Gatlinburg, Tennessee is an all-season vacation getaway. The surrounding mountains and valleys are picturesque in the spring, summer and winter months, but perhaps the most spectacular season of all is autumn. Starting in late September or early October the Great Smoky Mountains are set ablaze in red, orange, and yellow foliage. All this natural beauty can be beheld from the comfort of your car by driving the region’s scenic highways and byways.
Loop Road At Cades Cove
One on the closest and most popular scenic routs is Loop Road at Cades Cove. An 11 mile one way road, Loop circles the Cove’s lush valley providing marvelous views of the mountains beyond. Deer are abundant here and acclimated to the traffic so tourists can admire does with young fawns and bucks with magnificent antlers. Other wildlife that may be spotted include wild turkey, foxes and the occasional bear. If you feel like getting out of the car, check out the park’s the historic buildings, hiking trails, and riding stable.
The Cherohala Skyway
Significantly further away, and yet well worth the trip is the 36 mile long byway spanning the distance from Tellico Plains, Tennessee to Robbinsville North Carolina. The Cherohala Skyway ascends to elevations of 5,400 feet offering breathtaking views of the valleys below. Fill up the gas tank and plan to spend an entire day exploring picture-perfect overlooks, invigorating hiking trails, quiet fishing holes, and awe-inspiring waterfalls. Just be sure to come prepared, for once you enter the Skyway restrooms are the only facilities available—no restaurants, no gas stations.
The Tail of the Dragon
For the motorcycle or sports car enthusiast the drive of choice is The Tail of the Dragon. Offering both scenery and excitement, this stretch of US Highway 129 serpentines through 318 hairpin turns in just 11 wooded miles. Located at the southern end of the Smoky Mountain National Park, The Tail of the Dragon can be a treacherous yet exhilarating ride for the adrenalin junky and those who don’t easily become car sick.
Beyond these there are scads of well maintained rural roads throughout the region. Sometimes the best adventures can be had by engaging your GPS (or pulling out a map, for the old school crowd) and driving the back roads of Sevier County. Likely, you will happen upon an apple orchard, pumpkin patch, or corn maze to explore. One thing is for sure, though, no matter which way you turn you will not escape the beauty and natural wonder that is autumn in East Tennessee.