11 Ways To See the Smoky Mountains in the Fall (2023)

pumpkin head in front of smoky mountains in the fall

The Smokies are a wonderful place to be in the fall. Pictured: Anakeesta with fall decorations (media photo courtesy of Anakeesta)

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Fall is the best time to visit the Smoky Mountains. The air is cool and crisp, the towns are filled with fall decorations and the trees are on display with different arrays of yellow, orange and red. In fact, countless people visit the mountains to see the beautiful fall foliage each year.

If you’re looking for a few additional activities to do while you’re in town, you’re in luck. There are several options for attractions and fun things to do in the Smoky Mountains in the fall.

But remember, operating dates and attraction hours tend to change rapidly in the Smokies. Before planning any of the following activities, be sure to confirm times and availability with the individual attraction.


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1. Celebrate the Fall Festival at Ober

Every year, Ober Mountain (formerly known as Ober Gatlinburg) puts on a fall celebration.

This year’s celebration will run from Sept. 29 through Oct. 28, 2023.

Live music will be featured on select nights with a Full Moon Concert Series. There will also be a hay maze and specialty food options, such as a Schnitzel Sandwich, Dunkel Brats, Pumpkin Spice Fudge and more.

Also, the attraction will feature movie nights with fall favorite lineups that will play under a 22-foot LED digital screen.

And finally, if you kickstart the adventure with a ride up the Aerial Tramway, booking ahead of time with Tripster can save you a few bucks. Visit the website to learn more.

Autumn Leaves in the Smokies
The leaves will start to turn in mid to late September, depending on the elevation (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

2. Enjoy a scenic drive

Let me share a few of my favorite routes that offer breathtaking views and the chance to see some wildlife like black bears and deer in the Smoky Mountains.

First, let’s talk about the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail begins just off the main drag in Gatlinburg. To access it, follow the signs near traffic light 8 in Gatlinburg.

The ten-mile round-trip is close and convenient. It features a curvy road that follows a stream up the mountains.

Best of all, you can enjoy the beauty without getting out of the car or you can pull over. If you want, you can hike for a few miles to see some of the most gorgeous waterfalls in the country.

Next, we have the Foothills Parkway. Driving on the Foothills Parkway is like driving through a brochure.

The Parkway travels from Walland in the west to Cosby in the east. If you have time, pack some snacks and take in the entire stretch of road.

Finally, the scenic drive on Newfound Gap Road starts at the Sugarlands Visitor Center and ends at the Mountain Farm Museum in North Carolina.

At 5,046 feet, the Newfound Gap is the lowest drivable pass through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Read Also: Where Is Newfound Gap? A Guide To The Most Scenic Drive in the Smokies

Pumpkin Guitar at Dollywood's Harvest Festival
Don’t miss these creative displays at Dollywood’s seasonal festival (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

3. Visit Dollywood’s Harvest Festival

Once a year, Dollywood gets a makeover for its seasonal Smoky Mountain Harvest Festival and Great Pumpkin LumiNights celebration.

This “glow-tacular experience” features thousands of carved and illuminated jack-o-lanterns and plenty of fall-festive decorations.

And of course, no Harvest Festival is complete without event-exclusive treats that feature flavors of pumpkins, cinnamon and apples.

This year’s event will run from Sept. 29 through Oct. 30, 2023. You can purchase admission tickets ahead of time on Tripster.

Anakeesta's TreeTop Skywalk
Anakeesta is especially beautiful in the fall (media photo courtesy of Anakeesta)

4. Enjoy leaf peeping at Anakeesta

When the temperature drops and the leaves change, Anakeesta is one of the most beautiful places in the Smoky Mountains. Certainly, it offers the best of the fall season.

Anakeesta offers 360-degree panoramic mountain views as well as plenty of spots to sit back, relax and take in the scenery.

This year, the park is offering a Bear-varian Fall Festival, which will run from Sept. 9 through Oct. 31, 2023. Visitors will see fall decor throughout the park as well as drink specials and craft beer from local and regional breweries.

Pro tip: It can be a bit chilly in higher elevations, so bring a sweater or jacket with you for when the sun goes down.

Anakeesta is located in Gatlinburg, Tenn. Check Tripster for discounted tickets and skip the ticket line when you arrive.

Clingmans Dome Visitors Center
Visit the highest point in the Smoky Mountains at the Clingmans Dome observation tower (photo by Marie Graichen/TheSmokies.com)

5. Take a scenic hike

If you’ve come to the mountains and aren’t seeing the fall colors that you’d hoped for, try exploring in the higher elevations.

The best way to reach the highest elevations is by taking a scenic hike. If you want to get to the highest point, consider visiting Clingmans Dome. It is the highest summit in the Great Smoky Mountains, and the road to the observation tower is open through late November, weather permitting.

Additionally, Baskins Creek Falls Trail is another great option. It’s less well-known compared to other falls in the area. It’s a moderately difficult hike that is three miles with an elevation gain of 953 feet.

The trailhead is located on the Motor Nature Trail just outside of Gatlinburg.

If you’re looking for a more simple trial, the Little River Trail is a relatively moderate hike that has a gentle grade that parallels the Little River.

man on horseback at big rock dude ranch
Riding on horseback can be a fun way to see the scenery (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

6. Go horseback riding

There are dozens of stables in the Smokies that offer guided horseback riding.

