The weather may still be warm and the sun shining brightly, but the beginnings of fall are upon us in The Great Smoky Mountains. School is back in session. The evenings and early mornings have a light nip in them. Fall in The Smokies is a spectacular event – from the tree colors to cooler days that are perfect for hiking, festivals and cookouts.
There are so many fun things to do in the fall and beautiful sites to see. Following are some of our favorites to help you plan an autumn adventure.
Touring the Smokies
Fall is arguably the most beautiful time of year in the Great Smoky Mountains. The green leaves and summer flowers are being left behind for vibrant oranges of the oaks, brilliant reds of the maples, and the golden yellow of the birch tree. With five different major forest types, the Smokies offer diversity and dynamic colors in the fall you won’t see anywhere else.
Fall foliage viewing begins around the beginning of October and continues through the second week in November and beyond. Be sure to check out the fall foliage predictor online: https://smokymountains.com/fall-foliage-map/
Take a hike to get a little closer to Mother Nature. Trails for all levels of experience are offered in the National Park to enjoy the colorful fall foliage. The brilliant colors will be all around you. With over 140 species of native trees in the National Park the color will surround you. The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Cades Cove and the drive up to Clingman’s Dome from Gatlinburg are all amazing during the fall.
At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is the highest point in Tennessee, and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi. Only Mt. Mitchell (6,684 feet) and Mt. Craig (6,647), both located in Mt. Mitchell State Park in western North Carolina, rise higher.
“The observation tower on the summit of Clingmans Dome offers spectacular 360° views of the Smokies and beyond for visitors willing to climb the steep half-mile walk to the tower at the top. On clear days views expand more than 100 miles.”
A classic hike, often defined as the most beautiful in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is the Alum Cave Trail to Mt. LeConte – total elevation gain 2,763 feet, highest elevation 6, 593 feet round trip hike – 11 miles. This is a strenuous trail so be prepared.
To reach the Alum Cave Trailhead from the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, drive 8.7 miles south along Newfound Gap Road. The parking area will be on your left.
Even though the Abrams Falls waterfall is only 20 feet tall, the amount of rushing water over the waterfall is what makes it so popular. You can use the Abrams Falls access trail in Cades Cove to reach the 5-mile round trip hike.
If you want to enjoy an easy hike whether it’s because you have young children, are a beginner hiker or just want a relaxing walk that won’t make you sweat, there are plenty of options in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The Gatlinburg Trail is a nature walk through the woods. The hike is only 1.9 miles one-way from Sugarlands Visitor Center. It runs through the forest along the Little Pigeon River, so you will see views of the water as well as foundations of several old homesites along the way.
The Gatlinburg Trail is the only pet friendly trail on the Gatlinburg side of the national park, and is only one of two pet friendly trails in the entire park.
Kephart Prong Trail
The Kephart Prong trail is great for kids! Kids can explore the Smoky Mountains on this trail. There’s remnants of the logging era and the Civilian Conservation Corps. The hike is 4 miles round trip and you can expect to see wildlife including salamanders along the stream.
This trail begins from the Clingmans Dome parking lot and drops elevation as you hike to Andrews Bald. You’re actually hiking the Forney Ridge Trail – 1.8 miles one-way to Andrews Bald.
Colors from Car or Bicycle
The fall colors also may be enjoyed from the luxury of your vehicle – with scenic drives that are breathtaking. Check out our blog post on the best scenic drives – among them are Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and Cades Cove Loop Road.
Or bike through the mountains.
At beautiful Cades Cove, bring your own bike or rent one of theirs. This ride is for part-time recreational bikers as well as serious cyclists with an 11-mile loop to enjoy the beauty, wildlife and historic buildings.
If 11 miles seems like a lot, you can always cut the loop short by using Sparks Lane or Hyatt Lane.
From May to September, the loop road is closed to motor vehicle traffic on Wednesday and Saturday mornings until 10:00 a.m. to allow cyclists and pedestrians to enjoy Cades Cove.
If you plan on renting a bike, arrive early. They do not reserve bikes ahead of time, and often sell out by 7:30 a.m.
Cades Cove also has riding stables for hay rides!
Cades Cove Riding Stables offers a 1.5- to 2-hour hayrides around the Cades Cove Loop Road. Guests sit on a bed of hay in a trailer pulled by a truck and enjoy an open-air view of the beauty of Cades Cove. Reservations are usually required and can be made by calling (865) 448-9009. Rates are $10-15 per person.
Views from On High
Enjoy the colors of fall from high in the sky – via a zipline, the SkyBridge or a hot air balloon.
Want to see the Great Smoky Mountains from a different angle while having a heart-pumping thrill of a good time on your Tennessee vacation? Try ziplining through the tree tops.
Wear comfortable clothing – like you are going on a hike or to the gym. Skirts are not permitted unless wearing shorts or pants underneath. No dangling jewelry. Anything lose such as scarves should be removed before going to the course. Close-toed shoes are required, and long hair should be tied back. Take everything out of your pockets, including cell phones, so you don’t lose them – there’s no climbing down the mountain to find them.
