October is one of the most popular times to visit the Smoky Mountains. The fall colors are simply stunning, the weather is exceptionally brisk and delightful, and there are plenty of fun events and activities to enjoy in the area for everyone. Here are a few suggestions of exciting and fun things to do during the month of October in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Take a Scenic Drive to View the Fall Colors
With the arrival of the fall season comes the changing of the colors across the Smokies, and even more reason to plan your vacation. Erupting with bright red, orange, and yellow hues, you’ll be treated to a show like no other.
It is anticipated that the leaves will turn to their most beautiful fall colors in higher elevations around mid-October and continue until mid-November in lower elevations.
If you want to find out the progressive changing of the leaves, you can check out this interactive 2023 fall foliage map of the Smoky Mountains.
Note that only Newfound Gap Road, Cades Cove, and Little River remain open year-round, so be sure to check the National Park page for Seasonal Road Closures.
Ready to go on a scenic drive in the Smokies? Here are some unbeatable spots to do just that!
Cades Cove Loop
This 11-mile Cades Cove Loop drive circles around a cove filled with wildlife and historic buildings. It isn’t uncommon to see turkeys, raccoons, groundhogs, deer, and yes, even black bears while driving through Cades Cove.
There are numerous pullover sites where you can picnic, take a short hike, and explore some historical artifacts and buildings.
Cades Cove was hunted by the Cherokee for thousands of years, but the first Europeans settled in the area between 1818 and 1821, and the population grew rapidly.
Along the drive, you can view three historic churches, a working grist mill, and many restored buildings from this fascinating era of our nation’s history. Cades Cove is no secret, however, and the drive can be rather slow especially if wildlife is spotted.
There are very few ways to “go around” the cars in front of you, so we recommend arriving early and planning on spending a minimum of two to four hours. Take a picnic lunch and take it all in at the slower southern pace of its mountain ancestry.
Newfound Gap Road
Newfound Gap Road is the quintessential Smoky Mountains! Also known as Highway 441, this 33-mile stretch of paved road leads from the north entrance of the Smoky Mountains in Gatlinburg southward toward Cherokee, NC.
The major points of interest along Newfound Gap Road include the Newfound Gap overlook, Clingman’s Dome, and the Rockefeller Memorial site where former President Franklin D. Roosevelt formally dedicated the park on September 2, 1940.
Be sure to leave time for exploring a bit of Cherokee, NC, and perhaps take in their outdoor theatre to learn more about the history of the Cherokee Tribe that once roamed this area.
Roaring Fork Motor Trail
There are two great hiking trails located along the Roaring Fork Motor Trail, but if you aren’t up for a hike, this auto trail is a favorite drive for any time of year.
Roaring Fork is a fast-flowing mountain stream that runs along the trail and is apt to be “roaring” during or after a hard rain.
We love visiting this trail in the Spring because the lush green colors and cool shade of the trees have an enchanting effect.
Just before you enter this natural fairyland, take time to explore the Noah “Bud” Ogle Nature Trail and farmstead. We really enjoy rolling down the windows to take in the scenery and nature’s air conditioning.
The Foothills Parkway is a 72-mile stretch of highway with a western section extending 33 continuous miles from Chilhowie Lake to Wears Valley and an eastern section extending from Cosby to Interstate 40.
The completion of the highway was celebrated in November 2018, when the so-called “missing link” of the Foothills Parkway was completed.
We were able to visit the weekend it was opened and enjoyed the vast views of Wears Valley and other parts of the Smoky Mountains.
This is sure to become a go-to destination for fall foliage that rivals the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway.
Hike to Waterfalls
Escape the hustle and bustle of daily life and refresh your mind with these easy waterfall hikes in the Smoky Mountains. Discover the stunning beauty of nature as you hike along gentle trails and admire cascading waterfalls, surrounded by lush greenery and fresh mountain air.
Perfect for all skill levels, these hikes offer a peaceful and rejuvenating experience for anyone seeking a break from the stress of modern life.
When visiting The Great Smoky Mountains, please be reminded that parking tags are required beginning March 1, 2023, for those staying for more than 15 minutes.
Tag durations available for all types of vehicles and sizes:
Visit their website for more Parking Tag basics.
Laurel Fall Trail
Laurel Falls Trail is one of the popular waterfall hikes in Gatlinburg. The trail is rated as easy and suitable for families with young children.
