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14 of the Best Fall Hikes in Tennessee with Sweeping Fall Foliage Views

Planning to tackle some of the best fall hikes in Tennessee for peak leaf-peeping season?

We don’t blame you. After all, autumn in Tennessee is pure magic!

Whether you plan to explore some of the Volunteer State’s unique small towns or you want to see what hiking is like in Gatlinburg or Nashville, we’ve got you covered.

Lace up those hiking boots, pack some favorite snacks (and a jacket!), and let’s get into Tennessee’s best fall hikes.

From waterfalls and sunset views to road trip-worthy destinations and trails right in the heart of cities, we have something for every type of hiker.

Middle Tennessee Best Fall Hikes

1. Stone Door Loop Trail — Beersheba Springs, South Cumberland State Park

  • Length: 1.9 miles out-and-back
  • Elevation gain: 167 feet
  • Difficulty level: Easy
Stone door trail with large tree and staircase in between two large slot rocks
Credit: Jessica B. via Alltrails

Nestled in the Savage Gulf State Natural Area in impressive South Cumberland State Park, the Stone Door Loop is a hidden gem.

The trail includes dramatic bluffs, a narrow gorge, and, of course, the centerpiece: a narrow stone “door.”

Continue down the stone steps and look back to see the door, cut in the rock about 10 feet wide. Go on a little further, and you’ll even encounter some slot canyons.

Plus, Stone Door is less than two hours from Nashville and Chattanooga and three hours from Knoxville.

Because of this, it’s one of the easiest (and easiest to get to!) fall hikes in Tennessee.

2. Henry Hollow Loop — Beaman Park, Nashville

  • Length: 2.1-mile loop
  • Elevation gain: 250 feet
  • Difficulty level: Moderate
dirt trail leading through the woods with the leaves on the trees turning shades of orange during the fall season
Credit: J. Hayes via Alltrails

Just a stone’s throw away from Music City, Henry Hollow Loop stands out as a top choice among fall hikes in Tennessee.

In fact, we previously called it one of the best hikes near Nashville overall!

What sets this hike apart is its proximity to the city, located less than a 30-minute drive from bustling Broadway. Yet, it somehow remains a well-kept secret.

You’ll hike alongside Henry Creek, and eventually, onto the ridge. This uphill stretch is the hike’s most challenging, but the trade-off is some amazing panoramic views.

Note that there are three trailheads, the most popular being Creekside, since it has both parking and restrooms.

However, if you prefer an alternate, less crowded entry, take the Highland trailhead.

One of the trail’s standout features is its dense tree canopy, serving as a gorgeous leaf-peeping backdrop in the fall.

3. Volunteer Trail — Long Hunter State Park, Nashville

  • Length: 10.8 miles out-and-back
  • Elevation gain: 620 feet
  • Difficulty level: Moderate
view of the lake at sunset with clouds on the volunteer trail
Credit: Mitch G. via Alltrails

Not only does fall in Middle Tennessee mean perfect hiking weather, but it also means…backpacking season.

It’s true — although most people don’t associate backpacking and Nashville, this hike offers that very unique opportunity!

Just 30 minutes outside the city, you can hike to two tent-only, lakefront backcountry campsites.

Especially in the fall, the scenery on the trail is gorgeous. Look out for wildlife!

If you prefer to stick with day hiking, the Volunteer Trail is great for that, too. The hike includes varied scenery with both bluffs and Percy Priest Lake, so although it’s on the longer side, it’ll keep you interested.

4. Cummins Falls — Cummins Falls State Park

  • Length: 2.4 miles out-and-back
  • Elevation gain: 350 feet
  • Difficulty level: Moderate
Panoramic view of Cummins Falls near Nashville in the autumn.

One of the most popular waterfalls near Nashville, 75-foot-tall Cummins Falls is also one of the best fall hikes in Tennessee.

What makes Cummins Falls a particular standout is the rare opportunity to get right up to the base of the falls. However, to do so any time of year, you’ll need Gorge Access Permits.

On weekends and holidays, the permits can be tricky to get.

Fortunately, though, it’s almost always possible to get them within a day or two of your intended date.

Once you secure your permit, choose a path.

Two gorge trails lead to the falls: the 1-mile Downstream Trail and the 1.5-mile Shortcut to Downstream. Both offer a moderately challenging hike, featuring steep sections, uneven terrain, and slippery rocks.

If you can’t snag a permit or you’re perfectly happy seeing the falls from a distance, consider the leisurely 0.4-mile Waterfall Overlook Trail. No permit is required for this trail, and it’s suitable for all ages, also.

