Gatlinburg, TN, has been a much-loved family destination for generations, but as this mountain town continues to grow, the list of must-see attractions grows with it. Whether you’re a fan of cozying up by a fire or enjoying sweeping views of fall foliage, here are five reasons you need to experience this magical mountain town in the fall!
Cozy Lodging Options
Few things are as cozy as curling up by a fire on a chilly fall evening. To make the most of your time in Gatlinburg, book a stay in one of the town’s many cabins or chalets. Stony Brook Cabins offers secluded rentals perfect for honeymoons, large gatherings, weddings, and more. Mountain Laurel Chalets has served Gatlinburg for over 50 years, and many of its properties have been added to the “100 Collection” — which means they meet the highest hospitality standards possible.
On the other hand, Mountain Shadows Resort & Rentals is just three miles from downtown Gatlinburg and offers a quiet yet luxurious getaway for families and couples. (SB Tip: We’ve only begun to scratch the surface on Gatlinburg cabins. To see even more cabins and chalets available for rent, visit gatlinburg.com.)
Gatlinburg also offers plenty of unique lodging opportunities. For example, Treehouse Grove at Norton Creek Resort sits on the doorstep of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Plus, each of the 16 treehouses has been meticulously designed by “Treehouse Master” Pete Nelson.
If glamping is more your speed, book a stay at Camp LeConte. The luxury outdoor resort offers everything from a treehouse to European safari tents and even a 1960s retro camper.
Go Leaf Peeping
It’s no secret the Smoky Mountains is a highly sought-after location to take in breathtaking views of fall foliage. One of the most photographed places in Gatlinburg is the city’s scenic overlook. The area stands tall over downtown Gatlinburg and Mount LeConte and is easily accessible, right off the Gatlinburg Bypass. While the viewpoint is open year-round, it’s said that the best time to visit is during October and November.
The Alum Cave Bluffs is another spot frequented by many, and the hike to the top is about 2.3 miles in length. From the Alum Cave Trail, you can also visit the top of Mount LeConte — which also offers beautiful views of the foliage below.
Charlies Bunion is another must-visit leaf-peeping destination. The four-mile hike leads to breathtaking mountain views along the Appalachian Trail.
If you find yourself near Cades Cove — a valley offering sweeping vistas and plenty of wildlife — make the hike to Abrams Falls. Not only will you get an up-close look at all the fall colors, but you’ll also encounter a 20-foot-high waterfall at the end of the trail.
A great place to take in fall views from the comfort of your vehicle is along Newfound Gap Road. As the lowest pass through the Great Smoky Mountains, the 31-mile road runs through lush forest with a variety of trees, including pine oaks, northern hardwoods, and spruce firs. The highest point reaches about 5,046 feet, so be sure to bring a sweater or jacket, as the temperature is known to dip by about 10 degrees.
Enjoy Family Fun at Anakeesta
Anakeesta is a popular outdoor adventure hub among families, offering everything from zip lining to ‘chondola’ rides and treetop adventure courses. The destination is continuously evolving and adding exciting attractions to its lineup. In fact, AnaVista Tower offers 360-degree views of the Smoky Mountains and the Vista Gardens below. As the city’s highest point, the tower sits 86 stories above ground and is an excellent place for aerial views of the Smokies and family photo ops.
After climbing up and down the tower, you will likely have worked up a hearty appetite. Luckily, Anakeesta offers a chef-driven restaurant. Aptly named Cliff Top Restaurant, the eatery is located in Black Bear Village and overlooks Mount LeConte and the Smoky Mountains. Serving delicious American cuisine, guests can enjoy dishes like fried green tomatoes, burgers, steaks, and signature soups and salads.
The newest addition to Anakeesta is Astra Lumina, a one-of-a-kind attraction that allows travelers to walk under the stars. As the first event of its kind in the U.S., the enchanting night walk is an immersive experience that combines lighting, projections, and sounds, and it’s part of Anakeesta’s Lumina Enchanted Night Walk series. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased HERE.
Cyclists will be pleased to hear that Ober Mountain now offers downhill mountain biking! This is a great way to get your blood pumping while also enjoying views of the Smokies. Bikes and gear are available for rent, and beginner mountain bikers can also opt to take a lesson.
Warm Up Indoors
The weather in the Smokies can be a bit unpredictable, but thankfully, there are plenty of opportunities to have fun indoors, too. The Ripley’s Aquarium of The Smokies is the perfect place to visit if you bring the kiddos. In downtown Gatlinburg, you can enjoy everything from a 5D moving theater to an oddities museum, mirror maze, mini golf, and more.
Adults can enjoy a libation or two at any of Gatlinburg’s distilleries. The Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery (also known as “The Holler”) is the most visited distillery in the U.S. It offers all of the brand’s famous flavors, including Hunch Punch Lightnin’ and Banana Pudding Cream, and you can also enjoy a guided tour for an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the distilling process. Be sure to also visit Ole Smoky’s Barrelhouse to enjoy authentic Tennessee whiskey!
Attend a Fall Festival
Be sure to plan your trip to coincide with the Smoky Mountain Harvest Festival! The event runs from mid-September through late November, giving visitors plenty of time to visit the Smokies during the peak of the fall season. The free event includes plenty of autumn-inspired decorations, including life-size 3D scarecrows!
If you’re looking to get a head start on your holiday shopping, pay a visit to the Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair, which hosts artisans and craftsmen from all over the U.S. With over 200 booths, you can find everything from pottery to paintings, candy, photography, and so much more. The event takes place inside the Gatlinburg Convention Center and runs from Thursday, October 5, through Sunday, October 22.
Another can’t-miss fall event is Ober Mountain’s Fall Fest. The Bavarian-inspired event returns this year for its 13th run and takes place on Friday, September 29, through Sunday, October 29. The celebration includes a Full Moon Concert Series, schnitzel and German beer, and many of Ober Gatlinburg’s beloved activities — including ice bumper cars, the ski mountain coaster, the alpine slide, and more!
Anakeesta also hosts its Bear-Varian Fall Festival through Tuesday, October 31. During the event, you can enjoy Halloween decorations peppered throughout the park. Be sure to also visit Vista Gardens to catch a glimpse of nature-inspired pumpkin carvings. Additional add-ons are also available, including drink samples from local and regional breweries.
Another can’t-miss fall event is Gatlinburg SkyPark’s Boo Bash!. Running from Sunday, October 1, through Tuesday, October 31, you can visit the attraction from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. to enjoy fun fall activities — including face painting, balloon artists, giveaways, live music, and games. Entry to the festival is included with regular Gatlinburg SkyPark admission.
Enjoy your fall adventures!
This article is sponsored by the Gatlinburg Convention & Visitors Bureau. All photography provided.