Now that the government shutdown is over and Great Smoky Mountains National Park is fully open, visitors have access to all the beautiful autumn colors in the mountains. Scenic drives in the Smokies are an easy way to take in the beautiful colors because they are more easily accessible than hiking through the backcountry, while still providing opportunities to stretch your legs at overlooks, historic buildings, and trails along the way.
Cades Cove is my favorite area of the park because there's so much to see and do. In the fall, the 11-mile scenic loop road is beautiful. In addition to autumn colors, you will also probably see a lot of wildlife in the woods and meadows. Traffic can get pretty heavy this time of year, so if you don't want to drive the whole thing there are 2 roads that cut across the loop to make it shorter: Sparks Lane and Hyatt Lane. Cades Cove is easily accessible from Townsend, TN, but if you have extra time the drive from Gatlinburg, TN is worth it.
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
This drive actually begins outside the park in Gatlinburg on Cherokee Orchard Road. It is fairly narrow and only permits one-way traffic. A guide book is usually available at the beginning of the drive for a small fee. The Motor Nature Trail ascends into higher elevations than Cades Cove, providing excellent views and cooler weather. Stop at one of the two overlooks or take a walk on Trillium Gap Trail to admire the fall foliage.
This area is similar to Cades Cove because of the historic buildings and valleys, but it is slightly more difficult to access on a narrow gravel road. You can get to Cove Creek road from I-40 or the Blueridge Parkway in North Carolina. Take a tour around the valley with the self-guided booklet available at the entrance. In addition to the beautiful colors descending the mountains, this area has wildlife not yet found in other areas of the park. Elk were released here in 2001 and this is the best place to see them as they have not yet migrated to other sections of the Smokies.