spoiled inventory.

There is also a long-standing rumor in the Smokies that the unique cantilever design was created to stay one step ahead of the government tax man. Apparently, taxes were assessed based on the total square footage of a structure touching the ground. Barely a third of the cantilever barn is on ground level. By building a cantilever barn instead of a traditional barn the farmer would have saved big on his tax return!

Cantilever Barn in Greenbrier Great Smoky Mountains National ParkCantilever Barn at Greenbrier Hiker Cabin Smoky Mountains National Park

There are several examples of the cantilever barn in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In Cades Cove  the Tipton Homeplace has a nice double cantilever barn at the Cable Mill Historic Area. Hikers will want to seek out the John Messer double cantilever barn one mile up Porters Creek trail in Greenbrier. The Mountain Farm Museum at Oconaluftee has fine examples of both single and double cantilever barns.

Cribs housed livestock, tools, agricultural products and supplies. The cribs often measured twelve feet by eighteen feet and had a breezeway separating them. The upper logs of each crib were much longer than the others to create the cantilever. The cantilever doubled as the floor for the large upper loft.  The loft was typically used for storing hay and drying tobacco.The cantilever barns often had a gabled roof.

In the 1980’s author historians Marian Moffett and Lawrence Wodehouse documented 6 cantilever barns in Virginina, 3 in North Carolina, 183 in Sevier County, Tennessee and 106 in adjacent Blount County, Tennessee.

Feeling Great in Asheville!

Feeling Great in Asheville, North Carolina  near the southeastern border of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Oconaluftee, Cataloochee, Big Creek and Balsam Mountain areas are all about an hour’s drive from downtown Asheville. If you’re staying on the Tennessee side of the Smokies, Asheville makes a great day-trip!

SkyBar in Downtown Asheville North Carolina

SkyBar in downtown Asheville offers beautiful rooftop views of the city and surrounding mountains from the historic Flatiron Building.

Reaching Asheville is convenient and easy. Interstate 40 enters the city from the east and west and Interstate 26 accesses the city from the south and north. The Asheville Regional Airport is nine miles south of downtown on Interstate 26.

Asheville is a vibrant, thriving city with a definately cool vibe. The Huffington Post ranked Asheville as one of the 9 Most Romantic Cities in South and the Hippie Capital of the South. Boasting over fifteen micro-breweries, it’s easy to see why the Conde Nast Traveler named Asheville one of Amercia’s Best Beer Cities.

Biltmore Estate Asheville North CarolinaNo trip to Asheville would be complete without a visit to the famous Biltmore Estate. Completed in 1896, Biltmore is the largest privately owned home in the United States. The estate encompasses over 8,000 acres and includes a winery, hotel, historic conservatory and expansive gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. There are hiking trails, kayaking opportunities, biking, picnicking, Segway adventures, and tours of the mansion. Christmas at Biltmore is one of the most popular times to visit when the home is decorated for the holidays. Be sure to take the candlelight tour offered evenings during this special time.

Other fun options around the city include a visit to the famous Grove Park Inn, a tour of the beautiful North Carolina Arboretrum, and perusing the WNC Farmers MarketDining options are endless from fine dining to mom and pops offering up everything from gourmet pizzas to good ol’ country cooking. You may even want to join in on a drum circle! For more information on restaurants in Asheville, visit Romantic Asheville.

Asheville is surrounded by the Southern Appalachian mountains and is bordered by the Pisgah National Forest. The Blue Ridge Parkway passes through the city limits a few miles south of downtown. A short ride north on the parkway takes hearty adventurers to the highest peak east of the Mississippi river, Mount Mitchell. At 6,684′ the views from Mt. Mitchell are amazing. Traveling south on the Blue Ridge Parkway is a lovely drive any time year and will deliver you to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The history of Asheville is rich and diverse. Once the domain of the Cherokee, Hernando Desoto first explored the region in the 1,500’s. The town had modest beginnings with a log cabin built in the Swannanoa Valley in 1784. The settlers faced opposition to their presence from the Cherokee. Many incidents of violence ensued ultimately ending with the Cherokee’s forced removal on the Trail of Tears.  The civil war put its mark on the city but left Asheville intact compared to others decimated by Sherman’s “March to the Sea”. In 1880 the railroad came to town and things were never the same. This sleepy hamlet slowly but steadily grew and evolved into the largest city in Western North Carolina.