Every fall my husband and I try to get away for a weekend trip to relax before the holiday season. This year we decided to visit Knoxville & Gatlinburg Tennessee. We wanted to catch all of the colorful trees and the beautiful hiking weather. A couple years ago we went to Gatlinburg in June and it was one of our favorite trips. The weather was not too hot or not too cold, the food was great, and our wallets were happy. There were so many different trails that we didn’t get the chance to hike them all, so we decided to go back this fall and finish the hikes we wanted to do. Here are a few of our favorite spots from our first trip to Gatlinburg:
There were so many different trails that we didn’t get the chance to hike them all, so we decided to go back this fall and finish the hikes we wanted to do. I loved visiting this time in the fall because the mountains were painted in fall colors and the air was crisp! We chose to stay in Knoxville and commute to Gatlinburg due to the restaurants and shopping selection in Knoxville. We didn’t want to feel like we were always in the middle of a major tourist even in Gatlinburg so we drove there for the hikes and drove back to Knoxville for our evening activities. I am going to give you the run down from our trip on where we stayed, where we hiked, and what we ate during our weekend getaway.
Where we stayed: Four Points Knoxville
Our second trip to the Smokies we did things a little differently. We decided to stay in Knoxville and drive to Gatlinburg for the hiking. We chose to do this because we preferred Knoxville’s unique and local restaurants/shopping and we still could make a quick 45 minutes drive to hike the most beautiful trails in Gatlinburg during the day. It was nice because we would drive up to Gatlinburg early in the morning before the crowds came and we hiked. We would finished hiking around 2-3 PM each day and would drive back to Knoxville, shower, then go out for dinner and shopping. We never worried about huge crowds, traffic, parking fees, and lines. We stayed in a hotel right off of Market Square in Knoxville call The Four Points by Sheraton. It was right by the University of Tennessee’s football stadium. We were about a 10 minute walk to Market Square.
Where we hiked:
We like to look for two things when we hike: a trail with a water fall and a trail with a view. In our first trip to Gatlinburg a little over a year ago we hiked to the Ramsey Cascades (8 miles round trip) to see a waterfall and we climbed to the top of Chimney Tops (4 miles round trip) to see the view. This time around we chose to be a little more adventurous. We hiked to Rainbow Falls (5.5 mile round trip) and we summited Mt. Leconte (12 miles round trip).
Saturday Morning’s Hike: Rainbow Falls
// 5.5 Miles Round Trip // Roughly 2 hours without stopping – Took us 3 because we hung out by the waterfall for a little to get picture.
Rainbow falls was absolutely gorgeous. The trailhead to this trail is about 10 minutes from downtown Gatlinburg. There is limited parking at the trailhead so I would recommend getting there before 8:00 AM if you plan to go. I would recommend bringing water and a snack. I would also recommend bringing a layering piece like a jacket or long sleeve shirt if you go. As you get to the waterfall it can be a little chillier. If you go early enough you don’t need to bring food for lunch. It is nice because we got back around 11:00, just in time for a stroll in downtown Gatlinburg and we grabbed lunch right after. The hike was a little more hard on your knees due to constant climbing up and down rocks towards. At the very end of 2.75 miles you will reach the falls. What I love about these falls is that you can walk behind them! Here are a few shots we got from this hike:
Sunday’s Hike: Alum Cave Bluffs to Mt. Leconte
// 12-13 mile hike (round trip) to the Summit of Mt. Leconte. // Took us about 5 hours without stopping – took us 7 because we stopped at the Leconte Lodge
If there is ONE hike you need to do in the Smokies, THIS IS THE HIKE. I have never summited a mountain before so if you are going to do you first summit, this is probably the best hike to do to get you warmed up. I would recommend starting early – probably 8:00 again. We started at 9 and got back by 3:00. I would also bring a jacket, some layers, food for lunch, cash (I will explain in a minute) and plenty of water. The hike up to the top was definitely uphill the entire time. We had to stop a few times to catch our breath. Unlike Rainbow Falls trail, this trail was very smooth. The first mile or two is pretty flat and follows a beautiful river. When you hit the “cave” that is when the trail starts to go uphill. Here is what the “cave” looks like:
The next 3 miles is basically uphill. About half way to the summit you will reach the Alum Cave Bluffs. The bluffs were gorgeous! They had such a cool view!Most people stop at this point, but DO NOT STOP! The top is well worth the extra hike. Below is a picture of the Alum Cave Bluffs.
After you pass the bluffs you are about half way to the top. This is where the temperature starts to lower and you start to get to the pine trees. The views were BREATHTAKING! This was my favorite part of the hike (besides the top) because everything smelled like a pine candle (except it was real). I told my husband that it smelled like Christmas! When we got to the top there were multiple lookouts. Cliff tops and Myrtle Point were the two lookouts that we went too. Myrtle Point is probably the most popular lookout. We hiked on a cloudier day. We were lucky though because from time to time the clouds would clear and we could see the breathtaking views! Both are picture below:
LEFT: Cliff Tops RIGHT: Myrtle Point
It was about 40 degrees at the top. I was wearing shorts with a jacket and I felt good. The pines blocked most of the wind and kept us pretty warm. The entire time at the top I was telling my husband how good a hot chocolate sounded. I swear God was hearing me because as we came around the corner we passed this “cabin village” called the Leconte Lodge. We walked in and right in front of us they were selling bottomless mugs of hot chocolate for $4!! (Cue the hallelujah!) They also sold food and other drinks as well. There were also restrooms at the top too. The lodge was quaint and cozy and what you would expect for it to be with a lodge at the top of a mountain. The inside led to a back deck where we sat on rocking chairs and looked out to a view of the Smokies. It was probably one of the most relaxing places I have been. What I thought was also really cool is that llamas are the main source of transportation of food up to the top of the mountains. Below are some pictures of Mt. Leconte Lodge.
Overall this was our favorite hikes out of all the hikes we have done in the Smokies. Here are more photos of our hike to Mt. Leconte:
Where We Ate:
We ate the majority of our meals in Market Square in Knoxville. Market Square is a strip with tons of restaurants and boutiques. Every weekend night there is always something going on. Saturday night the University of Tennessee has a lot of football fans come into town and they had a concert series going on at the square.
- The Donut Friar – Best Donuts and great Coffee (Downtown Gatlinburg – opens early)
2. Tupelo Honey ( Downtown Knoxville – Market Square – Southern Comfort Food) – Biscuits are UHHHmazing.
Stock and Barrel – Best Burgers!!
- Cafe 4 – Market Square – the BEST mac n cheese and they have amazing rolls and overall good food from the rolls to the dessert. A little bit of a nicer restaurant.
- Tomato Head – BEST PIZZA! – can be nice or casual
My husband and I are so very thankful for our trip to the Smokies. I would recommend to any couple to find a hobby that you BOTH enjoy and to take time once a month, once a season, or once a year to do that thing together. Four years ago we discovered that we both loved hiking. Since then, we have traveled to Colorado, Utah, and Tennessee to take on different hiking adventures. Knoxville and Gatlinburg definitely do not fall short on our list. We left filled with joy and hungry for more adventures in the future.
-Shop some of my favorite hiking essentials-
You are fearfully and wonderfully made,