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Five Great Fall-Break Hikes In The Smokies

Posted by Leif Palmer in Hiking

A lot of schools are already getting their fall breaks, and when you also consider the fact that the turning colors are making the Smoky Mountains more beautiful than ever, you can see why fall is one of the most popular times of year to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Walking up to Clingmans Dome

If you haven't yet made plans to come to the Smokies this autumn, it's not too late to do so, whether you're on fall break, ready for a weekend getaway or perhaps have a schedule that's flexible enough for you to travel whenever you want. In addition to the turning leaves, we're getting cooler, sunny weather, and the conditions are ideal for taking a hike or a scenic drive in the mountains.

If you wind up staying in a Pigeon Forge cabin while you're in this area, here are a few recommendations for places to hike and drive in the national park, any of which would be an ideal way to experience the mountains in fall.

  • Appalachian Trail – Or part of it, at least. Park at the Newfound Gap parking area, cross Newfound Gap Road at the cross-walk and look for the trail sign. Follow the AT to Indian Gap (where the trail meets Clingmans Dome Road), which is 3.4 miles round trip.
  • Inspiration Point on Alum Cave Trail -Park at the Alum Cave Trail parking area 10.5 miles south of Gatlinburg on Newfound Gap Road (U.S. Hwy. 441). The 1.8-mile (one-way) hike to Inspiration Point offers a walk through a rich old-growth forest and views of the surrounding mountains.
  • Oconaluftee River Trail- Park at Oconaluftee Visitor Center on the North Carolina side of the national park. The trail starts near the entrance to the historic buildings area. It follows the Oconaluftee River 1.5 miles to Cherokee, NC.
  • Look Rock Tower -From Townsend, TN take U.S. Hwy. 321 to Foothills Parkway and follow this scenic road to the Look Rock Tower parking area. The moderate hike to the top is one mile round-trip, and the views are spectacular.
  • Sutton Ridge Overlook -Park in the designated hiker parking area just before the entrance to Cosby Campground. Follow the Cosby Self-Guiding Nature Trail past the amphitheater to the beginning of the Lower Mount Cammerer Trail to Sutton Ridge. It's 1.4 miles to the 200-yard spur trail that leads to the overlook.

In addition to these hikes, consider a scenic drive along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, which starts and ends near downtown Gatlinburg. The self-guided, one-way motor loop will take you into sections of the national park that feature historic homesteads, mountain views, hiking trails and waterfalls.

Also, consider taking a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway, which begins just north of Cherokee, NC and follows the crest of the Smokies for 469 miles, all the way to Shenandoah national Park in Virginia.

Leif Palmer - Smokies blogger

About Leif Palmer

Leif Palmer loves residing in the Smoky Mountains. He is an avid outdoorsman: rowing for exercise on the lake, trail hiking, and free climbing rocks in the mountains. He indulges his arty side by periodically beating up pieces of marble by sculpting. He is always frustrated by his inability to sink long putts, and hates his curly hair (but his wife loves it). Leif has been known to muster enough courage to change a diaper, and hopes his son will become a chip off the old block.


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