Witness the Wonder of Autumn Displays in the Great Smoky Mountains

It’s sunset, and the sky is a pastel lavender. You’re looking out over a horizon of graceful mountain peaks, hazy blue in the distance, like a motionless sea of gentle waves. In the immediate foreground, the earthen giants appear ablaze with red, gold and yellow: the leaves are changing colors. You catch your breath in the crisp autumn air, the familiar smells of decaying flora and hot chocolate putting your mind and heart at ease…

Wonder-seekers come from all over the world to witness the spectacle of the Great Smoky Mountains in autumn. In the midst of this Appalachian subrange sit two quaint Tennessean towns that make a convenient basecamp for leaf-peeping. These Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge adventures offer some of the most sought-after views of the Smokies.

Gatlinburg SkyLift Park

A visit to the Gatlinburg SkyLift Park is a must during peak leaf season. Hop on the three-seat chair lift from downtown Gatlinburg and ride 1,800 feet in the air to the top of Crockett Mountain. Once you arrive at the SkyCenter, grab a bite to eat, draft beer or hot cocoa at any of the cafes, then settle into the outdoor patio seating and fire pits. From there, you could drink in the glorious panoramic views for hours alongside your loved one. If you start to feel restless, take a stroll along the 700-foot long and 500-foot high SkyBridge, the longest suspension bridge in North America, or explore the SkyTrail, a wooden walkway featuring informational panels about the skylift’s surprising history. Gatlinburg SkyLift Park is hands-down one of the most romantic ways to overlook the mountainous setting, with downtown Gatlinburg’s lights as a glittering centerpiece.

Diamond Mountain Rentals

Diamond Mountain Rentals

Imagine waking up to the smell of coffee. Your partner hands you a mug and invites you to huddle together on the balcony overlooking a majestic tableau of copper-red forests, blue-grey mountain peaks, and a trickling creek. You breathe in deeply of fresh mountain air, take that first glorious sip o’ Joe, and suggest half-jokingly to your partner that maybe you should never leave your cozy log cabin here in the Smokies.

Such a fantasy isn’t too good to be true with the help of Diamond Mountain Rentals. Scattered throughout the hills of Gatlinburg, their rustic cabins come with fully equipped kitchens, hot tubs, flat-screen televisions, pool tables, and other modern amenities. Don’t hesitate to bring friends, family or even your pet to stay at one of their pet-friendly cabins with up to four or more beds. The cabins at Diamond Mountain Rentals make the perfect home away from home while you immerse yourself entirely in the autumn scenery.

Scenic Helicopter Tours

Scenic Helicopter Tours

If you travel by airplane to reach your Smoky Mountain vacation, you probably won’t help but notice how stunning the mountains look from overhead. However, the tiny plane window doesn’t offer much in terms of vantage point or photo opportunities. A helicopter flight with Scenic Helicopter Tours is much better suited to the job. You’ll fly 1,200 feet above the ground to witness jaw-dropping bird’s eye views of the region in its fall splendor. Their five types of helicopter tours cover all the most fascinating local features: rivers and lakes, mountains and valleys, downtown Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and more. Scenic Helicopter Tours is one of the few places approved by the FAA and National Park Service to fly over the Smokies.

Wahoo Ziplines

Wahoo Ziplines

Since you’re here in the Smokies, why not mix a little adrenaline into your autumn leaf hunting endeavors? Wahoo Ziplines in Sevierville is the very first zipline in the Smokies, consisting of about two miles of cable in total. Enjoy the mountain vistas and tranquil forests of beech and oak as you soar, spin 360, and flip upside down at 40 to 250 feet in the air. Between the speed-regulated lines and certified guides, there’s no need to worry about your safety or ziplining technique. Wahoo Ziplines is a fantastic activity for families aged five and up who are looking for a side of excitement with their outdoor time.

Sugarlands Riding Stables

Sugarlands Riding Stables

If you prefer a calmer way to interactively experience the beautiful fall colors, a hike on horseback is what you didn’t know you needed. The guided tours at Sugarlands Riding Stables wander the trails within the National Park for one, one and a half, and two hours. Do you have no idea how to handle a horse? Not to worry — no prior riding experience is necessary, and the experienced tour guides will show you what to do. Plus, you’ll be in good hands on the back of a well-trained and even-tempered horse. As you trot through the wilderness, you’re bound to catch glimpses of local wildlife, cross crystalline creeks, and learn from your guide about the local culture and history. Sugarlands Riding Stables provides the opportunity to share a magical experience with a trusted animal.

Ole Smoky Moonshine & Whiskey Distillery

There’s no better way to wind down after a long day of hiking the mountains and soaking up extraordinary scenery than with a glass of moonshine or whiskey. You’ll get the authentic Appalachian experience at Ole Smoky Moonshine & Whiskey Distillery, Tennessee’s first legal moonshine distillery. Spend the evening at their Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge location participating in a distillery tour, tappin’ your toes to some bluegrass music, and tasting a spectrum of interesting flavors. Indulge your taste buds in seasonally relevant flavors like Pumpkin Pie Moonshine, Apple Pie Moonshine, Butter Pecan Moonshine, Salty Caramel Whiskey and Cold Brew Coffee Whiskey.

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The select adventures listed here are just the tip of the iceberg of what this Appalachian subrange has to offer. Between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, there are countless unique ways to catch beautiful panoramas of the Great Smoky Mountains sporting their vibrant fall foliage. Start planning your autumn getaway soon before the end of peak leaf season from September to November!

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