The cost of riding can sometimes surpass theme park admissions. But the memories you make will be priceless!

Check out this list for some of the best places to try horseback riding in the Smokies.

apple barn in the fall in Sevierville
The Apple Barn in Sevierville is a go-to destination in the fall (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

7. Visit the Apple Barn in Sevierville

The Apple Barn in Sevierville offers delicious apple-flavored treats when you want to stay close to the core of activities (apple pun).

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.

If you’re okay with adventuring out of town a little, consider Kyle Carver Orchards, which is located in Cosby. It is 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.

Ripley's Haunted Adventure Exterior Gatlinburg
Ripley’s Haunted Adventure gets extra spooky in October (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

8. Visit a haunted house

If you’re in town around Halloween, you might want to work in a few spooky attractions as well. There are two major haunted houses in the Smokies.

The first is Ripley’s Haunted Adventure in Gatlinburg.

During the month of October, Ripley’s Haunted Adventure becomes extra-spooky for Fright Nights, which takes place on select nights in October. There is no extra charge for the special experience.

But be warned, this event is actually scary and not suitable for young children.

If you plan to do multiple Ripley’s attractions, be sure to check out some combo passes and visit the aquarium as well.

The second attraction is Gatlinburg’s Mysterious Mansion.

Each year, Gatlinburg’s favorite haunted house turns even spookier during the fall with special presentations on October weekends.

Both haunted houses are located in downtown Gatlinburg.

Sign for rocky top mountain coaster
Rocky Top is a great place to have the unique experience of a haunted coaster (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

9. Ride a haunted mountain coaster

You’ve heard of haunted houses, haunted mazes and even haunted forests – but have you ever heard of a haunted coaster?

Rocky Top Mountain Coaster traditionally offers a spooky mountain coaster ride that is sure to put you in the spirit of Halloween.

For details and dates, follow their social media page.

Apple Trees Loaded with Fruit at an Orchard in NC
North Carolina has some of the best places to go apple picking (photo by John Gullion/TheSmokies.com)

10. Go apple picking in North Carolina

Apple picking can be one of the most fun activities in the Smokies. I find that some of the best locations are actually a little further from the heart of the Smokies in Hendersonville, NC.

Apple season is usually mid-August to late October. But keep in mind that the orchards have a schedule, and different types of apples ripen throughout the summer and fall.

Read Also: 7 Best Apple Orchards in Hendersonville NC To See This Fall

11. Explore the fall festivals

Don’t miss our special calendar of events for special fall festivities.

For example, there’s a Collectible Showcase in Pigeon Forge happening this October as well as a Fall Fest in Wears Valley. These are limited-time opportunities, so be sure to check the calendar for dates and times.

Read Also: Smoky Mountains in October: Events in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge (2023)

What is the best time to see fall colors in the Smoky Mountains?

It’s important to remember that elevation plays a big role in color changes around the park.

In a high-elevation area, you may see fall colors as early as mid-September. According to the National Park Service, around this time, visitors will see turning colors in yellow birch trees, hobblebush, American beech, mountain maple and pin cherry trees.

In early October, you’ll want to explore elevations of about 4,000 feet. For example, visit Clingmans Dome Road and watch the sunrise or sunset or drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Some dogwoods will begin turning around this time.

The lower elevations will see some color from mid-October to late October and early November. The NPS says this is where you will see sugar maples, scarlet oaks, sweetgum, red maples and hickories.

Also in October, black gum, sumac and sourwood trees will show red while black walnut, beech and hickory trees will be gold.

Finally, early November is generally a good time to visit Cataloochee Valley on the North Carolina side of the mountains. You can also see elk in this area.

Of course, the exact dates for peak season can be almost impossible to know, but we can typically look at previous years to predict the Smoky Mountains fall foliage.

Read Also: Interactive Tennessee Fall Foliage Map, 7 Fall Tips (2023)

Have you experienced any of these activities in the Smokies or visited TN or NC in the fall? Let us know in the comments below.

View the web story version of this article here.

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Photo of author


Morgan Overholt

Morgan is the founder Morgan Media LLC, a graphic design agency and the co-founder of TheSmokies.com LLC – a media company that specializes in regional travel sites.

7 thoughts on “11 Ways To See the Smoky Mountains in the Fall (2023)”

  1. If someone has not been to cade cove it should be in there list to visit. The eleven mile loop can be amazing adventure. Was my husband favorite place.

  2. I loved my visit to the Smokie Mountains in Sevierville and Gatlinburg in November 2020! This article gave me the desire to plan and definitely make another Autumntime trip during October!!! Thanks for the great article. K. Bagnall FL USA

  3. Fall is my favorite time to visit! I was a bit disappointed last year because the Roaring Fork Motor trail was closed because of fog on the 3 days we tried to go. I’ve attended the Octoberfest in Gatlinburg as well. Very busy but so much fun. Don’t miss Anekesta!! Looking forward to another visit this fall.

  4. Es lo más hermoso Gracias a Dios tenemos la oportunidad de ir en las diferentes estaciones del año pero verano y otoño son mis preferidas es hermoso Gatlinburg yo vivo en nashville Tn entonces estamos cerca 4 horas amo ir ahí

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