Each fall GSMA publishes a day-by-day guide to viewing the color change in the national park. Find it HERE.
The Great Smoky Mountains boast 100 species of native trees, making this national park a cornucopia of fall colors. Along the high ridges and mountaintops, trees begin changing in mid-September. The peak of fall color in the valleys and coves is usually in late October or early November. Sunny days and cool nights are thought to nurture the best colors.
Some examples of trees with brilliant color changes include:
Tuliptree: In the Smokies this species attains a circumference of 25 feet and a height of 140 feet or more. It is one of the most common trees at the lower and mid elevations and is easily identified by its arrow-straight trunk. Tuliptree leaves turn a pale yellow, often as early as September.
Black Gum: This small tree is another early changer; its leaves turn a brilliant red by mid-September. Bear, ruffed grouse and wild turkey covet the bluish-black berries it produces. Mountain farmers used the hollow trunks of this species to make beehives and storage bins. Black gums over 400 years old have been found in the park.
Red Maple: Five species of maple tree are native to the Smokies, including sugar, red, mountain, striped and box elder. Red and sugar put on some of the brightest colors each fall. For years the Smokies have been home to the world champion red maple, a specimen that is 23 feet in circumference and 141 feet tall.
Scarlet Oak: This oak was named just for its fall color. While most oaks present muted autumn hues at best, scarlet oak leaves turn a brilliant, boasterous red. Scarlet oak habitat is dry slopes below elevations of 3,500 feet. It is often found growing among pines, mountain laurel, and other oaks.
Sourwood: The leaves on this small tree may begin to turn in late August. They make a striking scene against a blue autumn sky. For many years a sourwood in the Smokies was the largest sourwood on earth, standing 96 feet tall.