Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg, & Dollywood, Tennessee USA

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg, and Dollywood, Tennessee (October 16-22, 2022)

Fall Leaves Roaring Fork Motor Trail Gatlinburg
Fall Leaves - Roaring Fork Motor Trail
We visited the Great Smoky Mountains and Gatlinburg during the Fall leaves foliage (see photo) - incredibly beautiful!

The bustling activity-packed mountain resort town of Gatlinburg (see photo0 is nestled in the mountains of East Tennessee in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Gatlinburg is known for its beautiful scenery, plentiful things to do, colorful history, and restaurants serving all kinds of food including Southern-style pancakes and locally caught trout.

Lots To Do Downtown Gatlinburg
Lots To Do - Downtown Gatlinburg

Pigeon Forge is just 15 minutes from Gatlinburg and offers more lodging and activities. The people of Tennessee are friendly making our trip delightful. More below about Gatlinburg activities and the beautiful Smoky Mountains but first Dollywood in Pigeon Forge…


Beautiful Country Setting

We liked Dollywood! Dollywood is considered one of the best amusement parks in the world (see photos). The highly-rated roller coaster rides will trill even the greatest amusement park enthusiast and there are lots of fun rides for children. Even if you don’t enjoy trilling roller coaster rides, it is the beautiful country setting in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, abundant live entertainment, good restaurants, unique shopping, amazing decorations, and Dolly’s Love that makes Dollywood #1 in many peoples’ minds. Dollywood provided a very memorable day of entertainment for us.

Top Rated Roller Coaster Rides Dollywood
Top Rated Roller Coaster Rides - Dollywood

For roller coaster fans… Dollywood is laid out in 9 areas (one more coming in 2023), each with its own character, displays, food, and rides. If you come for the roller coaster rides (see photo) turn left after entering to get to the main ones before the lines become longer.

Lots of Rides for Children
Tip: If you visit Dollywood for the rides, consider upgrading to the TimeSaver Pass that allows you to skip the lines. The most intense ride is the Wild Eagle (Wilderness Pass area). Other fast rides include the Lighting Rod (JukeBox Junction), Fire Chaser Express (Wilderness Pass), and Tennessee Tornado (Craftsman’s Valley). Blazing Fury (Craftsman Valley) is a bit less intense ride and Mystery Mine (Timber Canyon) is a fun ride with a couple of easy drops.

Dollywood Express
Dollywood Express
Rides for families…
The Dollywood Express (The Village - see photo) is fun for all ages offering an authentic stream-driven train ride around the park and runs every hour. Lines do form so you should consider going early. Lots of rides for children are available in Dollywood with many concentrated in the Wildwood Grove and Country Fair areas.

Aunt Granny's Restaurant Dollywood
Aunt Granny's Restaurant - Dollywood
There are more than 20 dining options in Dollywood. Some top rated ones include Hickory House BBQ (Craftman’s Village), Front Porch Cafe (Showstreet), and for Southern family style Aunt Granny’s Restaurant (Rivertown Junction - see photo). There can be long waits so be sure to drop by and make a reservation before you plan to sit down.

Dollywood Showstreet Entertainment
Dollywood’s live entertainment shows are offered in over a dozen venues - pick up a schedule, park map, and list of special events when you enter. While at Dollywood, you can download the free Dollywood App that has an interactive map, show schedules, exclusive offers, and ride wait times.

Dollywood during Fall Harvest Festival
Dollywood during Fall Harvest Festival
Dollywood goes all out for the seasons
with special seasonal displays, food, live entertainment, and merchandise. We were there during the fall Harvest Festival and Great Pumpkin LumiNights (see photos) lighting up the night - so much fun! Dollywood’s Spring Flower and Food Festival brings breathtaking flower displays and Dollywood’s warm Summer Celebration has water rides to cool down at Splash Country Water Park. Smoky Mountain Christmas nights delights with the glimmer of more than 5 million twinkling lights with holiday shows - awarded Best Christmas Event for decades.

Dollywood is fun for everyone - we highly recommend Dollywood!




Gatlinburg Tennessee

Downtown Gatlinburg
Downtown Gatlinburg
Gatlinburg is the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Downtown Gatlinburg (see photo) is a family-friendly mountain town with entertainment for everyone’s taste - all within easy walking distance. The main street is full of car and pedestrian traffic with lots of attractions for adults and children such as a Ripley’s Believe It or Not and Aquarium, zip lining, river rafting, amusement park, and much much more.

Beautiful Forest Drive Just Outside Gatlinburg
Beautiful Forest Drives Just Outside Gatlinburg
Go a couple of blocks off Gatlinburg’s main street and you are in beautiful forests offering amazing drives and hikes (see photo). In Gatlinburg and near by Pigeon Forge there are too many things to do to include here - search online for “Best things to do in Gatlinburg”.

The Village Shops Downtown Gatlinburg
The Village Shops - Downtown Gatlinburg

Gatlinburg’s downtown main street has a collection of 27 restaurants and shops. We enjoyed The Village Shops with its numerous unique shops in a romantic old world European village setting (see photo). ‘Crockett's Breakfast Camp’ is considered one the best places for breakfast in Gatlinburg - go early because waits can be long.


