This weekend is the first major weekend of autumn leaf color for the 2014 peak season in the Great Smoky Mountains and luck be with us, it is going to be a weekend with great weather as well!
The Smokies have been unseasonably warm and wet so far this fall. We also had to contend with considerable rain and wind in the past week which has pushed some of the early leaves that changed into bright fall colors to the ground, especially leaves in the very high elevations as well as sycamores, sourwoods and tulip poplars in mid and lower elevations.
Since it was not really cold enough yet at night which the maples and oaks need to turn the sugars in their leaves into bright brilliant reds and oranges, and our grasses are still mostly mid to deep green, you will be able to see lots of greens still along with nice contrasting colors which all should last longer than normal this season.
The best place to be to see the most colors in a long landscape view right now is being up high. This means by car you should take advantage of places such as the Blue Ridge Parkway, Newfound Gap Road, Clingmans Dome Road, the Foothills Parkway East between Cosby and I-40 and the Foothills Parkway West between Townsend/Walland and US129, The Smoky Mountain Parkway, and the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail behind Gatlinburg.
A little off the beaten path would be taking old State Road 284 from Big Creek to Cataloochee North Carolina. Not only are many of the overlook areas simply stunning as well as many parts of this drive, it will take you right to Cataloochee where the Elk Rut is still taking place and the colors in the mountains surrounding the Valley are beautiful.
Another exception ride today is US129 from the Foothill Parkway West all the way to the Fontana Dam. You must take a trip to the damn itself as the leaves have come in full force along the mountainside and against the blue green water, with what green is left in the mountains and the fall colors, the contrast are stunning.
If you plan on hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains to see the fall colors, there are many great choices this weekend. For a moderate hike and the ability to see stunning long range views, hike Andrews Bald starting at the Clingmans Dome parking area or the Brushy Mountain hike starting at Grotto Falls off the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Both should be nice next weekend as well.
For a more strenuous hike with equally stunning color but a better long range view looking down into Cades Cove, consider going up to Gregory Bald. This is about an 11 mile round trip hike and should be fairly popular during peak fall color season so expect the trail to be a little more crowded.
Also moderately strenuous with a very outstanding view will be the Pinnacle Man-way Trail in Greenbrier off the Ramsey Cascades trail which should be very quiet and with a 9 mile round trip, or Charlies Bunion which will be much more crowded, but well worth the 8 plus mile hike along the Appalachian Trail starting from the Newfound Gap Parking area.
Some lesser know but great fall hikes would be taking the start of the Appalachian Trail in Fontana to the fire tower, the hike to the Mount Sterling fire tower from Old State Road 284 or from Big Creek, and the Mount Cammerer Fire tower from either Cosby or the Appalachian Trail.
Less strenuous great fall hikes would be would be Abrams Falls in Cades Cove, The Little River Trail Cucumber Gap Loop in Elkmont, Husky Gap Trail from Newfound Gap Road, Rainbow Falls off Cherokee Orchard Road behind Gatlinburg, Boogerman Loop in Cataloochee, and the waterfall loop in Deep Creek.
If you are a serious hiker, no matter what way you make it up to Mount LeConte this weekend you won't be disappointed, of course it will be crowded.
The Appalachian Hiking Trail still has beautiful long range views in spots, same as the Thomas Divide Trial, but the colorful fall leaves along the trail are virtually all gone.