Gatlinburg Fall Foliage Report – Mid-October

Information on fall foliage in Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park through mid October 2012.

Right now, if you’re traveling to Gatlinburg you’re likely spending a bit of time twisting your neck trying to catch the fall colors on your way through the Smokies. What you’re probably seeing are hints of the Gatlinburg fall foliage combined with late season greens with color appearing more frequent the higher up you travel.

The Gatlinburg Fall Foliage Experience

In other words, you might be able to tell that the Gatlinburg fall foliage is coming when the fall season starts kicking off. If you’re a weather buff, you’re watching for more sunny days and cooler nights. This is when the leaves really start changing. Much of the region is still overcoming a dryer-than-normal summer which affects fall foliage as far as when it begins and how long it lasts. Peak color in the Smokies’ lower elevations is still over a week away. Some reds have been seen in the valleys and golds appear in such species as the black walnut, birch, beech, and hickory trees. Maples and oaks are also beginning to show color in the lower elevations.

We also suggest taking to one of the many Smoky Mountain trails in order to get a better glimpse of the splendors of autumn. With so many people pouring into the Smokies this time of year, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park becomes one of the more solitary places for people wanting to get away from town and view the fall colors alone in nature.

A few easy to moderate Smokies hikes include the Lower Mount Cammerer hike, Baskins Creek Falls, the Little River, the Old Settlers trail and Porters Creeks. Those of you looking for a more challenging hike, try these next few which lead to a number of scenic overlooks – Sugarlands Mountain, the Appalachian Trail, Mt. Sterling, the Goshen Prong trail. the Foothills Parkway, Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441), the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Balsam Mountain Road and Cove Creek Road are just a few of the more scenic roadways for anyone who might want to see the Gatlinburg fall foliage but can’t or prefer not to leave their car.

Peak color season in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park can occur throughout the month of October in more than one location. Places may peak earlier than others and vice versa. The marvelous colors of autumn actually light up the Smokies for seven weeks or more as the peak elevations move down the mountainsides from the highest elevations to the foothills. On average, fall color usually reaches peak at middle and lower elevations between mid-October and early November. Trees such as the sugar maple, scarlet oak, sweetgum, red maple and hickories really stand out during this time.

Little River Road

Little River Road just outside of Gatlinburg offers some of the area’s best natural attractions. If you’re going to be in the Smoky Mountains, or if you’ve lived here your entire life, Little River Road offers people a way to really immerse themselves in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and offers a glimpse at why millions flock to the area every year.

Here are just a few of the more popular destinations located along Little River Road. Take a day and pull the car over, explore the area. This is the Smokies at its best.

Laurel Falls

The moderate 2.6 mile trail to Laurel Falls is one of the Park’s most traveled. The trail divides the waterfall in two. At the top, Laurel Branch bursts from a grove of rhododendron, or “laurel” as it was called by early settlers, and falls nearly 50 feet to collect in a pool perfect for soaking tired feet. The falls continues on from that pool for about 35 feet before reaching the bottom.

Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area

Once a family farm, Metcalf Bottoms is now a large picnic area with plenty of space along the river. As Little River Road was being built, the Metcalf family often brought fresh spring water to the many workers. The National Park Service remembered the favor by naming the picnic area for them.

Little Greenbrier School

Just a mile through the forest from Metcalf Bottoms lies the Little Greenbrier School. This charming 19th Century schoolhouse evokes the simpler education of years gone by. Built from logs split up to two feet wide, the school also served as a church from 1882 until the Park’s creation. The original benches and desks still line the room, along with a lectern and a painted blackboard.

The Sinks

Located just 1.5 miles east of Metcalf Bottoms picnic area, The Sinks are a combination of hydraulic rapids and deep pools. Folklore tells of how a logging train once derailed and plunged into the Little River at this spot. It was never found as the bottom could not be reached. Thereafter, this spot was always referred to as “The Sinks.”

Townsend “Wye”

A local favorite for years, the Townsend “Wye” is the meeting point of the middle and west prongs of the Little Pigeon River. This broad, peaceful curve is ideal for swimming and the smooth, grassy banks are a perfect spot for spreading a blanket. Over the years, this has become a popular site due to its accessibility — one mile south of Townsend and seven miles east of Cades Cove.


