Bar none, on a clear day, the best view anywhere is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at Clingmans Dome. But it is often literally in the clouds, and the paved hike, though short, is surprisingly steep.The best reward of hiking is that panoramic vista of rolling tree-covered mountaintops, that so beautifully burst into multicolored hues this time of year. Sometimes though, after unwinding a bit at your Wears Valley rental cabin, your energy for hiking tends to wane. So I provide here today the path of least resistance:
4 easy places to see the changing leaves of autumn in the Smokies–with very little effort required!
1. Great Smoky Mountain Wheel, 200 feet-Located at the Island in Pigeon Forge, this enclosed gondola ferris wheel-type ride is one of the tallest grounded rides in the region. Each large car is glass enclosed, and can accommodate up to 8 people. Not like a typical short fair ride, this is a comfortable, climate-controlled, rotating observation perch for viewing both the sprawling town of Pigeon Forge and the mountain range beyond. It is particularly striking at sunset and dusk, as the interplay of lights changes the colors and the city lights begin to illuminate the valley.
2. Gatlinburg Sky Lift, 1800 feet-The Sky Lift is the most classic of all the offerings listed here. Many long-term visitors have experienced this ski chair-type ride as youths, and then return with their families to enjoy the experience together annually. Since the 1950’s, tourists have swung their dangling feet and leisurely ascended to the peak of Crockett Mountain from the origination post on the Parkway in the heart of downtown. An observation deck and gift shop are located at the top, and the view on the returning descent trip is 20 minutes of pure outdoor viewing pleasure, with fantastic photo opportunities!
3. Gatlinburg Space Needle, 407 feet-On the corner of Parkway and Historic Nature Trail, the Space Needle is the main fireworks-adorned centerpiece of every New Year celebration. Yet the iconic tower offers its loveliest seasonal views a few months prior, in the fall. Know that you will first have to steer the littles past the kid-friendly arcade located at the base of the structure! A glass elevator ride transports you to the round observation deck, allowing views of downtown and mountainsides in multiple directions. The view of Mount Leconte is up close and personal, and completely unobstructed from this vantage point. This is another lovely spot for memory selfies and the landscape shots.
4. Scenic Overlook, Gatlinburg Bypass-Sometimes the most humble surroundings can be the most memorable. Choose the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Gatlinburg bypass when entering the edge of Gatlinburg from the Pigeon Forge Spur side of town. This is a pull-off parking spot that provides a gorgeous lookout any day of the year. You can see downtown nestled among the undulating mountains surrounding the awe-inspring vista of creation—a truly colorful perspective of the changing palette of the season. If you want to claim a family portrait shot for the holiday cards, this is a perfect location to do it. Just make sure to step carefully to avoid any inadvertent tumbles. Unlike most of your fellow visitors’ snap and go, it is also a good location to linger for awhile. This is the only location mentioned that is actually on National Park property, and is the best opportunity for a potential bear sighting, usually early morning and dusk. Make this short drive; take the pit stop; and don’t rush: soak it up!
Of course, there are many other locations to absorb lovely colorful views. Perhaps the easiest is even closer…perhaps from the rocking chair on the deck of your vacation cabin? We hope you enjoy autumn in the mountains as much as we do!