Here’s where to look for the best fall foliage in Tennessee

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — In 2016, the fall foliage wasn’t great in eastern Tennessee.

The eight-month-long drought and hot summer combined to make east Tennessee’s usually spectacular fall foliage show as lightweight as a leaf in the wind.

“It was very short because we didn’t have any moisture,” said Wayne Clatterbuck, a professor in forestry, wildlife and fisheries studies at University of Tennessee, Knoxville. “The leaves just turned brown and died.”

A bright, colorful outlook for 2017

This year is a different story. The area is nearly five inches above its annual rainfall total year-to-date and conditions could be ideal for another fall show like the area had in 2015.

“I think we are going to have a great year,” Clatterbuck said. “There could be things happening between now and mid-October, but we have plenty of moisture. We would love to have cool nights and warm days, and that makes the pigment more vibrant. You want to have it drop down in the 40s or high 30s at night.

More: What’s the fall color outlook for Western North Carolina?

“We don’t want an early frost which could kill everything, but we usually don’t have that around here.”

The weather seems willing to comply.

Derek Eisentrout of the National Weather Service office in Morristown, Tenn., said the temperature has a strong chance of being above normal, September through November. Rainfall is likely to at least match the monthly average.

“We are looking at things down the road that would tend to make you believe that things will be warmer than normal,” he said.

Fall colors appear along U.S. Highway 441 through the
Fall colors appear along U.S. Highway 441 through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Chimney Tops trail Oct. 19, 2015. (Photo: Michael Patrick, Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel)
“The three things that trigger color are day length, temperature and moisture,” Clatterbuck said. “We have had all the rain we need.”

He said he expects prime time for viewing to be the last week of October and the first week of November — the normal peak period.

“It happens sooner the higher up you go in elevation,” he said.

Where to view fall foliage

“I typically try to stay away from the crowd in the Smokies,” Clatterbuck said. “The Cherohala Skyway at Tellico Plains is a great place to go with a lot of elevation change. You get those different colors at different elevations.

“Big South Fork (National River and Recreation Area) where the river comes through is also a great place.”

Matt Hudson, chief ranger at Obed Wild and Scenic River, said the place to go in Big South Fork in Oneida, Tenn., is the East Rim Overlook.

“It’s known for its spectacular sunsets and commanding views of the Big South Fork gorge,” he said. “East Rim Overlook provides the perfect spot for fall color viewing on a grand scale.”

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