BY O.J. EARLY
East Tennesseeans typically enjoy four distinct seasons.
And with summer winding to a close, that means fall is just around the corner, bringing with it the annual dazzling change of leaf colors.
The first day of autumn is Sept. 22, and county residents can expect red, yellow and orange to dot the local landscape in the weeks to come.
"A lot of people really love to see the colors," said Cheryl Summers, recreation program manager for the Unaka Ranger Station of the U.S. Forest Service.
FALL FOLIAGE PEAK
According to AccuWeather.com, a worldwide weather forecast service, fall colors should peak in mid-October in East Tennessee.
Farther South, in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, fall foliage is expected to reach its height in early November.
Here in the Southeast, though, leaves may struggle to change color this year, according to the weather site.
An unusually large amount of rain, plus flooding, will keep the leaves green, the site reported.
According to Summers, though, it's not always easy to guess when leaves will begin to change colors.
"It's very hard to predict," she said.
Normally, mid-to-late October is when fall foliage reaches its peak locally, Summers said.
The Farmer's Almanac, well-known for its long-range weather forecasts, also predicts mid-to-late October for peak fall color in East Tennessee.
WHERE TO GO
Once fall colors decorate the area, it'll be hard to miss, Summers said.
Still, there are certain areas that really capture the vibrant pigments of autumn.
"One place that is always really nice is Houston Valley Road," she said. "That usually has some really pretty colors. The Paint Creek area has some really nice colors, too."
She added, "We have some trails that are really attractive for colors. You can always leave your car behind and go on foot to experience the colors."
With the Appalachian Mountains, scenic views are never far away.
According to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, fall colors typically develop at lower elevations in East Tennessee in early-to-mid-October.
To really enjoy the seasonal colors, take Clingman's Dome Road, the Blue Ridge Parkway or the Foothills Parkway, the National Park Service suggests.
Some other drives and hikes that the Park Service recommends include:
* Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, a narrow road in Gatlinburg that stretches through forests;
* Appalachian Trail, a 3.4-mile round-trip hike from Newfound Gap to Indian Gap, and
* Look Rock Tower, located near the Foothills Parkway.
Tennessee has a hotline to call for up-to-date information about fall foliage. Call 1-800-697-4200.