Right now, the prevailing question around town, both for locals and visitors alike, goes something like this: “Have the leaves changed where you’re at yet?” and “What color are the trees down there?”
To say that fall color is nudging along would be putting it about right. Though the sunny days have been lacking as of late, the Townsend area continues to experience warmer-than-normal conditions. According to officials with the park, peak color at the lower elevations is still over a week away. Tree species like black gum, dogwood, and sumac trees continue to show vivid reds in the valley. Golds are showing their beauty in such species as the black walnut, birch, beech, and hickories. You’ll also notice that some maple and oak trees are beginning to transform in lower regions of the Smoky Mountains.
What the Townsend area is in need of in order to bring about the most vivid colors are a succession of warm, sunny days and cool crisp, but not freezing nights. Still, there are a few parts of the Smoky Mountains that are showing more reds now than in years past. This could be due to some biological factors in certain plants that could have been brought about because of some dry spurts over the summer.
A bit of fall advise, as the foliage gets more colorful, you begin to see more and more people coming through town snapping pictures and taking video. While a scenic drive might be an easy way to see the color for yourself, think about hiking one of the many Smoky Mountain trails this year, especially if you want to get away from the crush of onlookers.
A few good hikes for the casual Smoky Mountain hiker include Baskins Creek Falls, Old Settlers and Porters Creeks Trails. For the hardier outdoor enthusiasts, hikes like Sugarlands Mountain, Appalachian, Mt. Sterling, Low Gap, and Goshen Prong Trails provide for some very scenic overlooks and vistas. Roads with good fall color viewing include the Foothills Parkway on both the east and west side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park; Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441) which has a number of beautiful overlooks; the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail; and Cove Creek Road. Other suggested scenic drives include the Clingmans Dome Road. Heintooga Ridge Road/Balsam Mountain Road provide good low elevation scenery with early changing trees.
Suggested hikes: This is an excellent time, especially this weekend if the weather is nice, to hike trails leading to higher elevations: Lower Mount Cammerer, Maddron Bald, Brushy Mountain, and Trillium Gap Trails.
For additional information about fall foliage in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, visit their website at http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/fallcolor.htm