Get Out in the Smoky Mountains

Check out our favorite ways to get active in the Smoky Mountains as the weather cools down!

On the Trails

Taking a hike in the fall in the Smokies is a fantastic way to experience up-close views of the spectacular changing leaves. There are numerous trails throughout the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with skill levels from beginner to expert hiker complete with hiking gear. These are just a few favorite trails for the best fall experience.

Easy Fall Hikes

Schoolhouse Gap – 3.8 miles round trip

Laurel Falls – 2.3 miles round trip

Moderate Fall Hikes

Little River Trail – 4.9 miles round trip

Chimney Tops – 3.8 miles round trip

Mt Sterling Gap – 5.6 miles round trip

Expert Fall Hikes

Gregory Bald (Parson’s Branch) – 8.8 miles round trip

Rocky Top/Thunderhead Mountain – 13.9 miles round trip

Mt LeConte (via Boulevard Trail) – 15.6 miles round trip

On the Water

There’s no better way to soak-in the Smokies’ autumn beauty than on the water. Tubing may be a chilly ride, but the weather is perfect for kayaking or canoing one of the many Great Smoky Mountain tributaries. River or lake, personal boat or rent one, here are a few great ways to explore autumn from the water.

The Pigeon River and its counterpart, the Little Pigeon River offer diverse experiences from tranquil water to rocky rapids, but both have breathtaking scenery. River Romp Tubes and Kayaks in Sevierville has kayak rentals and shuttle services on the Little Pigeon River.

Indian Boundary Lake Recreational Area, in the Cherokee National Forest, is a pristine lake that covers 96 acres offering excellent fishing and an unobtrusive encounters with wildlife.

Smoky Mountain Kayaking offers guided tours of both Tellico Lake and Chilhowee Lake. Whether an experienced kayaker or it’s your first time, these lakes offer peaceful exploration of these tributaries and the wildlife.

Cruising the Park

Of course, a simple way to experience the fall beauty is by taking a drive through the Smokies. Slow down and take in the colorful foliage on these trails designed for cruising.

Cades Cove

Cades Cove is one of the most popular places in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with its picturesque valley surrounded by the majestic Smoky Mountains. In the fall, it is breathtaking. Cades Cove offers an 11-mile, one-way loop road that circles the cove, perfect for experiencing the true beauty of the autumn colors. Along the loop, there are stops that offer an opportunity to learn about the Smoky Mountain families that lived in Cades Cove. Visitors have also been known to spot some of the park’s wildlife. Keep an eye out for bicyclists that prefer to ride the loop.

Clingman’s Dome

The tallest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Clingman’s Dome has a 360-degree view of the vivid fall color. Take Newfound Gap Road to get there and enjoy the amazing fall vistas as you drive.

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

The loop less traveled, Roaring Fork Motor Trail is a one-way, 5.5 mile loop road which allow folks to slow down and enjoy the forest of color. Situated in Gatlinburg, this trail offers historic Smoky Mountain buildings and homesteads, the rushing Roaring Fork stream, and beautiful hiking trails that lead to Rainbow Falls andGrotto Falls.

By Bicycle

Speaking of Cades Cove, an amazing way to experience the colorful splendor is to do the Cades Cove loop by bicycle! The loop road closes to motor vehicles until 10am every Saturday and Wednesday morning from May to late September, giving cyclist ample time to see the first hints of color atop the mountains surrounding loop. Bring your own bicycle and helmets (recommended and a TN State requirement for children under 16), or bikes can be rented at the Cades Cove Campground Store.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park does not have mountain bike trails per se. Bicycles are not permitted on most park trails. However, the Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee River Trail are two trails within the National Park where mountain cycling is allowed.


On Horse Back

What better way to take in the autumn splendor than the way the settlers did centuries ago? Cades Cove is host to the National Park’s only officially authorized stables and guided tours on the Cove’s park trails are offers from mid-March to late November. Everyone, even the most inexperienced rider will feel comfortable with this family-friendly experience. Guided horseback tours, as well as hayrides and carriage rides around the loop, can also be scheduled through the Cades Cove Stables.


For those who just can seem to find the time to break away from the grind, fear not! There is still a way to see the brilliant colors change. Just tune in to one of the National Park’s webcams at Purchase Knob (upper elevation), the tower at Look Rock (middle elevation), and at New Found Gap. Check-in daily to follow the progression of the hues.

Planning a fall excursion in the Smokies? Uncle Lem’s Outfitters in Pigeon Forge has everything you need to make your autumn adventure safe and comfortable. We pride ourselves in providing the best equipment and apparel for a modern encounter with our beloved Smoky Mountains.

If you like this article, consider sharing!