PS: The nearby small town of Cookeville is worth exploring, as well, so consider spending the night or at least grabbing lunch or dinner!

Best Fall Hikes in East Tennessee

5. House Mountain Park — Knoxville area

  • Length: 0.8 – 5.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: ~1,000 feet
  • Difficulty level: Moderate to challenging
panoramic views at house mountain with hills and clouds and city below
Credit: Fischer C. via Alltrails

Standing at an elevation of 2,064 feet, House Mountain is the highest point in Knox County.

Just 30 minutes from Knoxville, the trails leading to the summit are some of the best fall hikes in Tennessee.

As you can probably imagine, the views during peak foliage are incredible!

Choose from three individual trails, or combine any or all of them for a longer hike. Specifically, the Mountain Trail and the Crest Trail actually take you to the summit of House Mountain.

The West Overlook features sweeping views of the Cumberland Mountains, the Smokies, and even downtown Knoxville.

At the other end, the East Overlook shows off views of the Clinch Mountains.

Finally, don’t let the short individual trail distances fool you! Although many of the trails in the park are less than one mile, they involve steep ascents and rocky terrain.

6. Tharp Trace — Ijams Nature Center, Knoxville

  • Length: 1.3-mile loop
  • Elevation gain: 285 feet
  • Difficulty level: Moderate
sunset over meads quarry water with fog at tharp trace trail
Credit: Diahnn O. via Alltrails

It’s hard to believe the Ijams Nature Center sits practically in the center of Knoxville. Tucked into the Knoxville Urban Wilderness, it’s one of the city’s most beloved parks.

There are 15+ miles of trails, including easy ones following the river and more challenging options near the quarry.

Tharp Trace is among the more difficult trails, offering a fun and engaging hike.

The trail takes you around Mead’s Quarry for about one mile. You’ll ascend and descend, enjoying views of the quarry, which really looks like a natural lake.

The dense foliage and bluffs framing it are what make this one of the best fall hikes in Tennessee!

While you’re at the park, be sure to check out some of its (MANY!) other activities.

It’s home to treetop adventure park Navitat Knoxville, rock climbing destination the Ijams Crag, and the quarry. Between the quarry and the river, you can kayak, paddle board, go tubing, or even hang out in the beer garden!

7. Sunset Rock — Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga

  • Length: 4 miles out-and-back
  • Elevation gain: 470 feet
  • Difficulty level: Moderate
panoramic views from sunset rock with the sunset shining over the hills and mountains
Credit: Amy T. via Alltrails

Sunset Rock offers sweeping views of the entire area around Chattanooga, including the Tennessee River and several other mountains.

On clear days, you can even see into Georgia and North Carolina!

This makes it one of the best fall hikes in Tennessee, with colorful shades of foliage stretching on as far as the eye can see.

If you’re up for a moderately challenging day hike, park at the historic Cravens House. Then, hike just over two miles down to Sunset Rock, crossing stairs and walking along bluffs.

There’s also a railway car ferry that takes people right up to the top of Lookout Mountain. If you’re short on time or want a different experience, this is a great option!

8. Pinnacle Mountain Fire Tower (2 Ways!) — Unicoi

  • Length: 0.5, 1.5, or 9.9 miles out-and-back
  • Elevation gain: 1,863 feet
  • Difficulty level: Moderate to difficult
panoramic views from the pinnacle mountain fire tire near johnson city tn with mountains and hills and leaves turning orange for fall season
Credit: Beth K. via Alltrails

Who doesn’t love a good fire tower lookout?

Literally “towering” over the Cherokee National Forest, the Pinnacle Mountain Fire Tower makes one of the best fall hikes in Tennessee.

Best of all, you have more than one option to get there.

The classic hike involves nearly 10 challenging miles and over 1,800 miles of elevation gain. While it’s an awesome, rewarding all-day hike, it certainly isn’t family-friendly.

For days you have little ones in tow or simply don’t feel up to 10 miles, you can shorten the hike to 1.5 or even 0.5 miles.

In order to do that, you’ll simply drive most of the way up the back side of the mountain. To find out exactly how to get there, check out the detailed directions HERE.

9. White Rock Loop — Buffalo Mountain Park, Johnson City

  • Length: 5-mile loop
  • Elevation gain: 1,354 feet
  • Difficulty level: Challenging
Female hiker standing at White Rock overlook in Buffalo Mountain Park in Johnson City TN

There’s truly nothing like fall in Johnson City.

The crisp mountain air and foliage, combined with the Appalachian scenery and the calm before the holidays…it’s magical!

To really savor it, plus experience one of the best fall hikes in Tennessee, hit White Rock Loop at Buffalo Mountain Park.

