Must-Do Activities in the Tennessee Smokies This Fall
By Kelsey Thomas
The beginning of fall is such an exciting time in the Tennessee Smokies. The beauty of the leaves changing and the perfect weather makes for a perfect photo-opportunistic, nature-driven vacation. Whether you’re looking for exciting festivals to attend or would rather lay low and enjoy a relaxing hike in one of the nation’s most gorgeous national parks, you’ll never run out of things to do in the magnificent Tennessee Smoky Mountains. Here are our top 6 picks of events and activities to experience from now until the end of fall.
View Wildlife at the Great Smoky Mountain National Park
Great Smoky Mountain National Park is one of the best places to view wildlife in the Tennessee Smokies. Some animals you may be able to see include white-tailed deer, black bear, elk, turkeys, woodchucks and many other animals. They have two open areas, Cataloochee and Cades Cove, that are perfect for wildlife viewing.
Sept. 24 – Oct. 30, 2021: Dollywood’s Harvest Festival
Dollywood, a popular theme park joint owned by Dolly Parton and Herschend Family Entertainment, is located in the Knoxville-Smoky Mountains metroplex in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Every fall, the park transforms into a magical experience filled with playful days and illuminated nights. The festival features various live performances, as well as artisans and craftsmen that can demonstrate and sell their crafts.
This annual October event, held at Ober Ski Mountain in Gatlinburg, celebrates the traditions of the original OktOBERfest in Munich, Germany. Featured will be daily shows, updated food menus and even an outdoor bier garden! Try different brews with a $20 beer card or enjoy a delicious salted pretzel while listening to live music.
Go Leaf Peeping in Gatlinburg
The Smoky Mountains are known for their breathtaking array of colors that are painted throughout the mountains during the fall season. Any time between late September to late October is the best time to see this colorful phenomenon. Refer to the Gatlinburg Fall Foliage Report to know exactly what type of fall colors to expect and when.
Oct. 10, 2021: 5th Annual Chalkfest at the Island of Pigeon Forge
Calling all artists, professional or aspiring! This themed chalk drawing competition is a fun way to tune into your artistic side in the Smokies. Artists may bring their own chalk or use the chalk provided at the event. Awards will be presented for multiple prize categories at the Ole Smoky Moonshine Stage.
Find the Photogenic Spots
You are going to want to take a picture of everything you see in the Smokies. From the various waterfalls, like Abrams Falls or Rainbow Falls, to lookout spots like Chimney Tops or Newfound Gap, you are destined to capture some stunning images. You could even make a trip itinerary of all the places you wish to photograph.
Image from Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau
Experience Gatlinburg’s Fall Festivities
Gatlinburg is a year-round destination for travelers of all ages and interests. From taking in the changing fall scenery to partaking in the fall events at some of your favorite Gatlinburg attractions, there’s so much to see and do this season. Here are some activities and events happening this fall in Gatlinburg.
Things to Do this Fall in Gatlinburg
Here are some of our favorite fall activities and events in Gatlinburg.
Smoky Mountain Harvest Festival
For fall fun in Gatlinburg, don’t miss the Smoky Mountain Harvest Festival. The mountain town embraces the season for 12 weeks. The free festival features festive decorations, live entertainment and much more.
Taste of Autumn
Taste of Autumn is a great way to indulge in food from Gatlinburg’s local restaurants while supporting a good cause. Gatlinburg’s best chefs, restaurants, eateries and more will serve their delicious dishes at the Mill’s Conference Center.
Celebrate a Bavarian Oktoberfest at Ober Gatlinburg’s OktOBERfest. Through the month of October, the mountain amusement park will have plenty of activities for all ages as Ober Gatlinburg celebrates the traditions of the original Oktoberfest in Germany.
Have some frightening fun in Gatlinburg from Sept. 13–Nov. 2 when you visit Anakeesta. During the day, Autumn at Anakeesta will feature family-friendly fall fun. After dark, the park transforms for The Legend of Hallow Mountain. Visit the Hallow Mountain Graveyard where the undead are waiting for you.
The bi-annual Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair brings artisans and craftspeople from around the country to the 150,000-square-foot Gatlinburg Convention Center. Shoppers can browse over 200 booths where these craftspeople will display their handmade products and demonstrate their skills.