Bears are also active in this area, so it’s best to prepare accordingly.
Parking: Located on both sides of the road at the Trailhead
Features: 80-foot Laurel Falls at the end of the trail
Skill Level: Easy
Length: 3.9-km out-and-back
Time to Hike: About 1 hour and 6 minutes
Stroller-Friendly? YES (but it does have points that are narrow and bump)
PRO TIP: Do not climb on the rocks around the waterfall. They are slippery! For more tips on hiking trails, visit AllTrails.
Cataract Falls Trail
Cataract Falls is a stunning waterfall located in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which spans the border of Tennessee and North Carolina.
This breathtaking cascade is named for its powerful, thundering flow of water that tumbles over a series of jagged rocks, creating a mesmerizing spectacle for visitors.
Parking: Park at the Sugarlands Visitor Center
Features: Wildflowers, Waterfall, Wildlife
Skill Level: Easy
Length: 1.8-km out-and-back
Time to Hike: About 21 minutes
Stroller-Friendly? Yes, but may need assistance in the steeper sections
The Gatlinburg Trail is a beautiful hiking trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
This easy-rated trail follows the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River and offers picturesque views of the forest, river, and historic buildings, making it a great choice for a family-friendly hike or leisurely walk.
Parking: Park at the Sugarlands Visitors Center
Features: Wildflowers, Waterfall, Wildlife
Skill Level: Easy
Length: 6.3-km out-and-back trail
Time to Hike: About 1 hour and 17 minutes
Pet-Friendly? Yes, but must be leashed
PRO TIP: There’s a 2-inch gap from the trail to the bridge so the bridge over Little Pigeon River at about 1.2 miles may not be wheelchair or stroller accessible.
Stay and Play in an Interactive Treehouse
Choosing to plan a vacation in the Smoky Mountains in October is a decision you will never regret. Make it even more unique with a bucket list stay at the newest and most talked about accommodations in the area- Sanctuary Treehouse Resort!
Did you know that the Smoky Mountains is home to the world’s first interactive treehouse resort?
Sanctuary Treehouse Resort is located on 40 sprawling acres in the foothills of the Smokies. Guests are treated to a most unique experience that you will not find anywhere else in the world!
Each treehouse is uniquely named and themed and is full of original, whimsical, and interactive amenities that will inspire anyone’s inner child.
Owned and operated by a local family, the Jensen’s, these treehouses are without a doubt beyond your imagination. This creative family has found a way to take modern-day amenities and carefully intertwine them with nature and nostalgia.
Relax, play, and unwind with features such as 20-foot slides, secret ladders, escape hatches, drink chutes, rope climbs, swings, interactive furniture, bucket pulleys, outdoor day beds, and so much more!
Choose from a variety of treehouse designs that can accommodate small to larger groups and all offer their own character that will leave you ready to come back and try each one!
Modern-day amenities that feature luxury bedding and décor, in-house custom-built furniture including Jack Daniels’ whiskey barrel sinks/tables, heated/lit toilet seats, bidet toilet systems, 5” flat screen TVs, LED and wood-burning fireplaces, spacious decks with patio seating, gas grills, stocked kitchenettes, complimentary Wi-Fi and firewood, towel warmers, and the list goes on and on.
The Sanctuary Treehouse Resort offers treehouses with wooded views or panoramic Smoky Mountain views along with the Little Pigeon River and 2 championship golf courses.
These treehouses are cozy, overflowing with adventurous activities to expand your vacation memories, and convenient to all the area’s best shopping, dining, and entertainment.
If you’re planning to visit Dollywood in October, you’re in for a treat! October is a great time to visit Dollywood where you can delight yourselves with crisp autumn air, beautiful fall colors, and all the park’s rides and attractions. Celebrate the season with Dollywood’s Harvest Festival, a month-long event featuring shows, music, mouth-watering food, and more!
No matter what the season, Dollywood is always a fun place to visit. But there’s something special about experiencing the park in the fall.
October is a very busy month for the Smoky Mountain towns and Dollywood is no exception. Make sure you’re ready for long lines for most of the attractions, rides, and eateries.
However, if you’re willing to spend a couple of extra dollars, we highly suggest getting the Dollywood TimeSaver line management pass. This will help you avoid long lines on selected park rides. Take note that Dollywood only sells a limited number of TimeSaver Passes each day, so order your passes in advance online to save your party the trouble of waiting in line or missing out.