Buffalo Mountain is one of Johnson City’s most popular parks, home to some of the best overlooks and hikes in the area.

White Rock Loop is a challenging but not too challenging—and super rewarding—hike around Buffalo Mountain.

One of the main reasons the hike is rated as “hard” is because the trail can be tricky to follow at times. If you’re up for the challenge, we highly recommend trying it (just download a trail map ahead of time!)!

10. Bays Mountain Reservoir Trail — Kingsport

  • Length: 2.8-mile loop
  • Elevation gain: 282 feet
  • Difficulty level: Moderate
woman sitting on bench at bays mountain park overlooking the water

With a lake and waterfall to explore, Bays Mountain Park is easily home to some of the best fall hikes in Tennessee.

It’s also one of our personal favorite hiking destinations near Kingsport, and one of the best parks in the area, too!

There are over 40 miles of trails here, but the Reservoir Trail in particular is fantastic.

This trail is fairly easy-going, but there is one steep section to tackle. Leashed dogs are also welcome, so feel free to bring Fido along.

Up for a longer hike? Continue on past the reservoir to the fire tower lookout, which stands 60 feet above the ground.

Surrounded by dense foliage, the 360-degree views from the tower are unmatched, especially in autumn.

Also Read: 13 Best Things to Do in Kingsport

11. Devil’s Backbone and Fall Creek — Warrior’s Path State Park, Kingsport

  • Length: 3.5 miles out-and-back
  • Elevation gain: 567 feet
  • Difficulty level: Moderate
Devils backbone trail along the lake with fall leaves and leaves in the water
Credit: Jenny D. via Alltrails

Just south of Kingsport, you’ll discover a local gem: the Devil’s Backbone and Fall Creek loop in Warrior’s Path State Park.

Together, both trails total a manageable three miles and require roughly 1.5 hours.

The hike starts at a golf course before revealing the beautiful Holston River shortly after. You’ll hike along a ridge perched high above the river for a stretch, enjoying panoramic views all around the cliffs.

Though the trail is dog-friendly and isn’t necessarily technical, we recommend leaving pups (and possibly young kids) at home due to steep drop-offs.

Aside from the ridge, the rest of the hike is milder and fairly flat, running alongside Fall Creek.

12. Peg Leg Mine Loop Trail — Roan Mountain State Park

  • Length: 1.5-mile loop
  • Elevation gain: 180 feet
  • Difficulty level: Moderate
sign saying peg leg mine loop trail
Credit: Steven J. via Alltrails

You’ll find several popular trails near Johnson City in this state park, located right along the Tennessee/North Carolina border.

Several hikes here traverse sections of the Appalachian Trail, and many are challenging.

However, a handful of them are much more manageable as day hikes, including one of our favorites: Peg Leg Mine Loop.

Starting behind the visitor center, this fairly easy trail takes you to the ruins of an old mine and alongside the Doe River.

You can still see the original mine shaft and rail car paths, but you can’t go inside.

As you pass through the diverse Appalachian Forest, you’ll quickly understand why this is among the top fall hikes in Tennessee.

The colorful hemlocks and other native trees really show off come October, especially along the river.

Best Fall Hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

13. Clingmans Dome

  • Length: 1.3 miles out-and-back
  • Elevation gain: 340 feet
  • Difficulty level: Moderate
clingmans dome at sunset with trees and blue sky

When you think of fall hikes in Tennessee…or heck, any hikes in Tennessee, it’s hard not to picture Clingmans Dome.

The iconic observation tower stands at over 6,600 feet, making it the highest point in the national park, as well as Tennessee.

While the trail distance is short, it’s quite steep, averaging a minimum 8% grade.

Thankfully, it’s paved and wide, making it manageable for most hikers. Huff and puff your way up, then enjoy the 360-degree views from the tower.

14. Abrams Falls

  • Length: 5 miles out-and-back
  • Elevation gain: 616 feet
  • Difficulty level: Moderate
woman cooling off at abrams falls with waterfall in background

Another Cades Cove hike, Abrams Falls is at its best during the fall.

Sure, it’s a popular summertime swimming hole on hot days, but nothing beats the dense canopy of colorful reds and yellows in the fall.

Much of the trail follows a ridge alongside a creek, then delivers you to a wide, thundering 20-foot waterfall.

Although it’s far from the largest waterfall in the national park, it’s one of the most impressive. Even well into fall, it roars!

If you’re a shutterbug, allow yourself extra time in the Cades Cove area. The historic cabins, mills, and potentially black bears or deer against the foliage make for epic photo ops!