In November, the Great Smoky Thanksgiving Arts & Crafts Show returns to the Gatlinburg Convention Center. This free event showcases one-of-a-kind handcrafted goods and products made by members of the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community.
View Gatlinburg’s Fall Foliage
The autumn season transforms the dense green forests to hues of yellow, orange and red. When you visit Gatlinburg during fall, be sure to take in the views from one of the local attractions or scenic trails.
Brewed, fermented and distilled beverages are what make the world go ‘round in the Tennessee Smoky Mountains
The Smokies are well-known for their arts and crafts. This hands-on community has produced quality workmanship for generations. Throughout the years this craftsmanship has gradually trickled into their culinary and imbibing community as well. The rebellious mountain spirit is best exemplified in the explosion of local moonshine producers but can also be seen in their selection of deliciously crafted beers. The vineyards of the Smokies also take pride in producing original vintages you can’t find anywhere else. That’s why the locally crafted beer, wine and shine offered in the Smokies will make your visit a truly memorable experience. Be sure to take some time to imbibe during your Smoky Mountain vacation.
Craft Beer near the Tennessee Smoky Mountains
There’s nothing quite like a cold beer on a hot summer day. This refreshing drink is the national beverage of summertime. It pairs perfectly with some of our favorite local dishes—imagine delicious Tennessee ribs dripping with sauce, enhanced by a tall, brown ale. And nothing says summer better than a game at Smokies Stadium with salty fries and a frothy, cool brew in your hand.
Like many locations throughout the country, the craft beer movement is growing in the Smoky Mountains. The simple ingredients of water, yeast, malted grain and hops are blended in a variety of creative and interesting ways here, producing a Tennessee Smoky signature taste. The types of brews range from IPAs to lagers to stouts, but the flavors carry a quality that you can’t find anywhere else.
Appalachia provides a wonderful selection of locally-brewed beers. Many of these breweries even offer all-natural microbrewed beers. The brews are crafted from locally-grown ingredients and are handcrafted in small batches to provide the freshest taste possible. The microbrewing process is truly a work of art, and you will not want to leave Appalachia without experiencing what these breweries have to offer.
The atmosphere of the local brewery is almost as appealing as the beer itself. With mountain views as their backdrop, you can sit back and enjoy the best the Smokies has to offer. There also might be seasonal or experimental brews on tap that you won’t get to try unless you come on by. Most breweries offer live entertainment, especially on the weekends. Let the sweet sound of bluegrass wash over you, and let your senses soak in the sounds and tastes of the Tennessee Smoky Mountains.
Cider near the Tennessee Smoky Mountains
Wyile Cider Mill
A close cousin to beer is cider—a fermented beverage made from pressed fruits. Tennessee’s only craft cidery is Wyile Cider Mill, in Sevierville. Wyile produces two types of all natural, high-quality hard ciders that stands apart from. The O’Klee’s Dry Cider has a simple finish, while the Keeva’s Sweet Cider is crisp with a bubbly finish. Wyile presses their own apples to bring the freshest blends to their fermentation tanks. Then, the cider is fermented in small batches and aged for six months.
Wine near the Tennessee Smoky Mountains
The Smokies are an ideal location for crafting wine. The fertile soil and mountain climate provide an excellent setting for the art of winemaking. Locally-grown grapes are harvested and crushed at these vineyards. Many vineyards use traditional methods, such as aging their wines. Yet, aging these vintages is also part of the art. The oak casks are used to give the wine a distinctly delicious oaky flavor. But you’ll find more than just traditional wines here. Zesty fruit wines, mountain apple wines and even honey wines are available at many area vineyards.
Cades Cove Cellars
Tucked away in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, Cades Cove Cellars is passionate about the area where they cultivate their award-winning wines. Each step of the winemaking process takes place right at the winery, including crushing, bottling and fermentation. During a visit to their tasting room, you’ll be able to sample their delicious assortment of wines in varieties of muscadine, blackberry, chardonnay and cabernet.
Take time to sample as many of these fine wines as you can during your stay in the Tennessee Smoky Mountains. Be sure to purchase your favorites to take home with you. They make thoughtful gifts for your friends and delicious memories for you. Every time you sip, you’ll be instantly transported back to this special time in the Smoky Mountains.
