Colorful Autumn Hikes

The Tennessee Valley is at its best when fall brings out glorious color in the trees. Here are six spectacular hikes that even the most jaded leafers will absolutely love.

East Lakeshore Trail

A TVA treasure that’s been certified as a National Recreation Trail, East Lakeshore Trail (pictured above) is a 28.8-mile-long network of 11 interconnecting segments that run along the shoreline of Tellico Lake. Numerous bridges cross the many streams and coves you’ll encounter—one is 15 feet high and 85 feet long because of navigation regulations. Talk about a view! You’ll also find natural beaches, bluffs, boardwalks and benches, each inviting you to stop for a moment and take in the scenery. If you’re inclined to stay awhile, there are campsites available along the trail, and numerous opportunities for primitive camping. Segments range in distance from 1.4 to 5 miles in length, and most every one is appropriate for every hiker. For a map of the East Lakeshore Trail, click here.

Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Distance: 1.4 to 5 miles
Find It: From Knoxville, take exit 81 off I-75, turning left onto Hwy. 321, then right onto Hwy. 95 near Greenback, Tenn.
Coordinates: 35.77813, -84.24256

Honeycomb Trail

Five bluff overlooks offer stunning views of TVA public lands along Guntersville Lake from the recently restored Honeycomb Trail, which is open for both hiking and biking. The 9.3-mile trail leads you across varied terrain along lake’s edge and into the woods. There’s a parking lot at one trailhead, and Honeycomb Campground at the other. Pick a way in, and—if you commit to the trail—you’ll pass through three natural areas, classified as such because of their sensitive plants or animals, or because of their old-growth timber. Honeycomb Trail also winds through some historically significant ground; exploring the woods nearby, you might find derelict moonshine stills or the 19th century Honey Cemetery, for instance. At any rate, around the third week in November you’re guaranteed to find one thing in triplicate: color, color, color.

Difficulty: Moderate to difficult (for length)
Distance: 9.3 miles
Find It: Off Hwy. 431 about 26 miles south of Huntsville, Ala., or 18 miles north of Guntersville, Ala.; secondary trailhead outside Honeycomb Campground on Hwy. 431.
Coordinates: 34.428602, -86.335264

Overlook Trail

Watauga Lake is a special place, tucked away in the mountainous terrain of upper east Tennessee and hemmed in by the Cherokee National Forest. Its Overlook Trail is an easy half-mile hike along a wide gravel path that leads you around a mountain and offers scenic vistas with every step. A short side trail connects hikers to the Appalachian Trail, which crosses over Watauga Dam and can lead you down to Springer Mountain in Ga., or as far north as Mount Katahdin in Maine.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 0.5 miles
Find It: Off Hwy. 321 near Elizabethton, Tenn.
Coordinates: 36.320029, -82.118723

Big Ridge Trail

For a semi-urban hiking escape, you could hardly do better than Big Ridge Trail just north of Chattanooga, Tenn. TVA decided to protect this area specifically because of its old growth forest, which includes several species of oaks, yellow poplar and shagbark hickory. Old growth means simply that the plant community has survived for many years without outside disturbance (from logging, farming, intrusion of non-native species, etc.). The trail itself, a moderately difficult 1.3-mile loop, was created in conjunction with the Boy Scouts, and is accessed through the city of Chattanooga’s Greenway Farm park.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 1.3-mile loop
Find It: Off Hamill Rd. approximately one mile east of Hwy. 153 in Hixson, Tenn.
Coordinates: 35.114542, -85.225150

Lady’s Bluff Trail

For autumn splendor, it’s hard to beat Lady’s Bluff Trail on Kentucky Lake. Located on one of TVA’s Small Wild Areas, this upland hike features limestone outcroppings, freshwater springs, hardwood forests and fabulous views of the Busseltown Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge across the river on the opposite shore. In the fall, the area becomes a temporary home to thousands of migrating ducks and geese. Peek between those colorful leaves and you might see mallards, gadwalls, American wigeons, ring-neck ducks, American black ducks and Canadian geese. On a lucky day, you might even spot an American bald eagle.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 2.6 miles
Find It: Off Hwy. 438 near Linden, Tenn.
Coordinates: 35.688261, -88.012921

Whites Creek Trail

Looking for a little solitude along with your color? Up for a bit of a challenge? Secluded Whites Creek Trail on Watts Bar Lake takes you through a hardwood forest filled with vibrant color in the autumn months. The moderately difficult 3-mile loop includes both ridge tops and hushed valleys, with stone or wooden steps in place to assist on the steepest inclines. Birds abound here, making this a great destination for those who love to hear nature as well as see it. If you like this trail, make a note to come back in the spring for a lovely wildflower show; you’re likely to see fire pink, jack-in-the-pulpit, pussytoes, hog peanut and false foxglove among other plants.

Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 3-mile loop
Find It: From Knoxville, take exit 347 off I-40 , then south on Hwy. 27 near Rockwood, Tenn.
Coordinates: 35.762211,-84.762352

TVA Trails

Find other trails to explore—more than 40 of them—throughout the Tennessee Valley on our TVA Trails page. We'll let you know about the best spots on TVA public land to hike, bike or ride horses, and provide directions and trail maps. Click here to get started.

Watch Your Step

Autumn leaves are beautiful, but they can pose problems, too. Wet or dry, leaves can get slippery, especially on steeper slopes. Plus, leaves on the ground can hide hazards, according to TVA Natural Resources watershed representative Melinda Watson: “Leaves can cover many surprises, such as holes, roots, rocks and nuts, which can cause you to stumble and fall.”  If you can’t see the ground for the leaves, take care to maintain your footing.