By Leif Palmer
If you're among those who yearn for knitwear, hot chocolate and the cooler temperatures of fall, you won't want to miss nature's annual display of color in the Smokies. The mountains are home to more than 100 different species of deciduous trees that lose their leaves in winter. Before the leaves drop, however, they put on quite a show as their pigments slowly morph in the autumn sunlight. Green is the first to fade, leaving behind a riot of reds, oranges, purples, and yellows. Through the end of September to the end of October, the Great Smoky Mountains come alive with these vibrant colors. It's a breathtaking sight you won't want to miss.
The best way to see the colors is at your leisure and without traffic. However, since fall is a particularly busy time in the Smokies, a little planning goes a long way toward serenity. The National Park Service reports that the busiest areas (with the most traffic) are Cades Cove and Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441). However, many other driving routes and hikes have less traffic, so you can experience the mountains away from the crowds.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is an impressive drive for enjoying the fall scenery. The entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park is near the Parkway, and it's easy to follow this route through the mountains all the way to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. This nearly 500-mile road has plenty of scenic pullouts, so plan to take your time and your camera.
If you're not in a motorhome or bus, you can follow the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail through the park and take advantage of the pulloffs and hiking opportunities. Park experts recommend you don't miss Grotto Falls, the Reagan tub mill or the waterfall called "The Place of a Thousand Drips." The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a one-way road that ends near Gatlinburg.
Of course, it's always best to get out of your car and spend a few hours taking in the beauty of the mountains in relative solitude. Pack a hearty picnic and choose one of the many spectacular hiking trails. Favorites include the Oconaluftee River Trail, which follows the river to Cherokee, North Carolina, the Look Rock Tower Trail, a half-mile hike to a tower with a fantastic view of the mountains, and the Alum Cave Trail, which passes through old-growth forest and offers beautiful mountain vistas.
There is no better time to rent a cabin in Pigeon Forge than while nature is in her full glory. Rent a cabin, bring a good book and your walking shoes, and you'll enjoy the true peace and quiet, milder temperatures and slower pace of mountain life. Be sure to reserve a cabin with a great view, and maybe even a fire pit for roasting hot dogs and making s'mores after dinner. Whatever you choose, taking a break in the Great Smoky Mountains while the trees are at the peak of their vibrant colors is sure to be a vacation you'll never forget.
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.