Once known as Tarpaper Camp (for the covering used on buildings), Tremont was one of three towns built by the Little River Lumber Company. Tremont became a logging boom town in the Southern Appalachians during the 1920s. The company town once consisted of a store, post office, hotel, doctor’s office and a church/school/theater building. Today, the area is primarily used for ranger facilities and educational research.

Favorite Part of Fall in Gatlinburg, TN

Discover what people love the most about fall in Gatlinburg, TN. Discover the secret places to drive, hike, eat, shop, etc during the autumn season in the Great Smoky Mountains!

This contest has ended. Thanks for all the great entries and congratulations to our winner!

Fall is arguably the best season to experience Gatlinburg, TN and the surrounding Great Smoky Mountains as the air turns crisp, the trees begin to change color, craftsmen flood the area with amazing talent, fireplaces start lighting up, etc. It’s simply an amazing experience with all that the area has to offer during the fall season.

We know what we love about the fall, but we want to hear from you! We want to know what you love most about the fall season in Gatlinburg or the surrounding area. Perhaps it’s a special place you like to drive to or hike. Maybe you have a favorite restaurant you have to visit. Perhaps there’s a particular craftsman or shop that you absolutely have to purchase something from. Or is there a hotel, cabin, or other place that you love to stay at during your fall vacation to the Smoky Mountains? Whatever it is that you love most about fall in Gatlinburg, TN we want to hear it! We want to hear it so much that we’ve made it into a contest!
In order to enter the contest, all you have to do is post your favorite part of fall in Gatlinburg, TN in the comments section at the bottom of this page. Simply share what you love most about the fall season in the Smokies and you’ll automatically be entered! At the end of October, 2008 we will randomly choose one of the comments and award the prize to the author. It may as well be you! It’s really that easy to enter!

So you must be asking, “What do I win?!?” The person that is randomly chosen will receive 2 free admissions to the Miracle Theater AND 2 free admissions to Magic Beyond Belief in Pigeon Forge, TN! This is 2 nights worth of entertainment for 2 people that we’re giving away simply for someone sharing their favorite part of the fall season in the Smokies!

So what are you waiting for? Jump to the bottom of this page and share your favorite part of fall!

Free Trolley Rides Along the Parkway

The city of Gatlinburg will offer a free trolley ride throughout the summer for anyone in town from June 15 to August 18.

Information on this page refers to 2017:

For anyone wanting to come take a tour of downtown Gatlinburg, now would be as good of a time as any to do it. Right now, the city of Gatlinburg is offering free trolley rides to summer visitors along the length of the Parkway running from June 17 through August 12.

The free Parkway Trolley has been a program that has garnered huge returns in years past. Basically anyone who wants can catch a ride on one of three specially designated trolleys at numerous stops along the Parkway for FREE. The shuttle service route extends from Traffic Light No. 1 at the north end of town to Light No. 10 at the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

“We are pleased to once again offer this free trolley service during our peak season,” said Cindy Cameron Ogle, city manager. “It will provide our visitors, residents and business community more accessibility to sections of our downtown business district.”

Nearly 1,300 patrons took advantage of the service during its trial run two years ago.

The free open-air shuttles is operating from 10 am to 10 pm daily through August 17. All Gatlinburg trolleys are handicap accessible. Extra stops have been established along the special route to bring the number to 40 along Parkway.

As a part of the Gatlinburg Mass Transit System, the system provides service for 50 cents or $1 per rider along a half-dozen routes. Approximately 800,000 patrons use Gatlinburg’s trolleys annually, making it the fifth-largest mass transit system in the state of Tennessee. Started in 1980 with only six trolleys, Gatlinburg’s fleet has grown to 20-plus trolleys servicing approximately 50 miles of trolley routes.

Gatlinburg Trolleys run all day long throughout the year for just $2 a day with unlimited access to the Red, Blue, Purple, Yellow and Green Trolley routes. The $2 Pass is sold at Gatlinburg welcome centers as well as at Gatlinburg City Hall and the mass transit center, plus at numerous Gatlinburg hotels and other local attractions .