Fun at Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway
Fun at Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway
The Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway has a breathtaking bird’s-eye vista of the Smoky Mountains and the Gatlinburg area on your aerial tramway ride. After reaching the summit, check out its small zoo, skating rink, amusement park, restaurants, shopping, and lots of activities for the whole family.

While visiting Gatlinburg, you should enjoy some of the Smoky Mountains beautiful forest drives and hikes (see photo). The nearby Sugarlands Visitor Center is a great place to start and pick up maps, get an overview of the region, and talk to very helpful park rangers.

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail Gatlingburg
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail (see photo0 is a beautiful 5.5-mile drive starting from downtown Gatlinburg at traffic light #8 (Historic Nature Trail Airport Road). Because there are fun things to see, like a bear, the traffic sometimes slows down - be patient and enjoy the beautiful forest nature. There are numerous places to park and take short hikes.

Grotto Falls Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
Grotto Falls - Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
On the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, a popular hike is to Grotto Falls, a 25-foot high waterfall, along the Trillium Gap Trail (see photo). The 2.6-mile round trip trail is well-maintained with some exposed roots in places and highly trafficked with an about 580 foot elevation gain. Along the way there is a small waterfall with a swimming hole that is perfect place to cool off if the weather is nice. There is a separate trail leading behind Grotto Falls - fun but you will get wet. 

Laurel Falls Little River Road
Laurel Falls - Little River Road
Near the Sugarlands Visitors Center on Little River Road, one of the most popular hikes in the Smoky Mountains is the paved 2.6-mile round trip hike to impressive 75-foot high Laurel Falls (see photo0 with a slight incline on your hike in. These hikes are popular so to avoid the crowds and get a parking place near the trail head, you may consider arriving early or late afternoon.

Cades Cove Map Gatlinburg
Cades Cove Map
A drive of the Cades Cove 11-mile loop is one of the most visited areas in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (see map). From the paved road, you are able to enjoy gorgeous mountain scenery; fantastic hiking trails; explore historic cabins, churches, and a gristmill dating back to the 1820’s; spot white-tailed deer, turkeys, and black bears; or take a leisurely bicycle ride around the loop road. A self-guiding auto tour booklet is available for $1 at loop road entrance.

Clingmans Dome Newfound Gap Road
Clingmans Dome - Newfound Gap Road
On the Newfound Gap Road, Clingmans Dome (see photo0 is the highest point in all of Tennessee offering outstanding views from the large lookout. The paved half-mile hike to the Clingmans Dome lookout is a short but steep uphill climb to the top. Another moderately hard (1,460 foot elevation) 3.5-mile round-trip hike to the Chimney Tops is very steep and you will be rewarded with epic views. The well-maintained trail begins with two bridges that cross the river below. Even if you don’t do the entire hike, it’s worth visiting these picturesque bridges.

Little River Road Gatlinburg
Little River Road Gatlinburg
Coming into or leaving Gatlinburg from the west, you should consider a drive along the beautiful Little River Road (see photo). Put “Townsend Wye” on your GPS from the west side and it takes you close to the beginning of this wonderful 1 1/2 hour 54-mile drive along the scenic river covered by forest. From the east, you can start it at the Sugarlands Visitors Center.

Map Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Map Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Leaving or coming into Gatlinburg from the south, you should consider taking the beautiful mountain forest Newfound Gap Road to or from the Oconaluftee Visitors Center and the Blue Ridge Highway for wonderful scenic drives. This is especially delightful during the fall leaves foliage.

Gatlinburg Little River Road The Sinks Waterfall
The Sinks
The best time to visit Gatlinburg is during the fall
– specifically in late September and October. During these months, beautiful fall foliage takes the stage, and temperatures are mild (highs between 65 and 80) which attracts travelers from all over. The Fall leaves foliage peak varies year to year - on the average it is approximately the third week of October.

Gatlinburg Trolley
Gatlinburg Trolley
You can download the free Visit Gatlinburg App ( for lots of Gatlinburg information. You can avoid the traffic and expensive parking by using Gatlinburg’s free Trolley System (see photo0 centered at the Mass Transit Center located at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. You can hop on at the free Park N Ride Lot at the Gatlinburg Welcome Center just outside of downtown.

Hundreds of Bears in Great Smoky Mountains
Hundreds of Bears in Great Smoky Mountains
Many visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains are hoping to spot a black bear while visiting Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are hundreds of them roaming around in the park so sightings are not uncommon. They are generally not aggressive but do not feed them or approach them in any way. Willfully approaching within 150 feet or any distance that disturbs the bear is illegal in the park.

We had a fabulous trip visiting the Great Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg, and Dollywood… and highly recommend it!



Click here to see other great places we visited in Tennessee & North Carolina:

Nashville, Grand Ole Opry, Memphis, Chattanooga, & Franklin, Tennessee

 Asheville & Biltmore Estate, North Carolina

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