Posted by Darryl Payne in Gatlinburg, TN
Remember the classic nursery rhyme line, “Humpty Dumpty had a great fall?” Most of us probably assumed that this meant Humpty fell off the wall he was sitting on. But maybe we've been looking at it wrong all these years. Maybe it meant Humpty had a great fall season. Eh? Eh?
Okay, that's probably a bit of a stretch. But it's not reaching to say that you can have a great fall if you visit the Great Smoky Mountains from September through the end of the year. Summer is still considered peak season, but autumn in the Smokies is more or less a second peak season, one of the busiest times of year in terms of visitation. And it's no wonder; this area has so much to offer each fall, one could make the argument for this season being the best time to come to the mountains.
Keep reading, and we'll share just a few examples of why this is the case.
More often than not, fall lies in the Goldilocks Zone–not too hot and not too cold. It's just right. Sure, it can still be a little warm in late September, and it can start to get flat-out cold in November. But autumn is full of days when daytime temperatures are mild and comfortable, with low humidity, and the evenings start to get just nippy enough to where you need to wear a layer outside. The best days are the ones that are bright and sunny, with just the slightest hint of a fall chill in the air. These days are ideal for outdoor activities like hiking, ziplining, hayrides and more.
Who doesn't like it when the foliage turns from green to a kaleidoscope of reds, yellows and oranges? When you're in the Smokies, you can multiply that effect times a million, because the national park is blanketed with forest growth from Tennessee to North Carolina. The result? A patchwork quilt of color that rolls for miles and miles. The colors start changing in late September in the higher elevations, and they typically reach their peak in the lower elevations by late October. Factors such as the number of days of sunshine and the amount of rainfall contribute to the timing and the brilliance of the colors, but October is generally a peak month. Fall is the perfect time to hike or take a scenic drive in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. And don't forget to take lots of photos.
Nature's color show is basically the canvas onto which the rest of the Smokies area adds its whimsical touches. When you drive through Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville in fall, you'll see all sorts of cool seasonal decorations on homes, businesses and municipal buildings. Most communities have competitions in which businesses compete to see which has the most appealing fall décor, adding festive touches like hay bales, scarecrows, pumpkins, gourds and, depending on the time of season, Halloween decorations designed to add an extra chill to those fall nights.
One of the things people seek out most when purchasing souvenirs of their trip to the Smokies is handmade crafts. And fall is one of the best times of year to find arts and craft items–everything from pottery and brooms to leatherwork and blown glass. That's because autumn is craft-fair season in the Great Smoky Mountains. Whether it's the Gatlinburg Craftsmen's Fair, the Pigeon Forge Rotary Club Crafts Festival or Dollywood's Harvest Festival, opportunities abound to find talented artisans from across the country converging on the Smokies to show off their best work and their skills. And of course, the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community has its own show even every fall, the perfect complement to a visit to their 8-mile auto loop in Gatlinburg, where more than a hundred artisans operate studios, shops and galleries throughout the year.
There's a whole subset of fall fanatics who wait all year to celebrate all things spooky during the month of October. And if you're into Halloween, you won't be disappointed in your trip to Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge or Sevierville. You'll find trick-or-treating events on or near October 31 in all three communities, plus there are several area attractions that are devoted to scariness year 'round. These include the Mysterious Mansion and Ripley's Haunted Adventure, both in Gatlinburg. Also keep an eye out for special events in all three cities that may be tied into Halloween-themed storytelling or ghost tours.
The music theaters of the Smokies are fun to visit any time of year, but usually the months of November and December are when most of the shows switch over to a more Christmasy/holiday theme. We don't want to get ahead of ourselves in an article about fall, but technically, fall runs through mid-December, so you will definitely see these special holiday shows up and running well before winter arrives.
We need to point out a couple of places that you need to seriously consider working into your fall itinerary when visiting the Great Smoky Mountains. The first is the national park. With 816 square miles of majestic peaks, deep valleys and rolling timberland, the views are stupendous any time of year. But as we mentioned earlier, the scenery is especially beautiful when the colors change. The views and the climate often combine to make conditions ideal for a hike on a trail, fishing in a stream, camping, picnicking in a rolling meadow, biking the Cades Cove loop or just taking a scenic drive through the mountains. The other place you might want to put high on your list this fall is Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge. They still have most of the rides, attractions, shows, shops and eateries that they offer during summer, but fall is when they host their annual Harvest Festival. Highlights include the Southern Gospel Jubilee, Great Pumpkin LumiNights, tons of fall décor and a craft fair featuring the theme park's resident artisans as well as visiting craftspeople from all over the country.
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