For more information, visit any Gatlinburg City Welcome Center or call (865) 436-0535.

Gatlinburg’s Winter Weather Forecast

With December comes a blast of winter weather in Gatlinburg.

When Gatlinburg welcomes in the first blast of winter, temperatures dip to yearly lows. It’s a common theme around this part of the country – each new season seems to try to outdo the other. In the Smoky Mountains, spring brings forth wondrous flowers and wildlife, and summer welcomes in the warm, sunny days. Visitors will long for those perfect days soon enough – days in which a dip in the pool, lake, or one of the many mountain streams is the norm. The vibrant color of the native trees, local festivals, food, and that crispness felt in the air make fall a wildly popular time to come to the Smokies. Meanwhile, as winter comes on, the Smoky Mountains are often seen with a thick, white layer of snow. It’s also a great time to be in a cabin up in the mountains, preferably right in front of a big, hot fire. Truthfully, there really isn’t a “bad” time to visit the Gatlinburg area of the Smoky Mountains. Regardless of the weather, there’s always something for everyone!

For all you planners and trip advisers, we’ve posted the average daily temperatures below. See also: the current weather conditions and forecast in Gatlinburg, Tn.

Average temperatures in Gatlinburg, TN

Month Avg. High Avg. Low
Jan 46°F 25°F
Feb 51°F 27°F
Mar 61°F 34°F
Apr 69°F 43°F
May 77°F 53°F
Jun 84°F 61°F
Jul 87°F 65°F
Aug 86°F 64°F
Sep 81°F 57°F
Oct 71°F 43°F
Nov 59°F 35°F
Dec 50°F 27°F

Insider tip

Get weather and road condition information in Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg, TN by calling:
Using your cell phone in TN: 511
Nationally: 1-877-244-0065
Locally in Pigeon Forge: (865) 436-1200

Backroad to the Arts and Crafts Community

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How do I get there from here?

I cannot tell you the number of times I have had visitors to this area ask if there is ‘another‘ way to get to the Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community without having to get on the Parkway in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg.  Well, there is an if you have a little bit of time and don’t mind getting off the beaten path, it is actually a very pretty drive.

dollywood laneFirst you want to get off the Parkway in Pigeon Forge.  Head to traffic light 8 and turn, as if you are heading to Dollywood.  Once you make the turn off of the Parkway you will be on Dollywood Lane.  Follow Dollywood Lane to the first traffic light that you come to and turn right.  Those of you that have been coming to this area for a long time will recognize this as the ‘old’ entrance to Dollywood.  Follow Dollywood Lane past the employee entrance only to Dollwywood – Dollywood Lane now becomes Upper Middle Creek Road.

Follow Upper Middle Creek Road until it ends at Birds Creek road and take a right onto Birds Creek Road.  You will turn beside a gas station called Dunn’s Market (a place that might have the best greasy-spoon hamburger in the county).  Stay on Birds Creek Road for 4.5 miles.  You are going to pass some beautiful areas along this twisty little mountain road.  You will pass the Caton’s Chapel area and you will be very close to Pittman Center (both of these areas are certainly worth exploring at some point in your travels in the Smokies.  At around 4.5 miles you are going to arrive at a traffic light.  You have now reached the Arts and Crafts Community.

You will be at the juncture of three roads:  Birds Creek, Glades Road and Buckhorn Road.  If you go straight you will be on Buckhorn Rd which is the’other’ road in the Arts and Crafts Community and has a lot of galleries (you can see G Webb’s gallery in front of you from the intersection) and craft shops.  If you take a right you will be on Glades Road which of course is home to the majority of the arts and crafts shops of the Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community.  Following this road you will pass small individual craft shops and craft malls that house more then a dozen artists under one roof.  Stop into these shops along Glades Road or Buckhorn Road, do some window shopping, start your Christmas shopping and enjoy the fact that you have not had to deal with the traffic of the Parkway in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg.

In addition, if you continue down either Buckhorn or Glades Road, you will end up on Hwy 321 which, if you take a right where either road ends you will end up in Gatlinburg at traffic light 3.  This backroad will require more driving and if the traffic is light it is not as fast but if you are visiting during the height of the summer tourist season, this will be a much more enjoyable drive.

