Where and When to View Fall Colors in Tennessee State Parks
August 2, 2021 | Permalink
While areas such as the Great Smokey Mountains are popular for enjoying fall colors, Tennessee State Parks offer lots of spectacular spots as well as campsites, cabins, and lodge rooms to experience fall foliage. Whether you're taking a day trip or booking a cozy overnight getaway these tips can help you decide where and when to travel to these beautiful destinations:
When should you plan to travel?
Figuring out when the fall colors will peak is tricky. Weather, moisture levels, and other factors determine the timing and the intensity of the colors. As a general rule:
- East Tennessee: leaves in East Tennessee begin to change color in early October and peak around the third week of the month.
- Middle and West Tennessee: color change begins in mid-October and peaks by Halloween. Deciduous trees (those that lose their leaves annually) are usually bare by Thanksgiving.
Where is the best place to see these colors change?
We asked park staff for some of their favorite places to view the fall colors and the parks in the list below are among some of the best places to see the leaves change (Photo: Cumberland Mountain). Here's our "Parks' Picks", thirteen Tennessee State Parks where you will get a great view of the leaves changing color:
Roan Mountain State Park
If you're looking for expansive East Tennessee views that aren't in the Smokey Mountains, Roan Mountain State Park will amaze you in new ways. Roan Mountain State Park is located 15 minutes away from Carvers Gap, the tallest point in Tennessee where you'll find 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains and can even hop on a section of the Appalachian Trail. The park offers cabins and RV and tent camping.
The Cumberland Plateau
Cumberland Mountain State Park
Cumberland Mountain is located 45 minutes southeast of Cookeville in Crossville, TN. Centered around Byrd Lake, the park offers paddling, hiking, golfing, mountain biking, and fishing. The park is located near Ozone Falls State Natural Area and sections of the Cumberland Trail State Scenic Trail that offer additional opportunities for recreation and color viewing. Cabins and RV and tent campsites are available.
Fall Creek Falls State Park
Located an hour south of Cookeville, Fall Creek Falls offers incredible hiking, overlooks, waterfalls, and overnight accommodations. One of the most popular Tennessee State Parks, overnight stays at Fall Creek Falls should be planned at least a month in advance. The park offers cabins, RV and tent campsites, and a new lodge with 85 guest rooms that will be opening in late November 2021. If overnight accommodations are booked at Fall Creek Falls, cabins and campsites are available at nearby Cumberland Mountain State Park.
Frozen Head State Park
If you love to camp and hike, Frozen Head will deliver the ideal fall experience. The park is located one hour northwest of Knoxville in Wartburg, Tennessee. Visitors can hike to the fire tower to take in the colors from above or seek out some of the park's waterfalls. The park offers rustic campsites for tents and small trailers.
Pickett CCC Memorial State Park
Pickett is located near the Tennessee/Kentucky border in Jamestown, Tennessee. The park offers a lake, hiking trails, paddling, fishing, overlooks at nearby Pogue Creek Canyon, and incredible dark sky viewing. The park offers cabins and RV and tent campsites.
South Cumberland State Park
South Cumberland is located an hour and a half southeast of Nashville. The park offers hiking, backpacking, waterfalls, overlooks, paddling, and rock climbing. One primitive tent campground and multiple backcountry sites are available.
Standing Stone State Park
Standing Stone is located 40 minutes north of Cookeville, Tennessee. The park offers hiking, paddling, fishing, birding, and cozy cabins. There are multiple cabin types offered. Historical Works Progress Administration cabins are amongst some of the newest renovated cabins at the parks, offering modern amenities and charming history. The park also offers RV and tent campsites.
Montgomery Bell State Park
Montgomery Bell is located 40 minutes west of Nashville in Burns, Tennessee. This location is ideal for anyone looking to experience the outdoors and Nashville in one trip. The park offers three lakes, hiking, paddling, fishing, golfing, birding, and mountain biking. The park offers overnight accommodations and dining at The Lodge which was fully renovated in 2020. The park also offers cabins and RV and tent campsites.
Tims Ford State Park
Tims Ford is located an hour and a half southeast of Nashville in Lynchburg, Tennessee, home to the Jack Daniells distillery. The park sits on Tims Ford Lake and offers paddling, boating, fishing, hiking, golfing, mountain biking, and hunting on nearby hunting lands. Cabins overlooking the lake are available along with RV and tent campsites.
Radnor Lake State Park
Radnor Lake is located 20 minutes south of downtown Nashville. This day-use park is also a natural area known for abundant wildlife viewing opportunities. The park is centered around a lake and offers both paved and natural hiking trails. Find overnight accommodations at nearby Montgomery Bell or Cedars of Lebanon State Park.
Chickasaw State Park
Chickasaw is located 30 minutes south of Jackson, Tennessee in Henderson. The park offers paddling, hiking, fishing, horseback riding and rentals, and birding. Surrounding the park is over 14,000 acres of state forestry land that offers hunting, ATV riding, horse trails, and additional hiking. The park's cabins received a renovation in 2021 and offer easy access to Lake Placid. The park also offers tent, RV, and wrangler campgrounds. The wrangler campground is designed for campers with horses.
Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park
Meeman-Shelby is located 25 minutes south of downtown Memphis. The park offers paddling, hiking, boating, fishing, disc golf, biking, birding, and horseback riding. Cabins are available with views of the lake. The park also offers tent and RV camping.
Natchez Trace State Park
Natchez Trace is located 40 minutes northeast of Jackson, Tennessee. The park offers an authentic wilderness retreat with paddling, hiking, boating, fishing, archery, firing range, horseback riding, and nearby opportunities for hunting and ATV riding on wildlife management land. The Lodge at Natchez Trace offers hotel-style rooms with views of Pin Oak Lake. The park also offers cabins, camping cabins, and tent/RV campsites.
If you're making plans to hunt for leaves, we have a few things to consider to make your planning easier:
1. Plan a mid-week trip
As a general rule, you will experience smaller crowds in our parks if you visit during a weekday. This is especially true during busy seasons like October.
2. Find other activities at parks that you'll enjoy
What's better than a beautiful view of the changing leaves? Enjoying that view while doing something you love! Maybe it's hiking to a waterfall at Fall Creek Falls or South Cumberland, or hitting the mountain bike trails at Roan Mountain or Cumberland Mountain. Check out the Find a Park page for a map of the state and filters that help you find the best park to meet your needs.
3. Take part in events while at the park
We offer hundreds of events every month to connect you with the outdoors and foster a love for adventure in guests of all ages. Every park has an event calendar on their homepage. You can also find a full list of events across all of our parks on our main calendar.
Color Blind Viewers
Do you or someone you know suffer from color blindness? The Tennessee Department of Tourist Development and Tennessee State Parks have partnered to install “color blind” viewfinders at several state park locations across the state. See the full list of parks and the locations of the viewers.