While tourists flock to National Parks like the Great Smoky Mountains in the Fall, National Forests might be an even better option when it comes to soaking in the splendor of the season. In East Tennessee and the surrounding states there are more than a million acres of National Forest with almost limitless possibilities when it comes to enjoying the Fall Colors. Here are suggested ways of making the most of your Fall trips to National Forests.
Cherokee National Forest – This 650,000 acre tract of land stretches all along Tennessee’s eastern border (except for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park). The size of this National Forest makes it the largest publicly owned tract of land in the state. For Fall color viewing you can always take a drive on the Cherohala skyway, a drive which has become increasingly popular. U.S. 129, “the tail of the dragon” also cuts through the forest. It actually winds up in the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina. The area around the Ocoee River in Southeast Tennessee has some of the best whitewater in the region and is home to the Ocoee Whitewater Rafting Center, a remnant left over from the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Greene County’s Paint Creek Corridor features natural wonders like Kelley Falls and Dudley Falls as well as Paint Mountain and Paint Rock. Even further Northeast you will find Roan Mountain, a grassy bald best known for its colorful Rhododendron spread in the summer, but still delightful in the Fall. Other great spots in the Cherokee are South Holston and Watauga Lakes.
Pisgah National Forest – At many points along the Tennessee/North Carolina State Line you cross from the Cherokee National Forest into this 500,000 acre forest blanketing much of the western part of the Tar Heel state. Much of this land was once part of the famed Biltmore Estate and is considered the birthplace of the National Forest movement. One of the best Fall Color drives is along U.S. 276 from Waynesville to Brevard. Along the way you will drive along the East Fork of the Pigeon River, drive underneath the Blue Ridge Parkway near Mt. Pisgah, drive by Looking Glass Falls and Sliding Rock. Further northeast you can view the fall colors from the base of Roan Mountain or nearby Elk River Falls. U.S. 25/70 also cuts through the Pisgah National Forest taking you through the historic town of Hot Springs on your way to Asheville. Further east in the Burnsville area you can dip your toes into the Toe River at Carolina Hemlocks Recreation Area.
Nantahala National Forest – This more than 500-thousand acre forest is the largest of four in the state of North Carolina. It basically covers the far southwestern areas of the state. The area is known for its rugged wilderness, high peaks and waterfalls. One popular drive is U.S. 64 through the Cullasaja Gorge between Highlands and Franklin. Along the way you will see whitewater at its best as well as places like Bridal Veil Falls (a waterfall you can DRIVE under) and Dry Falls. Near the South Carolina state line you will find Upper Whitewater Falls, considered to be the tallest east of the Rocky Mountains.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of things to do inside these expansive public lands. This year the National Forest Service is making it easy for you to track where the leaves are changing. This information is available online or by calling toll free 1-800-354-4595. For information on other nearby National Forests click here.
Clicking on the highlighted links will bring you more information and pictures of each of these sites. For more trip ideas click on these links:
Knoxville Day Trips Examiner
Knoxville Road Trip Examiner