Why Not Bypass Gatlinburg?

Obviously, if you are in the Smokies you are going to visit the Great Smoky Mountain National Park at some point. If you are looking to go straight to the National Park then the Bypass allows you to get there without the stop and go traffic of Gatlinburg.

Driving Tip – You and your family are sitting in your car headed to Gatlinburg from Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, or I-40. Like most, you decide to take the “Spur” past traffic light No. 10 in Pigeon Forge. As soon as you pass the Gatlinburg Welcome Center you come to a complete stop. Two lanes heading into Gatlinburg, full of cars and families anticipating the fun they are about to have. You can expect a wait just to get to the city limits. Little do you know that a half-mile from the Welcome Center is your escape route: The Gatlinburg Bypass. This Bypass allows you to go directly to the National Park or the other end of Gatlinburg, while providing some of the best views of Gatlinburg that you can find in the area.


Spectacular views of Gatlinburg and Mount LeConte are primarily what the Gatlinburg Bypass is known for.

Obviously, if you are in the Smokies you are going to visit the Great Smoky Mountain National Park at some point, or pass close by it at least. If you are looking to go straight to the National Park then the Bypass allows you to get there without having to deal with the stop and go traffic of Gatlinburg. The other end of the bypass drops you off a mere two miles from Sugarlands Visitor Center. At Sugarlands Visitor Center you can reserve campsites, get trail information, buy souvenirs and take in the exhibits – all giving you great Park information. Besides all that, it is also a good place to stop before you head into the mountains for a day hike or just a drive to places like Cherokee, NC. Either way, back to the car…

So you’re stopped in traffic waiting for the guy in front of you to move five inches so that you can move four.  If you take the bypass and follow the signs to Gatlinburg, you will find yourself at traffic light No. 10, near the Park Grill and Ober Gatlinburg going against the traffic. You might now realize it, but you have saved yourself some time and your family can get to enjoying Gatlinburg much quicker. You’ll still have to find a place to park but you will be on the same side of the road as some of the larger parking lots up Historic Nature Trail Road. Also, if your destination in Gatlinburg is closer to traffic light No. 10 then you are almost there.

Another suggestion, if it’s dark when you’re leaving Gatlinburg, take the bypass. There is a scenic overlook that gives you an incredible view of the old town in all it’s glowing splendor. At night, with the lights on and the Space Needle shining like a beacon you get a glimpse of what brings people back to Gatlinburg year after year. So, the next time you are headed to Gatlinburg or when you are headed to the National Park remember the Gatlinburg Bypass and you will be the hero of your vacation.

So we’ve gone over all the ways to cut around traffic and make the trip in and around Gatlinburg an easier one. What about getting there? While we can’t possibly notify you of every highway that’s under construction, or every traffic pileup along the way, here’s a chart (below) with mileage and corresponding drive time from major cities to Gatlinburg. Plan your trip accordingly and be ready to enjoy Gatlinburg to its fullest when you arrive.

Departing City Time Miles
Asheville, NC 1 Hour – 54 min 90
Atlanta, GA 3 Hours – 53 min 197
Baton Rouge, LA 10 Hours – 41 min 699
Birmingham, AL 4 Hours – 49 min 298
Bristol, TN 1 Hour – 39 min 102
Charlotte, NC 3 Hours – 57 min 219
Chattanooga, TN 2 Hours – 41 min 153
Cherokee, NC 1 Hour 35
Chicago, IL 9 Hours – 23 min 581
Cincinnati, OH 4 Hours – 59 min 297
Columbus, OH 6 Hours – 32 min 397
Dayton, OH 5 Hours – 42 min 344
Greenville, SC 2 Hours – 53 min 143
Huntsville, AL 4 Hours – 20 min 253
Indianapolis, IN 6 Hours – 29 min 398
Jackson, MS 8 Hours – 18 min 537
Johnson City, TN 1 hour – 31 min 94
Knoxville, TN 1 Hour 42
Lexington, KY 3 Hour – 38 min 212
Louisville, KY 4 Hours – 45 min 286
Memphis, TN 6 Hours – 47 min 432
Montgomery, AL 6 Hours – 5 min 385
Nashville, TN 3 Hours – 41 min 222
New Orleans, LA 9 Hours – 54 min 642
Orlando, FL 10 Hours – 19 min 631
Roanoke, VA 4 Hours – 19 min 261
St. Louis, MO 8 Hours – 23 min 327
Tampa, FL 10 Hours – 39 min 698

