7 REASONS FOR VISITING THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS IN THE FALL
With more than 10 million annual visitors, the Great Smoky Mountains is the most visited national park in the country — by a long shot. While many of those visitors arrive in the summer during school vacation, the best time to visit the Smoky Mountains is in the fall.
Single, radiant leaves multiply into a vast, misty canvas along the Tennessee/North Carolina border. The foothills and surrounding areas are renowned for charming leaf-aficionados and general fall vacationers alike, boasting various exciting excursions to plan.
If you are looking for an extravagant display of color and thrilling outdoor adventures, here are seven reasons why visiting the Great Smoky Mountains in the fall is just what you are searching for.
1. THE FALL FOLIAGE
As summer transitions into autumn, fall foliage takes center stage for all visitors to immerse themselves in. The endless sea of green starts to develop tints of orange, red, and bright yellow by late September, and things tend to hit their colorful peak by late October or early November. The Great Smoky Mountains in autumn is a must-see with such a diverse landscape full of forests, rolling mountains and neverending hills. Whether you plan on taking a scenic drive or a hike, you’re bound to be blown away by the beauty.
Hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway for “America’s Favorite Drive,” stretching 469 miles through some of the country’s most awe-inspiring fall scenery. Don’t forget about the Tail of the Dragon and the Cherohala Skyway, shorter stretches of road that offer unimaginable beauty in the fall.
2. HOP ABOARD A HAYRIDE
One of the best activities in the park, especially for those with kids, is the hayride experience from Cades Cove Riding Stables. Spend a day with the whole family atop a bed of hay through the colorful autumn landscape on a ranger-guided tour that runs for about two hours. Thanks to drier air, smaller crowds and fewer bugs, this hayride offers comfortable viewing of the picturesque 19th and 20th-century farming communities. If you are lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of some of the natural wildlife, including black bears, white-tailed deer, turkeys and more. Make sure to reserve your spot in advance and bring a blanket or two if you’re riding after sunset.
3. IT IS TIME TO CELEBRATE
Looking for entertainment? Head to the area for the Smoky Mountain Harvest Festival, a five-week spree of family-friendly activities and entertainment ranging from music and history to food, beer, and more food. Enjoy their own Oktoberfest and then experience the Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair to Grains & Grits, a Southern showcase of grits and whiskey, for a unique celebration you will never forget.
The entertainment does not stop there, either. Soar over the Smokies on gut-dropping roller coasters and take in some of the world’s best live Americana music at Dollywood — said to be the #1 theme park in the United States. If you want a break from the park, tour its surroundings in the quaint mountain town of Pigeon Forge. This small resort town is known for its big personality. You can shop, listen to good music, and have the experience of a lifetime. You can also head to Asheville for your fix of modern entertainment, touring the downtown arts scene, enjoying a couple of drinks, and exploring the soul of a lively city.
4. SWEATER WEATHER IS THE BEST WEATHER
If you are thinking about a camping adventure in the Smoky Mountains in October, you can count on the weather being as perfect as you can get. From crisp, chilly mornings to cool breezes, fall’s cooler temps are a welcome reprieve from the Smokies’ hot, humid, and muggy weather in the summer.
The convenient location in western North Carolina/eastern Tennessee and the lower elevation allow for these cooler temperatures to provide pleasant weather for extended comfort well into the fall season. You’ll be able to visit in light jackets and sweaters, feeling totally fine starting in late September, lasting all through Thanksgiving.
5. THE FOOD IS AT ITS FRESHEST
Harvest time in the Great Smoky Mountains is a great time to visit with an appetite, between the apples, the pumpkins, and the squashes. Many rightfully regard this region of the country as the foodie mecca for seasonal dining. The Smokies don’t disappoint with its abundance of farm stands, apple orchards, locally driven restaurants, and seasonal happenings.
To satisfy any apple cravings, swing by the Apple Barn Village in Sevierville, where all things apple — cider, especially — is on display. As for pumpkins, you could easily spend an entire afternoon at Harvest Moon Pumpkin Patch & General Store, an idyllic Sevierville shop offering fresh produce, snacks, drinks, a petting zoo, and a corn maze.
6. TAKE IN THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Of course, while visiting the Smoky Mountains in the fall, you have to experience the beautiful natural environment it is known for. Try some of the many incredible hikes this park is home to and experience a getaway full of peace and beauty. Hike up the rocky terrain of Andrew’s Bald or get up early and traverse Clingman’s Dome for a stunning 360-degree view of the colorful, fall-time Smoky Mountain forests.
The abundance of regional food in the Fall is not only a draw for humans but also wildlife. This is the time of year you’re most likely to see resident animals like turkeys, deer, woodchucks, elk, and black bears, as they gorge on the local bounty before winter. The areas of the park with the highest likelihood of animal sightings are Cades Cove and the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. The Ramsey Cascades is an excellent hike providing access to waterfalls, flowers, and, of course, animals. No matter where you go to see the wildlife, remember always to maintain a safe, respectable distance, and never feed or disturb wildlife.
7. EXPLORE THE HISTORY
The surrounding towns are filled with opportunities to discover the magic of the oldest mountains in the world. Both sides of the park display the treasures of rustic townships, while rich, historical landscapes welcome travelers. Visit Townsend, Tennessee, known as the “Peaceful Side of the Smokies,” and explore the Tuckaleechee Caverns — carved tens of thousands of years ago and known as the “Greatest Site Under The Smokies.”
Continue the theme and explore a 1760s Cherokee village in Cherokee, North Carolina, to witness live reenactments and demonstrations of life on the frontier. Fast forward through time and tour the luxurious Biltmore Estate, the former home of the American Titan of Industry, Cornelius Vanderbilt.
Get Your Trip to the Great Smoky Mountains Started Today
Are you interested in what the Great Smoky Mountains offer in the fall? Kampgrounds of America provides more than 500 locations around the country, offering you the best in comfort and convenience no matter where you’re adventuring. It might be wise to limit your trip to weekdays or start your journey to the Smoky Mountains early on weekends to ensure you have a place to park and have enough time to take everything in!
Check out our list of KOAs near the Smoky Mountains, perfect for any fall time getaway.
Townsend / Great Smokies KOA Holiday
Pigeon Forge / Gatlinburg KOA Holiday
Cherokee / Great Smokies KOA Holiday
Gatlinburg East / Smoky Mountain KOA Holiday
About the Author: Kampgrounds of America
Kampgrounds of America is the largest system of open-to-the-public campgrounds in the world, with over 500 locations across the United States and Canada. Founded in Billings, MT in 1962, KOA’s family of campground brands – KOA Journey, KOA Holiday and KOA Resort – today serve more than a million camping families each year. KOA is dedicated to “connecting people to the outdoors and each other” by providing people with a variety of camping experiences and the information they need to make the most of their camping trip. Read more of their camping and travel resources by visiting KOA.com/blog.