Autumn in and around Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is about as good as it gets.
I enjoyed many a fine fall day in and around G'burg when I lived in Knoxville a few years back. On foot, on horseback. From on high, from low atop the frigid waters of the Pigeon River. Whichever way I experienced it, it was never less than exhilarating and more than a few times deeply moving. I'm further away now but I still make my way there when I can.
"Gatlinburg is not only the gateway to the most visited national park in the country, it is also an amazing arts and crafts destination and has weekly fall festivals and gorgeous fall decorations," said Vesna Plakanis, co-owner of highly rated hiking guide service A Walk in the Woods that's located in the beautiful East Tennessee town situated right outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. "Gatlinburg offers something for everyone, from bluegrass bands, to moonshine tours to two haunted houses! Stepping away from the main drag, you are surrounded by the amazing sea of mountains painted in a rainbow of fall colors."
There are great places to see and experience the magnificent fall foliage and rocky ridges of the Great Smoky Mountains in and around Gatlinburg. Here are five:
Sure, Ober Gatlinburg is best known for its great wintertime skiing and other such slippy, slidey snow-covered fun, but autumn is a good time to visit, too. First off, Ober Gatlinburg's aerial tramway offers maybe the best view of the colorful Smoky Mountain landscape as you can find anywhere. The cable car leaves on a regularly scheduled basis conveniently from downtown G'burg for a two-mile ride up to Ober Gatlinburg's Amusement Park & Ski Area. Once up there, you can enjoy the new Ski Mountain Coaster, with a thrilling 3,750-foot-long coaster ride in a one- or two-person open-air coaster cart! Or take in the calmer enjoyment of the Wildlife Encounter, a small mountain-critter zoo that includes black bears, raccoons, bobcats, flying squirrels, owls, snakes, and river otters.
Ober Gatlinburg, 1001 Parkway No. 2, Gatlinburg, 865-436-5423, obergatlinburg.com
Towering high above the shops, eateries and trees of Gatlinburg, The Gatlinburg Space Needle rises 407 feet into the clear mountain air, a tall spire with an observation deck that overlooks the town and the surrounding Smoky Mountains. Two 20-person glass elevators take visitors 365 days a year to the top for a 360-degree view of the grand surroundings. After reveling in that for a time, check out the Space Needle's exhibits, offering intriguing information about Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains. At the base of the Space Needle is Arcadia, a two-story playground with the latest video and arcade games including the area's largest redemption center. Also at the base is the Iris Theater, which features family friendly stage entertainment, as well as a couple of casual eateries.
115 Historic Nature Trail, Gatlinburg, 865-436-4629, www.gatlinburgspaceneedle.com
High views from tramways and tall buildings are undeniably magnificent but there's an intimacy with Mother Nature that can only be experienced on foot at ground level. The expert hiking guides at A Walk in the Woods will provide you the best Smokies hike of your life, offering a large selection of interpretive guided nature hikes, including birding and salamander treks, as well as providing hiker shuttle service in and around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, trip planning, camping and backpacking equipment rental, guided backpacking trips, and classes and seminars on survival skills. Plakanis said the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is both the Wildflower Capital of the Northern Hemisphere and has more species of trees than Eastern and Western Europe combined. "This unmatched biodiversity creates a palate of fall colors found nowhere else on earth. Going on a tour with A Walk in the Woods allows you to step into the painting and be a part of that landscape, experiencing the unique flora and fauna firsthand."
A Walk in the Woods, 4413 Scenic Drive East, Gatlinburg, 865-436-8283, www.awalkinthewoods.com
Another great way to connect with the natural world is by horseback. There is something special about discovering nature's nooks and crannies from atop a well-trained horse handpicked just for you from the Stables' 40 trail horses – bonding with the steed as you take it all in together at a leisurely pace. You're guaranteed a great horseback ride no matter your level of horse-riding experience, along with the incomparable beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Sugarlands Riding Stables guides take full advantage of the natural horseback riding trails inside the park.
Sugarlands Riding Stables, 1409 Parkway, Gatlinburg, 865-436-3535, www.sugarlandsridingstables.com
The first part of the name of this outdoor adventure outfit is an acronym for Challenge. Learn. Inspire. Master. Believe. Its mission: "To get people out of their comfort zones in a safe and controlled environment." All that tells you a lot about what you can expect at the CLIMB Works zip lining and mountain biking location in the Great Smoky Mountains. Adventurers start the tour with an exciting ATV ride up the mountainside, followed by rip-roaring fun on nine world-class zip lines, three unique sky bridges, and a surprise at the end. CLIMB Works also has mountain bikes for rent and a loop trail with sections suitable for all levels of riders.
CLIMB Works Smoky Mountains, 155 Branam Hollow Road, Gatlinburg, 865-325-8116, www.climbworks.com/smoky_mountains
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