Moonshine near the Tennessee Smoky Mountains
This region boasts a rich history of “white whiskey” making. Moonshiners during Prohibition especially loved the mountains as an inconspicuous place to distill their coveted contraband. What was once an undercover operation in the region is now a booming industry, with many different kinds of moonshine and whiskey available to adventurous visitors. The local distilleries craft their authentic spirits from locally-harvested corn then ferment and distill the alcohol themselves.
Today’s generation of ‘shiners have discovered a way to make moonshine legally and continually great success in the process. They’re manufacturing a product inspired by the recipes passed down for generations of moonshiners in the Smokies—only less potent. Their products are classified as grain neutral spirit or corn whiskey, and although the government has no true moonshine classification, they allow these manufacturers to market the term.
Old Tennessee Distilling Co.
Located in Kodak, in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, Old Tennessee Distilling Co. handcrafts each bottle from scratch. Old Tennessee promises to deliver authentic spirits worthy of their legacy with each sip. Using cornmeal locally ground at the Old Mill in Pigeon Forge, sugar, yeast and water, their crystal clear, superior moonshine reflects a tradition spanning generations. Visit their copper-clad tasting room to sample Old Tennessee’s moonshine, along with their rum, gin, whiskey and vodka.
King’s Family Distillery
The newest small batch distillery to enter the Smokies’ spirit scene is King’s Family Distillery. While the distillery, located outside of Pigeon Forge, is new, the King family has been in the distilling industry for decades. King’s Family Distillery offers a range of spirits, from vodka to whiskey, that have been specifically prepared to have the perfect flavor.
When you visit The Old Mill in Pigeon Forge, be sure to stop by the Old Forge Distillery tasting room. Produced with freshly ground grain from the mill and pure mountain spring water, Old Forge’s small batch spirits taste true to the area. Try their 1830 Original moonshine or one of the flavored ‘shines.
Smith Creek Distillery
What began in Branson, Missouri made its way to Pigeon Forge when Smith Creek Distillery opened its second national location. Smith Creek has 12 unique moonshine flavors, including sweet tea, salted caramel, lemon lime, chocolate silk and butter cake, that pack a punch of deliciousness in every jar. Stop by their tasting room and step up to the bar for a moonshine tasting. You’re sure to go home with a new favorite flavor.
Tennessee Legend Distillery
A legend by name and by craft, the distillers at the Tennessee Legend Distillery have spent their whole lives hearing stories of moonshiners in the Smoky Mountains. Their shines, spirits, whiskies and Tennessee sipping creams are skillfully prepared, full of mountain flavor and should be imbibed while sharing great stories. Tennessee Legend, with two distilleries in Sevierville, crafts a wide variety of flavored spirits, including apple pie, cinnamon, peach and root beer.
If you do decide to take a sip of moonshine produced in today’s distilleries, don’t expect the dreadful burn that comes after taking even the smallest swig of “white lightning.” What you’ll experience are smooth varieties of ‘shine that are reminiscent of sipping vodka or whiskey, in some cases.
Tennessee Whiskey Trail
The legal moonshine has caught on so well in recent years that folks decided to create the Tennessee Whiskey Trail. The route allows whiskey enthusiasts to sample spirits from 11 different distilleries. (You may want to recruit a designated driver for this journey). Some distilleries along the trail even offer tours so that visitors can gain an even better appreciation for the crafting of these fine Tennessee products.
Take a ride on the trail, or simply stop in at one of Tennessee’s growing number of distilleries right here in the Smokies to indulge in a sip. You’ll be drinking in a heritage that Tennessee has proudly crafted for many years—so sip slow, and enjoy the ride.
No matter your preferred craft, the Smokies are sure to provide a tasteful imbibing adventure.
Museums can add education and entertainment to any Tennessee Smoky Mountain vacation
Whether you’re seven years old or 70, museums can provide an entertaining afternoon for everyone. Throughout the towns around the Tennessee Smoky Mountains you will find some of the most unique museums, displaying all sorts of interesting exhibits. Take a day to see one of these exciting attractions to make your stay in the Tennessee Smoky Mountains that much more enjoyable, and maybe learn a thing or two.
This museum is like seeing your favorite movies come to life…at least the ones that feature cars. Come out to see some of the most famous automobiles of both the big and small screens. Some favorites include the cars from “Ghostbusters,” “The Dukes of Hazard,” and “The Fast and the Furious.”
