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Looking for Fall Foliage? Great Smoky Mountain National Park Wants You to Look Elsewhere

A recent social media post from Great Smoky Mountain National Park offered advice to beat the crowds. The park is a massive destination for fall foliage as the Appalachian Mountains turn a rainbow of colors ahead of the winter. However, as officials with the park phrased it, “Did you know that it’s not fall just in the Smokies?”

Let’s be honest: sitting in traffic in a national park is no fun. While everyone is always welcome at the nation’s most popular national park, GSMNP’s advice to beat the crowds is for a good reason. There are plenty of great places within a short drive.

Here’s a more in-depth look at GSMNP’s recommendations:

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area

fall leaves in the southeast
(Source: Getty Images)

Big South Fork is northwest of GSMNP and sits on the border of Tennessee and Kentucky. The National Park Service land is known for multiple gorges and the pristine streams that cut through the land, eventually dumping into the Cumberland River. The area also has numerous sandstone cliffs providing great overlooks.

Obed Wild and Scenic River

fall foliage in Tennessee
Source: NPS

A short drive just east of Knoxville, TN, is the Obed Wild and Scenic River. Like the Big South Fork, the park encompasses the Cumberland Plateau. Visitors will find towering rock cliffs and multiple gorges. Plus, the park is designated as an International Dark Sky Park, meaning once the sun goes down and you can’t see the leaves, you’ll get a beautiful view of the nighttime sky.

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

fall foliage great smoky mountains
(Source: Getty Images)

Also nearby to other destinations, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park straddles the borders of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia. The park is named for the Cumberland Gap, a pass in the mountains that pioneers would use to head west. 

If you choose to visit Great Smoky Mountains or any other park, be sure to follow the rules and park only in designated areas to protect the park. 

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  1. I live in Knoxville Tennessee and I am shocked by this article. Not all of us here that live close by the parks feel this way about the tourist. Don’t let the statement of one selfish writer deter you from coming to the most visited national park in the nation. We surrounding residents, whom I’m sure take the beauty of this place for granted at times, would think it a shame not to share this wonderful place with all whom want to behold it’s beauty. I alone will offer an apology to anyone who regretfully reads this article. Personally I’m ashamed for it. Thanks

    1. Hi Kimberly. Thanks for your feedback.

      As the article points out, the advice to visit other areas came from the National Park Service, who suggested there are nearby alternatives if you don’t want to deal with crowds. GSMNP is a fantastic park that everyone should try and experience at some point.

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