Posted by Leif Palmer in Outdoor Things to do
Summer has traditionally been the peak season for tourism in the Great Smoky Mountains. Schools are out, and it's the time when most folks choose to take their vacations. It only makes sense that June, July and August are the busiest months for leisure travel in the Smokies.
But history has proven that October is also a very active time in communities like Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville as well as Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The weather becomes quite pleasant, the fall foliage goes through its annual color transformation, and visitors to the area can choose from a wide range of unique, seasonal special events. October has essentially become “the other peak season” here in East Tennessee.
If you plan to spend your fall break or a long weekend here within the next few weeks, or if you're retired and have the freedom to make travel plans without regard for work or school calendars, then read on to learn a few of our top suggestions for things you can do and places you should visit during your stay.
This is prime leaf-viewing time in the mountains, so we recommend taking a drive through Great Smoky Mountains National Park or along another scenic route like the Blue Ridge Parkway. Within the national park, routes like Clingmans Dome Road, Little River Road, Laurel Creek Road or Foothills Parkway offer up sweeping, rolling landscapes blanketed in the reds, oranges and yellows of fall. There's a wide diversity of tree species within and outside the national park, and varieties like oaks, hickories, dogwoods, birches, poplars and maples are just about ready to burst forth in their most showy autumnal garb. But don't speed through without stopping. Be sure to pull over at a scenic lookout from time to time and appreciate the view. And you can always snap a few pics to remember the beauty for years to come.
Once again, we're going to ask that you get outside and drink in the beauty of nature. But this time, we're suggesting that you get out of the car and see the sights on foot. Having a wide perspective on wide swaths of mountain terrain is awe-inspiring but so is immersing yourself in a wooded setting and doing a little “forest bathing” as its called. No, we're not talking about stripping down and taking a bath. But taking a walk or a stroll along a mountain trail through primitive woodlands is both restorative and healthful. The air is clean, the exercise is beneficial, and you can appreciate the beauty of the leaves and the forests from a more up-close perspective. And depending on your route, there are plenty of other sights to take in as well, from historic structures and waterfalls to panoramic vistas and unique geological formations.
October is the traditional craft fair season in the Smokies. Crafts people from all over the country travel to the area for the annual craft fairs and shows, including the Gatlinburg Craftsmen's Fair (at the Gatlinburg Convention Center) and the Rotary Club Crafts Festival (at Patriot Park in Pigeon Forge). Both these events showcase a wide variety of mountain arts and craft media, including pottery, candle making, metal work, leather work, broom making, jewelry making and glass blowing just to mention a few. It's a great opportunity to get a head start on your Christmas shopping, and you'll also see some of the guest artist practicing their arts and crafts on site. But you don't have to schedule your visit to coincide with a craft fair. The Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community in Gatlinburg is always here, consisting of more than 100 artisans and crafters practicing their trades at dozens of studios, galleries and shops located along an eight-mile auto loop. And Dollywood in Pigeon Forge has its own year-round community of artisans that is set up on site through the theme park's operational season.
Speaking of the area's best-known theme park… Fall is a great time to visit Dollywood. In addition to the aforementioned resident community of craftsmen and artists, Dollywood welcomes guest crafters from across the country for its annual Harvest Festival. And that's just scratching the surface of what the event has in store for fall visitors. Look for unique and tasty fall foods like pumpkin macaroni and sweet potato poutine as well as festive décor like sunflower sculptures and giant pumpkins that weigh as much as 1,500 pounds each. And the festival's Great Pumpkin LumiNights! event showcases thousands of illuminated jack-o-lanterns throughout the park as well as a massive, glowing 40-foot-tall pumpkin tree. Dollywood also welcomes a host of guest music performers to its many stages, including top industry names from the worlds of bluegrass, country and Southern gospel. And of course, you'll still find the usual assortment of world-class rides, attractions, music shows, shops and eateries.
October just happens to be the month that Halloween occurs in, so if you're hanging out in the Smokies this month, you'll also have opportunities to get into the “spirit” of this spookiest time of year. Attractions like Ripley's Haunted Adventure and The Mysterious Mansion, both in Gatlinburg, offer experiences that are guaranteed to send shivers down your spine. If you prefer the sweeter side of the holiday, then you can focus on trick-or-treat events at venues like Anakeesta or Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg as well as The Island or the local community center in Pigeon Forge. All these events are safe and non-scary ways for younger kids to show off their costumes and walk away with a bucket or bagful of sweet treats.
These were just a few suggestions for what to do in the Smokies this fall. It's by no means a comprehensive list. Outdoor-themed attractions like Anakeesta and Gatlinburg SkyLift Park offer numerous opportunities to have fun in the context of the great and beautiful outdoors. Or this might be a good time to do some horseback riding in the mountains or do some ziplining in a colorful forest-canopy setting.
About Leif Palmer
Leif Palmer loves residing in east Tennessee. He is an avid outdoorsman: rowing for exercise on the lake, trail hiking, and free climbing rocks in the mountains. He indulges his arty side by periodically beating up pieces of marble by sculpting. He is always frustrated by his inability to sink long putts, and hates his curly hair (but his wife loves it). Leif has been known to muster enough courage to change a diaper, and hopes his son will become a chip off the old block.