This “Odditorium” is not your run-of-the-mill museum. Sixteen themed galleries will make you scratch your head or gasp in awe as you view interesting artifacts like shrunken heads or two headed animals. Come witness some of the wonders of the world we live in!
Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum
561 Brookside Village Way, Gatlinburg | 865-430-5515 | Website
With over 20,000 shaker sets from around the world, this surprisingly fascinating and fun museum is the only one of its kind! And for only $3, its worth a look-see.
Christ in the Smokies Museum
510 River Road, Gatlinburg | 865-436-5155 | Website
One of the world’s top five aquariums, this attraction has everything your family could want in an aquarium! Walk through a tunnel, surrounding yourself with aquatic life on all sides, pet the sting rays, enjoy interactive displays or get a manicure from a swarm of fish. This beautifully designed museum is chock full of fun for the whole family.
Museums in Pigeon Forge
Elvis & Hollywood Legends Museum
2530 Parkway #4, Pigeon Forge | 865-428-7852
The Elvis Museums, located all over the world, commemorate the contribution the King of Rock and Roll made to popular culture. This Pigeon Forge location highlights personal items as well as the props from some of Presley’s best known films. You can also visit the gift shop for your own Elvis collectible.
The only wax museum in Pigeon Forge dedicated to celebrities of film and music, with figures so life lifelike you would swear they are alive! Each life-size figure is handmade by seven people and takes about three months to make! This two-story museum is great for fun and unique photo opportunities, and will be entertaining for the whole family! Click here for a coupon!
Honor the memory of those who sailed on the illustrious Titanic over a century ago by visiting this one-of-a-kind, ship-shaped museum nestled at the foot of the Smokies. Visitors will relive the experience of the passengers and crew by hearing their stories and seeing over 300 artifacts left behind. Interactive exhibits allow you to see what it might have been like onboard that infamous night.
Museums in Sevierville
Floyd Garret’s Muscle Car Museum
320 Winfield Dunn Pkwy, Sevierville | 865-908-0882 | Website
Over $8 million dollars worth of American-made muscle cars are on display at this exciting museum. See the automotive changes over the decades, and imagine yourself behind the wheel of one of these rare and beautiful bad-boys.
Tennessee Museum of Aviation
135 Air Museum Way, Sevierville | 866-286-8738 | Website
The lore of historic aviation will ignite your imagination when you visit this museum. And every visit will be fresh, as exhibits and aircraft frequently change. You can even speak to local veterans who will share exciting stories about their experiences in the sky.
Museums in Townsend
Little River Railroad and Lumber Museum
7747 E Lamar Alexander Parkway, Townsend | 865-661-0170 | Website
Experience the history of the region at the turn of the century, when the Little River Lumber Company expanded the railroads over the Smoky Mountains. A look at this museum, will give you a glimpse into the people who established the Tennessee Smokies.
Cades Cove is not just a beautiful portion of the majestic Great Smoky Mountains National Park, rich history comes alive here. From the Cherokee natives to 19th century homesteaders, if it’s the history of the Smokies you want to learn about, this is the place to do it.
Images and editorial supplied by the Gatlinburg Convention & Visitors Bureau
History of Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Things stayed pretty quiet around Gatlinburg for a long time until the ultimate game changer arrived in the 1930s. Great Smoky Mountains National Park: big name, big park. Quite a few families were required to move from where they’d lived for so long and for so many generations in order for the park to be established. Many of the families were given years, even after the park’s opening day, to find new homes for their families outside park boundaries. This was all done in accordance with President Woodrow Wilson’s signing of an act creating the National Park Service. President Wilson’s vision was spot-on and has carried over into the modern-day Gatlinburg experience.
Now boasting over 10 million visitors a year, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has transformed Gatlinburg from a sleepy little town of 70-plus years into the perennial mountain getaway choice of generations of families. Countless adventures await those that make the most of exploring the park’s sprawling landscape, cascading falls, and countless species and ecological communities at the most biodiverse park in America.
Gatlinburg Arts Community
Long before the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains inspired travelers to visit Gatlinburg, the stunning scenery inspired artists and crafters to create. Today, creativity abounds in Gatlinburg as the site of two major arts and crafts intuitions, Arrowmont School of Arts and Craft and Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community. Established in 1937, Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community is the largest group of independent artisans in North America, forming an eight-mile loop of artisans dedicated to creating unique handicrafts for purchase and preserving the area’s renowned craft heritage. For more than a hundred years, the Arrowmont School of Arts and Craft has been a vehicle of education in Gatlinburg and stands today as a nationally-recognized arts intuition, whose galleries and seasonal workshops can be experienced by artists and visitors alike.
