Fall’s changing leaves, with their stunning reds, oranges, and purples, both herald the end of summer and delight the eyes. This fall, treat yourself to a display of color like no other on earth and visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Feast your eyes on the rich hues of billions of leaves on over 100 different species of trees as you breathe in the fresh, crisp autumn air.
Hiking the Smoky Mountains will give you spectacular panoramic views of the great diversity of wildlife the park has to offer. There is no shortage of hiking trails. With over 800 miles of them, you will be able to find the one right for your level of expertise. And plants aren’t the only type of wildlife you’ll enjoy. You’re sure to spot many furry critters at home in the natural habitat, including deer, elk, and even the occasional black bear!
For the adventurous at heart, a fun—an inexpensive—way to enjoy the Smoky Mountains is to campout in the park. What’s better, the campgrounds aren’t one-size-fits-all. Instead, you have a few options to choose from, so you can select the area of the park that’s right for you. Play Lewis and Clark and trek out to the backcountry. You can only get there by foot! For those of us less keen on “roughing it,” frontcountry offers running water and flush toilets. There are also campgrounds that accommodate groups of 8 and some made for folks who bring along their horses.
Of course, there’s more to the Smokies than leaves. The park has the makings of a romantic getaway for two or a trip that’s fun for the whole family. Here are just a few of the activities this national park has to offer:
• Auto tours
• Wildlife viewing
• Historical sites
• Waterfall walks
In fact, there’s more to do in Smoky Mountain National Park than you can probably fit into one trip. For history buffs, there’s the Mountain Farm Museum. This museum is actually an extensive collection of 19th century farmhouses. Highlights include a barn, apple house, and working blacksmith shop. Be sure to arrive in time for one of the live gardening demonstrations.
Lesser known than Hoover, the Fontana Dam is also an impressive site. It’s actually the tallest concrete dam east of the Rocky Mountains—480 feet to be exact. The dam, with a reservoir size of 11,700 acres, forms Fontana Lake, which provides boat access to more remote areas of the park. To learn about how the dam was built, you can check out the visit center operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Don’t forget to include Clingmans Dome in your itinerary. The dome is the highest point in the whole park and the highest point in all of Tennessee. It’s a half-mile walk to the observation tower, but well worth it. At 6.643 feet, the tower offers you an unrivaled view of the Smokies. Typically, you can see for about 20 miles, but if you’re lucky enough to be there on a clear day, you can see as far as 100 miles.
If you need a break from nature, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are near by and chock full of family fun. There’s Dollywood, numerous shows and restaurants, miniature golf, go-karts, and the Ripley’s Believe it or not Aquarium, just to name a few.