Is Fall in the Smokies Overrated?

Admittedly, as I was growing up, my time spent in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was little to none. I was one of seven in my family, and getting that many people in a car and up a mountain was a grueling task. 

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize the significance of living so close to a destination that allows for adventure and beauty. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, my family and I took weekly hiking trips to escape the monotony of our home. Each week, we would choose somewhere different, and as the seasons began changing from summer to fall, the woods would follow suit. 

Driving up the mountainsides and looking out at the trees made me feel at peace. Witnessing the change of something so large-scale is a needed reminder of the smallness of our lives. The chill of the air and the colors on the hickory trees provided tranquility during a strenuous time, proving to me that the mountains were a beautiful place to escape to—especially in the fall. However, as I was enjoying the time spent in the serenity of the park, my brother was wishing he was hiking somewhere entirely different.

Though we were experiencing the same sensations of fall in the Smokies, he was feeling overwhelmed by the crowds and the knowledge that he could find the same beauty elsewhere. Which raises the question, “Is fall in the Smokies overrated?”

People travel from all over the United States to look at the fall colors in the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s the most-visited national park. And according to an article from the Gatlinburg website titled, “Park sets visitation record with 14.1 million visits in 2021,” the peak month for visitors in the park is October. 

The Smokies are one of the few national parks in the United States that do not charge an entry fee. For access to the entire park, the only thing needed is a way to get there. This is a large attractor for many, as fees at other national parks can be hefty—upwards of fifty dollars per car.

With the lack of entrance fee and options for driving or hiking, the experience is available for everyone. Unfortunately, due to the easy access, it is a heavily trafficked area. The crowds that are drawn, especially during the fall, could act as a deterrent.

The mountains are a short call from Maryville—about a 30-minute drive. Since the park is so close, it seems impossible to pass up the opportunity to see the seasons change in real time. However, one trip could be enough to satisfy the desire to see the fall colors. 

For locals who have lived within driving distance of the mountains their entire lives, repetition of the same view might become boring. Those who live close and have been to the mountains during the fall before may be able to find the same joy from the beauty of the changing seasons by simply looking at a photo.

Over the weekend, a few friends and I embarked on a drive through the famous Cades Cove, located in the Great Smoky Mountains. We were anticipating a short getaway from homework and responsibilities. Halfway up the mountain, enjoying the warm colored leaves falling around us, my car broke down. As the car crawled to the pull-off closest to us, I was grateful that we were stopped in a place as beautiful as the Smokies.

As I grow up, my appreciation for the Smokies grows with me. During the peak of the semester, it is easy to get lost in assignments and stress, but the mountains provide a welcoming beauty that shines during the fall, seemingly when I have needed it most and despite the fact that I have been exposed to their scenery for much of my life.

So, while there will always be differing opinions on the mountains, I think that the greatness of them is that they are always there.

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