Fall is one of the best times to visit a National Park.
With the cool, crisp air and the beautiful foliage which the eye can see for over 100 miles, it’s no wonder it’s considered a “peak season.” Recently, our own traveling Mattie Little packed her bags again and headed to America’s most visited National Park, The Great Smoky Mountains. Mattie’s journey will highlight where to stay, what to do, where to eat, and most importantly, where to head to see the best views that Mother Nature has to offer during fall.
Mattie visited the Gatlinburg, Tennessee area October 15th-18th with her husband. This is a prime time to visit as most of the Smoky Mountain area’s colors are beginning to fully peak. If you’re looking for 100% fall foliage, the best times to visit are the last three weeks of October. You won’t regret visiting during this time either, as the weather is typically perfect. During Mattie’s visit,
Traveling to the Smoky Mountain area from Ohio was an easy, beautiful drive – just a little over 6 hours. Many choose to drive versus fly because the views are definitely road trip worthy and memorable. If you do choose to fly from wherever you live, flying into Knoxville will usually be your best bet as the Smoky Mountain, Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area is only about an hour away.
Where To Stay
Although there are many convenient and nice places to stay in the area of the Smoky Mountains, Mattie and her husband chose the true Smoky Mountain experience, staying in a secluded cabin located at the base of Mt. Leconte. The cabins are booked through Elk Springs Resort in Gatlinburg. Elk Spring’s offers 1-6 bedroom cabins and their website is a great example of seeing online what appears to be breath-taking and arriving and seeing that the actual images online do not do justice—in person is even more beautiful. Their cabin was immaculate!
With a full updated and modern kitchen, four fireplaces, a pool table, huge flat screen TV, surround sound, luxury bathroom, and oh, a hot tub, there were beautiful views that you could witness through the floor to ceiling windows/deck. If you want to experience the rustic charm of the Smokies, but have the modern amenities – Elk Springs Resort offers just that. Lastly, Mattie’s cabin was located 8 miles off the resort property for an even more secluded, off the grid weekend getaway.
What To Do
The number of activities in the Gatlinburg area are endless. Although Mattie and her husband only had 3 days, they definitely experienced the best drive, the best views, the best restaurants, and the typical fun touristy downtown parkway. To start with, you can’t visit Gatlinburg and not head to the main drag. The main drag features shopping, restaurants, attractions, and the oh-so fun moonshine distilleries. Definitely wear comfortable shoes, as you could walk for days! One of the highlights was visiting the store “Branded.” If you’re looking for a new pair of cowboy boots, or unique apparel, Branded is the place to go with rows upon rows of cowboy boots. Yes, boots were purchased and worn that evening for a touch of true southern charm. A good mid-day pit stop is visiting Davy Crockett’s Tennessee Whiskey. The aroma alone is enough to attract you in the doors and once in, it’s hard to leave. You can sample 11 different moonshines and the staff is hilarious and knowledgeable, making the experience that much more enjoyable.
If you can handle heights, head to Ober Gatlinburg. Ober Gatlinburg offers the Aerial Tramway which departs every 20 minutes. The views from the cable car are unreal. The guide makes it informative as they point out different mountains, homes, and they remind you exactly how high you are. If you do not like heights, close your eyes and ears! Once arriving at the top of the mountain, in Ober Gatlinburg you can experience ice skating, shopping, dining, a wildlife encounter, and the brand new Ski Mountain Coaster which covers 3,750 feet through the mountains. If you go during October, you can also experience Oktoberfest at Ober Gatlinburg. Need we say more?
Where To Eat
With so many restaurants to choose from in the area, it can overwhelming. Although Mattie and her husband were able to prepare many of their meals right from their cabin, they did enjoy lunch and dinner in Gatlinburg. A great spot for a low-key lunch is Tom & Earls Back Alley Grill. Not only is the food great, but the atmosphere is fun and relaxed. From sandwiches (they highly recommend the pulled pork,) to fresh salads, wings, and soup, Tom & Earls is the place to rest your feet and fill your belly so you can get right back to shopping, visiting attractions, or sippin’ on some good ole smoky mountain moonshine. A great, affordable dinner spot is the Alamo Steakhouse. This restaurant has fantastic reviews for a reason. The Alamo grinds their own burgers, and all soups, salads, sauces, and gravies are made to order. Because of this, it does take a little extra time to get your food but in the end you can see and taste the freshness.
Other great restaurants in the area include: The Park Grill, Smoky Mountain Brewery, No Way Jose’s Mexican Cantina, Calhoun’s, and Crockett’s Breakfast Camp.
Where to Hike
Mattie and her husband dedicated an entire day to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. During this time of year, it’s best to wake up early and beat some of the afternoon crowds. A drive from Gatlinburg to Clingmans Dome is an absolute must. There aren’t enough words to describe the beauty from every curve as your drive continues to climb in elevation. Luckily, there are several pull off areas for you to get out of your vehicle to take pictures and to simply take in the views. The passenger really has the upper hand in being able to stare out the window the entire time and spot hidden streams that a lot of times are home to bears and other wildlife. Once arriving at Clingmans Dome, you are at the highest point in Tennessee, and the second highest point east of the Mississippi. The climb to the top is steep but anyone can make the trek. On a clear day you can see for over 100 miles and luckily, it was a clear day for Mattie. At 6,643 feet above sea level most people tend to forget there will be a temperature change. It can go from being 59°F to 38°F in a matter of minutes. So, keep that in mind!
Other great hikes for spectacular views not only in the fall but year round include:
Alum Cave Trail
It’s easy to see why the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and surrounding area is America’s most visited. With so many things to do for couples, families, or even solo – it’s hard to list everything, which is why visiting should be considered if you are looking for a national park to visit, especially in the fall! You will not be disappointed. We hope you enjoyed reading Mattie’s latest adventure and her recommendations for all things Smoky Mountains.