Coming to see the beautiful fall foliage? Spend an extra day or two taking in some of these autumn activities. Sure, you do them back home, but the experience won’t be as memorable as it will be right here…in the Smokies!

1. Go for a drive … and not just to Cades Cove

Two of my favorite routes offer breathtaking views and the (cross-your-fingers) chance to see some wildlife without a traffic jam. The Roaring Fork Motor Trail begins just off the main drag in Gatlinburg. Look for the signs near traffic light 8. Follow the signs. The ten-mile round trip trail is close and convenient, a curvy road that follows a stream up the mountains. You can enjoy the beauty without getting out of the car or you can pull over and hike for a few miles to some of the most gorgeous waterfalls in the country. 

Driving on the Foothills Parkway is like driving through a brochure. This highway was just completed last year, 55 years after construction started. I think you’ll agree it was worth the wait. The parkway travels from Walland in the west to Cosby in the east. If you have time and patient children, pack some snacks and take in the entire parkway. If you are limited in either, take the shorter route to Cosby. You would need to hike for a day to take in some of the views offered. 

Applebarn in the Fall

Photo by Alaina O’Neal

2. Visit an apple orchard

Kyle’s and Carver’s are located in Cosby, about a 20-mile trip from Gatlinburg. The orchards offer great views, at least a dozen varieties of apples and jars, baskets and bags full of treats made of apples. Take your neighbor some apple butter and we guarantee he’ll forgive the leaves blown over from your yard. And, since it is fall, take a caramel apple (or candied or chocolate) back to the hotel. The Apple Barn in Sevierville offers the same experience if you want to stay closer to the core of activities. (See what I did there.) 

3. Go horseback riding

More than ten stables offer guided horseback riding. Some even go into the national park. Experienced riders can choose an adventurous route. Families with children might be better suited to a short, introductory ride. Prices vary. The cost of riding can surpass theme park admissions. The memories you make will be, well priceless! Remember that riding on a trail is a much different experience than an equestrian center offers. One question to ask when comparing stables: is the gear included or do you pay a rental fee?

Dollywood's Fall Treats

Dollywood Harvest Festival photos by @callmesupermom

4. Dollywood’s Great Pumpkin LumiNights

Once a year Dollywood gets a makeover for its seasonal Harvest Festival.  This year, Dollywood is celebrating with its largest ever addition: “The Great Pumpkin Luminights”. This “glow-tacular experience”, which begins at 7pm nightly, features thousands of carved and illuminated jack-o-lanterns, plenty of fall-festive decorations and character meet-and-greets.

And of course no Harvest Festival is complete without event exclusives treats like Pumpkin Funnel Cakes, Caramel Apple Sundaes and Candy Corn Cotton Candy –  but hurry – this limited-time event only runs through Nov 2nd.

5. Do some fall festing!

Sevier County and its small border towns know how to throw a party. Fall festivals focus on everything from crafting beer to crafting, well, crafts. My family will make a U-turn if we see a Lord’s Acre sale sign. These are fun events (and major fundraisers) for local churches. In these parking lots and fellowship halls, October and November mean jars of homemade butters, jams and jellies, relishes and breads. Most Lord’s Acre sales will even let you or your children turn the paddle in those huge “witch pots” used to make apple and peach butter. To find a fest matching your family, pick up a copy of a local newspaper and check the calendar section. You can also ask for recommendations from your motel staff or your server. 

6. Stargazing

Bet you didn’t think  this would be on the list. Without the lights of a big city nearby, the stars shine brighter in the Smokies. A general rule is the higher you go, the better your views of the night sky. Look for clearings or trails that lead to clearings. The Smoky Mountain Astronomy Association hosts a Cades Cove star party every fall. You can find dates and details on their website here

Disclaimer: While we do our best to bring you the most up-to-date information, attractions or prices mentioned in this article may vary by season and are subject to change. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any mentioned business, and have not been reviewed or endorsed these entities. Contact us at [email protected] for questions or comments.