There is nothing like fall in The Great Smoky Mountains. The weather is crisp and the leaves are extraordinary. I lived in Tennessee for many years and only during COVID did I manage to get to the Smokies during the fall, and now I can’t imagine a fall without it! Check out some of my favorite things to do in the fall in the Smokies and some helpful tips for your big trip.
Tips for your Smoky Mountain Trip
- Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the most visited national park in the United States, and imagine that during its peak couple of weeks of fall foliage. Needless to say, it will be PACKED, there will be lines, restaurants will be booked, and traffic will be unBEARable.
- Time to go for peak fall foliage: Mid to end of October or early November.
- Download an offline map of the park and have a physical map too. You will 100% loose service and GPS the minute you get into the park.
- Pack extra food and snacks to keep in the car. You WILL get caught in a 2 hour back up just to go 20 minutes down the road.
- Get up EARLY in the morning to avoid traffic into the park (like 7am or earlier).
- Book restaurants and events well in advance and give yourself plenty of driving time to arrive (everyone is driving into Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge for dinner).
- Get lodging close by to your attractions.
- Breathe deep and take in the beautiful views and forget about the traffic .
Drive or Bike Cades Cove Loop
Cades Cove is an absolutely beautiful 11 miles, add in the fall leaves and its breathtaking. There is always car traffic, so maybe try renting/bringing a bike for a stunning ride. It is hilly, so make sure you are trained enough to sustain the ride. We took a ride when the road was not closed off and it was tricky to maneuver our bikes around cars. If you can, I suggest to do the bike ride when they close the road for cyclists.
Check the website for the latest on when Cades Cove closes the road to traffic. Currently, the loop is closed to automobile traffic on Wednesdays between May 5th and September 1st.
Take a Scenic Drive
There is nothing like a simple drive to take in all the beauty of the Smokies during fall. There are also plenty of pull over spots to capture photos. We did our drive early in the morning so we could avoid the traffic, but it is called “Smoky” for a reason. The earlier the dive, the cloudier, however, we felt the misty look added a cozy element to our fall drive.
Hike Alum Cave to Mount LeConte
My favorite hike in the The Great Smoky Mountains is Alum Cave to Mount LeConte. It is an 11 mile round trip hike that is not for the faint of heart. I would suggest packing a lunch and making a full day of it. If you’re looking for something less time consuming, a little less difficult, but still stunning views, then take the trail to Alum Cave and back (4.4 miles round trip). There are a few steep sections toward the end, but its worth it!
If you choose to take the full hike to the Lodge you will not be disappointed. You can buy a T-shirt at the top claiming your victory, meet some llamas, and see the cabins that can only be reached through hiking!
Drive to the Highest Point – Clingmans Dome
Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Smoky Mountains. The views are wonderful, when you can see them. Most of the time its pretty foggy up there and there is a short, but very steep, climb to the tower. There are a few other hikes you can take from here as well. Parking gets filled quickly, so be prepared to drive in circles. Overall, I feel its something you should do on your trip, but there is a good chance you wont be able to see much. Regardless, the drive to the top is very scenic with many beautiful overlooks.
I adore Gatlinburg, I love the décor they set up for every season, and the plethora of cute little shops and restaurants. Make sure to go to The Village for some great photos. Also, my favorite restaurant has to be Crockett’s Breakfast Camp. Make sure to get there like an hour before to put your name on the list, then take a stroll through Gatlinburg while you wait.
Explore Pigeon Forge
I always thought Pigeon Forge was too tacky and touristy to explore. Then one day I went to to The Comedy Barn for kicks and giggles. It was actually really funny with very talented performers, I was shocked! Now we have to go see a show every time we go to the Smokey’s. We enjoyed a delicious feast when we saw Hatfield and McCoy’s on this trip. Also, Dollywood is another fantastic experience, a theme park full of rides, shops, and great shows.
We stayed at Jellystone Pigeon Forge and got a really cool glamping tent, with AC/Heat and a coffee maker. It was adorable, affordable, and really close by to everything we were doing. If you have kids, they have tons of cool trick-or-treating and Halloween events to participate in too.
I hope you go out and have a blast exploring Fall in the Smokies. Tell me how your trip went!
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