Fall foliage may have already peaked (usually around Columbus Day weekend) in the northeast, but in the south (Tennessee, N and S. Carolina, Georgia), the colors are just starting to approach its peak. With October packed with festivals from Octoberfest to apples and pumpkins, sleepy towns in this region have come alive trying to accommodate and entertain the hordes of locals and city dwellers. For those who do not like crowds, avoiding the festivals is a good idea; you can enjoy a more leisurely drive and hike to see the fall foliage without the congestion. There are many beautiful parks in the south to choose from, and the hiking trails range from easy to difficult. Here are some of my favorite fall foliage hiking destinations:
Raccoon Mountain is a unique TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) hydroelectric facility where water is pumped from Lake Nickajack on the Tennessee River to a storage reservoir on top of the mountain. This water is later released to generate electricity during periods of high electric demand. In an agreement with TVA, the Chattanooga Chapter of the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association (SORBA) was granted permission to build a network of trails for public use in the vast Raccoon Mountain facility. Since the grand opening of the new trails in 2006, Raccoon Mountain has been a popular recreation spot for mountain biking, hiking, picnicking and bird watching. Treat yourself to a jaw-dropping view of the Tennessee River Gorge and the Tennessee River at the Visitor Center before venturing off to a hike at one of the trails.
Cloudland Canyon State Park
Cloudland Canyon State Park, is one of Georgia’s most scenic state parks. The magnificent vistas of the canyon and the deep gorge are breathtaking, as are the amazing boulders and rock formation. You can hike to the bottom of the gorge via a 600-step staircase to find two cascading waterfalls. Unfortunately, due to the drought this summer, there was not a drop of water in the falls. What used to be a stream or creek below the falls was completely dry as well.
Amicalola Falls State Park
The 729-foot Amicalola falls at Amicalola Falls State Park is Georgia’s highest cascading waterfall. Located in Dawsonville, 73 miles north of Atlanta, it is the perfect place to seek some rest and relaxation. Its facility includes a lodge at the top of the mountain, campsites, cottages, and 12 miles of hiking trails in the 829-acre park. Many trails are very scenic, rated moderate and are less than 1 mile long. Be sure to stop at the Visitor Center to get your map and bearings before starting out. A word of caution: with fall festivals going on in nearby Ellijay and Dahlonega, this park can get very crowded.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Great Smoky Mountains is a hiker’s haven, with over 800 miles of trails, ranging from easy to strenuous.The best time to hike and see fall colors in the Great Smoky Mountains is probably between mid-October and early November, when the foliage is usually at their peak in the mid and lower elevations.A popular stop to see some spectacular views in the Smokies is Clingman’s Dome. At an elevation of 6,643 feet above sea level, it is the highest point in the Smokies. You can drive to the summit, and hike the last half-mile paved trail to the 54-foot lookout tower. If you are visiting the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, you can hike the Oconaluftee River Trail, one of two walking paths on which visitors can bring their dogs and bicycles. The trail goes around the Mountain Farm Museum and is a pleasant 1.5 miles (one way) walk along the Oconaluftee River.