Blog for Zip line Attraction in the Smoky Mountains

Located in Pigeon Forge, TN and near Gatlinburg and Sevierville.


Oh, The Leaves, They Are A-Changin' - Part 2

By Ross Bodhi Ogle
Posted on October 13, 2020

Since it's fall foliage season in Tennessee, we wanted to talk about all things related to the changing of the colors. So if you happen to be visiting us here in the Smokies within the next couple of weeks, you'll come in knowing everything you need to know about fall colors (and probably a lot of things you may not have even thought about).

We started last week by letting you know which areas of the Smokies are reaching peak colors and which ones aren't quite there yet. We also pointed out some popular destinations in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and surrounding areas that have really spectacular views of all the foliage. We even highlighted which common tree species produce which colors on the fall-foliage spectrum.

We'll continue with a brief update on which areas are at what level of color change. The highest elevations in the national park are actually just past peak at this point, though the views are still very impressive. The foothills and lower mountainous regions, including most of the accessible areas of the national park, are right at their high point. That also goes for our ziplines in the Smokies. As you head west across the state, the Cumberland Valley and middle grand division are at partial transformation, while parts of the plateau between middle and east Tennessee are just about to reach their peak.

This week, we also wanted to get into the science of fall colors a little bit. For example, do you know why trees drop their leaves in the first place? It's because it takes a lot of energy and water for plants to keep their leaves healthy, which is difficult to do during winter. So instead of hanging onto their leaves, many trees and plants drop them and seal the spots where the leaves were attached.

But let's back up a little bit. Why (and how) do leaves change colors in the first place? Leaves are colored by molecules called pigments. Chlorophyll is the pigment that makes leaves green. During spring and summer, there's lots of sunlight and heat, so it's easy to make chlorophyll. In autumn, when it starts getting cold, many trees stop making chlorophyll, and they break it down into other molecules. As the chlorophyll reduces, other pigments like yellow, red and orange start to show. Carotenoids make yellow and orange leaves. Anthocyanins make red, pink and purple colors.

Weather also plays a large role in how vivid the fall colors will be. During spring, a wet growing season is ideal. Otherwise, leaves shut down too early in the fall and drop before they've had a chance to develop their coloration. From summer into early autumn, sunny days and cool nights are desirable. Those conditions cause chlorophyll to diminish more rapidly and reveal the other colors sooner. That's good news, because we've had a good bit of both conditions so far this fall. Also, we haven't had too many gusty days, which helps the leaves hang onto their trees a little longer than normal.

The result is beautiful days in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. If you haven't had a chance to see what all the fuss is about, it's not too late. You can plan an overnighter or a weekend anywhere in the area and have plenty of time to take some scenic drives. Or come out and play on our canopy tour in the foothills. Our heavily wooded zipline course is the ideal setting for fall fun and color viewing.


This content posted by Smoky Mountain Ziplines. Visit our home page, for more information on zipline adventures in the Smoky Mountains.

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