Fall Foliage

Fall officially begins in September and, though it’s a little early to know for sure, foliage should put on quite a show this year. Though it has been dry lately, usually a negative when it comes to fall color, the next few weeks will determine just how much color we will have.

We need bright sunny days and cool nights–without too much frost or freezing temperatures–to trap the sugars in the leaves, which give us the best reds and most vibrant colors. However, small pockets of color will remain into November–something to consider when deciding whether to fight the unbelievable crowds in certain areas of the Park.

Nature At Its Best – Fall Color Guide To The Smokies

Leaves change colors when trees stop producing chlorophyll–the food producing stuff that keeps the leaves green all summer. When the chlorophyll is gone, the other brilliant colors emerge.Elevation plays a key role in determining when the fall spectacle occurs. At the highest elevations–4,500 to 6,000 feet–colors can begin turning in mid-September, when the yellow birch, American beech, and mountain maple begin to turn. During the first two weeks of October, leaves are at their peak colors above 4,000 feet. The remaining weeks of October present the Smokies at their very best for color. The sugar maple, scarlet oak, sweetgum (our favorite), red maple, and dogwood explode with color.

Though most people don’t question why the Smokies are so beautiful in the Fall–they just enjoy it–it’s interesting to know that the remarkable variety of trees are responsible for the autumn show. Nearly 100 species of trees–most deciduous–offer up their contribution to the timing and palette of the Fall spectacular.

A Sample of Tree Varieties and What They Have To Offer

The sweetgum is a favorite because it offers several colors including reds, purples, and yellow. These trees are found mostly in the lower elevations along streams and will peak mid-to-late October.

The scarlet oak gives us a brilliant scarlet color and can be found in the low-to-mid elevations.

The sugar maple can be found all the way to 4,000 foot elevations and presents yellows and oranges for our enjoyment. These trees proliferate in the Sugarlands Valley, where pioneers tapped them for maple syrup.

The red maple gives us reds and yellows and ranges up to 6,000 feet. The Park boasts the world’s largest red maple, which is 23 feet in circumference and is 135 feet tall.

The flowering dogwood evolves to a deep red color and can be found anywhere in the lush woods below 3,000 feet.

Where To Find Them

You can find the brilliant Fall colors everywhere in the Smokies. In fact, you can find your Fall “fix” of color on the way to the Smokies–something done by many because of the bumper-to-bumper traffic in certain areas of the Park. For example, the most popular spot in the most popular national park is Cades Cove, which might be the major spot to avoid if you don’t like muffler exhaust with your Fall colors.Cataloochee, on the eastern side of the Park, is much less crowded at any time because its away from the most traveled routes to and from the Park. It’s on the North Carolina side of the Park and is a little harder to reach than popular spots like Cades Cove. If you are coming from the north and places like Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, take Highway 321 north to Interstate 40, and then east towards Asheville. Get off at exit 20 and take Cove Creek Road. Follow the signs 11 miles to Cataloochee.

If you are coming from the south or from Cherokee, North Carolina, take I-40 to exit 20 and follow the signs 11 miles to Cataloochee. The trip from Cherokee is estimated by Park officials as being 82 miles round-trip and can take up to four hours.

From the Gatlinburg, travel through the Park via Newfound Gap Road (the major road which traverses the Park) nearly to Cherokee (approximately 32 miles), and take the Blue Ridge Parkway (just after the Oconoluftee Visitor Center and the Mountain Farm Museum but before leaving the Park for Cherokee) for about 13 miles. Exit the Parkway to U.S. 19 and turn towards Asheville. Follow U.S. 19 through Maggie Valley and then north on Highway 276. Just before the entrance to I-40, turn left and follow the signs 11 miles to Cataloochee.

It’s worth the trouble getting to Cataloochee because it will be a new experience even for those who visit the Park
on a regular basis; it offers the same spectacular color show you will find elsewhere in the Park; and it’s bound to be less crowded even during peak color periods.

Rich Mountain. From Townsend, follow the signs to the Great Smokies and Cades Cove. You will dead-end. Turn right and you will be headed to Cades Cove on Laurel Creek Road. It’s approximately 7 miles to the entrance to Cades Cove.