The BEST Way to get to Gatlinburg

Want to know the best way to get to Gatlinburg, plus a few lesser-known routes? Continue reading and find out.

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You’ve probably been asked it a thousand times if you’ve lived in the Smoky Mountains, or if you spend a lot of time in the area: “What’s the best way to get to Gatlinburg?” For us locals, it seems like a fairly easy answer – “Just take 40 to the exit for the Smoky Mountains and go south till you get to Gatlinburg.” Although, while that seems like the easy answer, when you actually sit back and think about it, there are a few different ways you could get to Gatlinburg.

As mentioned, we’ll start with the one route most people use who would be coming from Nashville, Knoxville, Lexington, Asheville, and the tri-cities of Bristol, Kingsport, and Johnson City, as well as Virginia – Interstate 40 traveling either east or west. You’ll take exit 407 in Kodak which notes Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Traveling south down Winfield Dunn Pkwy./Hwy. 66 into Sevierville and continuing onto Pigeon Forge as the road turns into U.S. 441 Scenic Parkway, you’ll reach Gatlinburg by this route. It’s also the most popular due to the straight shot from the interstate as well as the number of two-lane roads.

Another popular route is the one leading north to Gatlinburg from Cherokee, Waynesville, or Asheville, NC via Newfound Gap Road. It’s popular because it leads the driver straight through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and a number of picturesque landscapes on their way to Gatlinburg.  From Cherokee, it’s U.S. 441/Hwy. 71 north through the park until you reach downtown Gatlinburg.

A scenic route that many talk about but fewer travel starts in Newport, TN. You might try this route if you’re ever coming or going to Bristol, Johnson City, or Kingsport, TN or the Virginias. Traveling south on Interstate 81, take Interstate 40 east to Asheville when it splits. Once you reach Newport, TN, you’ll take exit 435 south – Cosby Hwy/Hwy. 32. Continue on this route as it turns into U.S. 321/Hwy. 73 East Parkway which will take you west into downtown Gatlinburg.

There a number of other ways to reach Gatlinburg, but these three should have you there in the most timely manner. If you’re traveling to Pigeon Forge, you can just as easily get to Gatlinburg whatever way you reach Pigeon Forge by just continuing south on the Parkway.

Great Smokey Mountains National Park

Information about the Great Smokey Mountains National Park or better known as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or just the Smokies. Get the history, hiking information, and other details here.

Is it Smokey or Smoky Mountains?

If you didn’t already notice, the Great Smokey Mountains National Park is actually spelled incorrectly. The correct spelling is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Do you see the difference? Many people misspell Smoky as Smokey with an “e,” some simply call them the Smokies while others spell it Smokeys. If you’re one of the people who spells it incorrectly, don’t worry…more people spell it as Smokey Mountains rather than the correct way! Does that make it wrong? Who knows…the Smoky Mountains are still just as breathtakingly beautiful!

With that out of the way, let’s dig into one of the most amazing places on Earth, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Great Smoky Mountains is in the southern tip of the Appalachian Mountains and creates a natural border between Tennessee and North Carolina. If you have ever been to Gatlinburg, TN or Cherokee, NC then you have been in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Many people don’t realize that the Smokey Mountains…I mean Smoky Mountains…is the most visited national park in the United States! This is a testament to the beauty of the park, but it has also become increasingly harmful to the environmental makeup of the Smokies. The increased pollution in the air from vehicle exhaust along with the growing population, increased tourism, etc. has taken a toll on the wildlife and natural habitats. Fortunately, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is working to preserve and even restore as much of the national park as possible.

What Makes the Smoky Mountains Smoky?