Things to Do in Gatlinburg
A leisurely stroll on the downtown Parkway opens up a world of opportunities when you’re in Gatlinburg. From the amazement of seeing 14-foot sharks swim over your head in an underwater tunnel at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies to gazing at all the incredible mysteries and amazing findings at Guinness World Records Museum and Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum. You can also try mountain bobsledding, barreling down the side of a mountain on one of Gatlinburg’s three mountain coasters, soaring through the sky on Ober Gatlinburg’s Aerial Tram or Anakeesta’s Chondola, miniature golfing and an evening of entertainment at Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre.
If you are looking for leisure and love to shop, Gatlinburg’s got you covered! With more than 400 specialty shops, you can easily find a special collectible or unique piece in this mountain resort. A great, one-stop retail destination to begin with is the Village Shops. Forged from European architectural items handcrafted across generations and continents, the Village easily transports you back in time as you shop its many stores, boutiques and galleries. In the summer of this year, Gatlinburg will celebrate the Village Shops’ 50-year legacy as one of the most unique retail destinations in the Southeast. And dozens upon dozens of dining choices, from national chains to family-owned, provide menus featuring pancakes to prime rib and everything in between.
Find adventure along the way when you get out of the car and join in the great family tradition of the downtown Parkway stroll. You might just choose to play miniature golf, experience the world’s largest underwater aquarium tunnel, ride America’s largest aerial tram, take a chairlift to the top of the town, visit the unique museums or take a turn on live-action rides along the way.
When you get tired of perusing on foot, jump in the car and explore a collection of historical sites on Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, including the preservation of a homestead owned by the Noah “Bud” Ogle family who lived in Gatlinburg after the Civil War. It’s all here and more when you plan a vacation to one of the most celebrated gateway towns in the Smokies.
Outdoor Attractions in Gatlinburg
If you are still in need of more outdoor adventures, discover Cades Cove, a western valley in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The 11-mile, one-way road passes by 19 numbered tour stops. Be sure to bring your camera in hopes of spotting wildlife, such as deer, bear, turkey, owl and fox. If you prefer, you can also experience the loop on horseback or bicycle!
Staying in Gatlinburg
From hotels to cabins and everything in between, Gatlinburg provides a home away from home with a variety of unique and private accommodations for visitors looking for that perfect place to retreat. From its earliest days, Gatlinburg’s resort legacy drew from the hospitality of small mom and pop hoteliers like the Greystone Lodge on the River, Gatlinburg Inn, and Appy Lodge, Gatlinburg’s newest family owned and operated hotel, which pays homage to the history of the Appalachian Trail and Gatlinburg’s mountain community. Ambiance and privacy can be found in a number of Gatlinburg’s coziest cabins, condos and chalets, or nearby at a pampering bed and breakfast, where the area’s friendliest folks are often the proprietors. Hotels such as the Margaritaville Resort Gatlinburg provide the best in luxury and location when guests check-in and experience fabulous services at this Jimmy Buffet-inspired resort, just steps away from Gatlinburg’s lively downtown area.
Explore Downtown Gatlinburg
Explore a world of exciting activities and venues when you take part in the great family tradition of the downtown Parkway stroll. More than ever, Gatlinburg offers variety and entertainment on every corner, with new businesses and attractions providing something for every member of the family. Country music star Blake Shelton’s newly opened restaurant and venue, Ole Red Gatlinburg, hits all the right notes with unforgettable live performances and delicious Southern dishes inspired by the star himself. Opening in spring 2019, Gatlinburg Skylift Park will bring two new spectacular experiences to visitors with the Gatlinburg SkyBridge, the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America, and the Gatlinburg SkyDeck. New outdoor adventure park Anakeesta offers 72-acres worth of fun, starting with a Chondola ride to magical Firefly Village, where dueling zip lines, tree canopy walks, scenic mountain views, a full-service restaurant and one-of-a-kind mountain coaster await visiting guests.
Click here to learn more about hotels in downtown Gatlinburg.