There are several zipline companies in the area – and American Patriot Getaways offers discount tickets.
A place for Adventures! Enjoy 1-hour horseback rides through the mountainside or soar over Pigeon Forge on 7 ziplines. There’s night-time ziplining too – “an experience like no other. “
Zipline tour – $67.00 (Ticket Value: $74.99) Family friendly, minimum weight of 70lbs to ride alone, but can ride tandem up to 3 years and older. Maximum weight is 275lbs. All children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult.
Zip at Night – after 5 p.m. until close – $52.00 (Ticket Value: $74.99) Family friendly, minimum weight of 70lbs to ride alone, but can ride tandem up to 3 years and older. Maximum weight is 275lbs. All children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult. From 5pm til close.
Head to Legacy Mountain Ziplines for miles of fast and exciting fun.
Zip on America’s longest zipline! 7 ziplines up to 2,500 feet long over 400 acres of beautiful Smoky Mountains. 4.5 miles of zip lines, 450 feet off the ground.
Adults and kids ages 3 and up : $85.00 (Ticket Value: $99.99) Some medical conditions and physical restrictions. Persons must be at least 100 lbs to zip alone (children must be accompanied by an adult). under 100 lbs must ride tandem with an adult. Weight limit of 275 lbs.
Billed as North America’s largest pedestrian suspension bridge – Sky Bridge is 680 feet from tower to tower. What is on the other side of the 140-foot-high suspension bridge? There are long-term plans for some attractions on the other side, but for now, it’s an experience with fantastic views.
To get to the Sky Bridge, take the Skylift up to Skylift park. The lift takes visitors up and down the mountain for spectacular 360-degree views. Visitors get off at the new Skydeck, where they can sit outside, buy a beer and do some shopping.
The SkyCenter at the SkyDeck on Crockett Mountain, overlooking Gatlinburg offers up “sweeping panoramic views” of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Hot Air Balloons and Biplanes
Another spectacular way to see the brilliant colors of fall in the smokies is via a hot air balloon.
One option, What’s Up Ballooning, which requires a drive just north of Knoxville.
In Gatlinburg, at the airport, there’s Sky High Air Tours, where you can take an 8-30-minute tour in a 1927 Waco Model 10 Straightwing. Incredible!
Go Fishing for Supper
A unique adventure on a fall day is fishing for your supper. There are several spots in the area where everything is provided and they will cook the fish you catch!
At English Mountain Trout Farm in Sevierville, you can fish and have them cook it up afterward, catch and take it back to your wonderful cabin and cook it on the grill or in the fully-equipped kitchen or you can just order off the menu and enjoy watching everyone else fish.
Herbert Holt Park in Gatlinburg is home to the city-owned trout rearing facility. Here, the facility maintains rainbow trout, within the city limits of Gatlinburg. Fish reared at the facility “are transported, in loads ranging from 350 to 500 lbs. per stocking and deposited into the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River every Thursday. At the West Prong, fishing is allowed – though not on Thursdays.
Don’t forget to get a fishing license before casting in any waterway.
The Great Smoky Mountains host wonderful Fall Festivals from Townsend to Gatlinburg.
On Thursday – Sept. 12 – fall festivals kick off with the 22nd Annual Taste of Autumn in Gatlinburg.
The event, a fund-raiser for the United Way, celebrates the beginning of the fall season at the 22nd Annual Taste of Autumn on Thursday, September 12 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Visitors can try delicious signature dishes from Gatlinburg’s best restaurants while taking a nostalgic journey back in time with the live sounds of The Ultimate Eagles Tribute, On the Border
The Smoky Mountain Harvest Festival is a county wide celebration held in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville. It features an array of craft shows, a decorating contest and many other special events that are sure to keep everyone’s entertained. The Smoky Mountain Harvest Festival typically lasts 12 weeks each year and concludes with a chili cook-off in November. This year, the festival runs from Sept. 6 through Nov. 22.
The Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair is one of the largest fall festivals. Over 200 Craftspeople from around the country assemble to exhibit their trades at the Gatlinburg Convention Center. This event consistently attracts the country’s finest artists and crafts people. The artists not only make their art available for viewing and sale, but they also demonstrate their special talents and skills. Pick up the perfect holiday gifts for family and friends.
Hang out in Cabin with Amazing Views
Seeing the beautiful fall colors can also be done from the deck of your Smoky Mountain cabin. Relaxing in a rocker or in the outdoor hot tub, you can take in the tranquility.
Find a Cozy Cabin for your Smoky Mountain fall adventure today!
Give American Patriot Getaways a call at 800-204-5169. Let our experts help you find the right cabin and all the right fun, food and entertainment for a vacation that won’t break the bank.
Check out our Smoky Mountain Travel Guide for more adventures.