So where does the name Smokey Mountains, Smoky Mountains or Smokies come from anyway? If you have ever seen the Smokies, you’d know how it got its name. The higher elevation, humidity, and hydrocarbons produced by trees and plants often put off a hovering, almost eery haze throughout the mountain range giving it the name “Smokies” as it looks like there is smoke all over the mountaintops. It’s an amazing sight if you have never seen it before – almost as if the mountains are on fire – or simply haunted.

About the Fall Leaves in the Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is deciduous, meaning most trees shed their leaves as the weather turns colder. As this happens, the mountains come to life with amazing color! The reds, yellows, oranges, etc look as if buckets of paint fell from the sky onto the mountains. It’s incredible! Knowing when to see this is anybody’s guess, but you’re probably still wondering when the leaves change color in the fall. Well, this depends on two primary things – temperature and moisture. As the weather turns colder, deciduous trees go into “survival” mode and start preserving as much water as possible. The best thing they can do to accomplish this is shed their water-retaining leaves! As the trees zap the water out of the leaves, the result is that the leaves slowly change color, dry up, and fall off. So the trick is to look for a cold, dry snap in weather, which basically means predicting when the leaves will change color in the Smoky Mountains is about as hard as predicting the weather! Statistically, though, the middle and last half of October are usually the safest bets for a colorful visit. Bring your camera!

Synchronous Fireflies at Elkmont in the Smoky Mountains

One last interesting aspect of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that needs to be pointed out is the synchronous fireflies in Elkmont near Gatlinburg. This is an amazing event that happens only once a year for about a week in mid-June and only in two locations in the entire world…the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of them…the other is in Asia. You can pick which one to come to, but I suggest the Smokies!

If you have comments or any interesting facts about the Smokies you’d like to share about the Great Smoky Mountains, please share them in the section at the bottom of this page! We’d love to hear your thoughts!

When Do the Leaves Change Color in the Fall in Gatlinburg?

Get the inside scoop on the fall foliage and the leaves changing color in Gatlinburg, TN and the Great Smoky Mountains. View webcams, find out the best time to visit, and more!

Fall is an incredible season to visit the Great Smoky Mountains with the beautiful Gatlinburg fall colors, crisp air, crafts, harvest festivals and more. If you have never visited Gatlinburg TN in October or early November, then you are missing out on an amazing experience.

Figuring out when the Gatlinburg fall colors will peak can be very tricky, and requires predicting the weather a little bit, too. A good rule of thumb that defines a brilliant fall is dry weather with cool (not freezing) temperatures in October. There are obviously other factors, but the cool temperatures will make the fall even more stunning in the Smokies. Colors usually peak around the last half of October with the higher elevations changing color first and the colors trickling down into the valley.

So, how can you figure out if the Gatlinburg fall colors are peaking just in time for your visit? And when is the best time to visit in the fall? We can help!

Road winding through the Smoky MounatinsInside Tips for Planning Your Visit to See Gatlinburg Fall Colors

  • Check out the views from more than just the national park hiking trails, too. You can see the Gatlinburg fall colors from all over the area. Try visiting the Gatlinburg Space Needle or riding on the Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway for the best views of the colors!
  • Prepare for lots of colors! The Great Smoky Mountains National Park will be changing colors, but there are other places to see the fall colors, too, like the Dollywood Harvest Festival.
  • Keep in mind that it’s going to be busy! If you visit Gatlinburg TN on the weekend, you’re likely to encounter many more people visiting the area. If you want to visit during a time when there are not as many people in the area, try planning to visit on a weekday!

Fall in the Smoky MountainsThe GSMNP site (Great Smoky Mountains National Park) keeps the most up-to-date information about all of the Gatlinburg fall colors throughout the season. They offer:

  • Gatlinburg fall colors facts
  • Information on why and how the leaves change colors
  • Updates about the best times to visit the area for the fall color changes
  • Helpful information for planning your visit to the Smoky Mountains

You can also jump straight to the site’s information specific to fall foliage.

Ready to start planning your Gatlinburg vacation? Make sure to check out all of the best places to stay in Gatlinburg TN, so you can get the best view of the Gatlinburg fall colors every time you step outside!