Haunts and Haints at Marble Springs

Two days before Halloween, the former home of Tennessee’s first Governor, John Sevier put on a new face and had some Halloween fun.  Marble Springs was the home of John Sevier from 1745-1815.  It has been kept as a historic landmark of the history of Tennessee.  Throughout the year, living history and educational tours happen daily.  Along with the living history they have many special events.  One of the events this year was their Halloween Haunts and Haints.  The event included decorations, a costume contest for the kids and storytelling around a bonfire.

Haunts and Haints at Marble SpringsMarble Springs is a beautiful location.  Set in the woods right off Governor John Sevier Highway in South Knoxville, it is idyllic.  Add to that setting, lots of pumpkins, the gorgeous colors of an East Tennessee fall and you have a painted landscape that is the perfect backdrop for Halloween fun in the Smokies.  Luminaries lit the path down to the historic buildings and pumpkins were placed at the door of each log structure.  Trying to replicate the late 18th century means that electric lights are few and far between so the light of a bonfire provided the majority of the lighting in the area after the sun went down.

Before the sun sunk below the horizon, the kids and adults went house to house to learn about the history of the site.  Most of the kids came in costume and participated in the Halloween costume contest.  Pirates, princesses, superheroes, ghost and ghouls roamed around the site and the winners were chosen.  Candy was handed out and as the day grew older, the light got dimmer and the bonfire began to rage, everyone settled in around the bonfire or in the tavern to listen to ghost stories.

The Smoky Mountain Storytellers Association provided their voices for the ghost stories. As promised they had not so scary stories around the bonfire for the young and timid at heart and seriously scary stories in the tavern for those that were feeling more adventurous.  The atmosphere around the bonfire was warm and inviting.  With a bit of a nip in the air, everyone gathered around the bonfire for fellowship and warmth.  The stories began and everyone from the youngest to the oldest person listened with rapt attention as the stories unfurled around them.  The stories at the bonfire were new telling’s of fairy tales and fables, tales that everyone had heard but were fascinated to hear again in this wonderful environment and unique setting.

The stories in the tavern were of a different nature.  None were gruesome or graphic but they were not for the faint of heart.  With just enough edge to set your hair on end, you experienced the feeling of sitting around a campfire swapping stories with you friends.  The listeners in the cabin sat facing the fireplace and the storyteller.  The fire gave off more than enough warmth to keep everyone toasty but the sound of the wind whistling across the top of the chimney certainly added to the tales being told.

Speaking to some of the guest that attended, parent and child alike had a great time.  One family said that they would like to make this one of their fall traditions.  Another group said they were looking forward to telling their friends how much fun they had so that they could bring them back in 2012.  All in all, this is one of those events that will stick with the attendees for years to come.  They will look forward to the net trip to Marble Springs, especially the next trip at Halloween, to revisit the Haunts and Haints at Halloween.

Corn Mazes

What’s better than the fall colors cascading down the mountains as summer slowly turns into crisp autumn nights? I know what most of you were thinking and that’s nothing really, especially when you’re talking about fall. And that’s OK, but for some fall brings the outdoor fun of corn mazes in all different shapes and sizes. In the Great Smoky Mountains, there are quite a few of these attractions beginning with the Kyker Farms Corn Maze in Sevierville. It’s a great way to enjoy the autumn air and snuggle up to fire with smores and hot chocolate afterward.

So on with our list, here are some of the best corn mazes, as well as haunted corn mazes, in the Smokies – Tennessee and North Carolina:

Kyker's Corn Maze

Kyker Farms Corn Maze – Located in Sevierville, TN, this 5 acre maze runs from September 21 – October 28 with a haunted portion opening in October, running on Friday and Saturday nights through the end of the month. Kyker also features a “Tater Tot” maze for small children, a pumpkin patch, hay rides and much much more. There is also a petting critter barn and straw crawl for the kids. Check out Kyker Farm’s Website for up to date times and events. Located at 938 Alder Branch Road, Sevierville, TN  37876. Phone: (865)679-4848

Fender Farms Corn Maze

Fenders Farm Corn Maze – Head northeast to Tennessee’s oldest town – Jonesborough, and experience the corn maze at Fender’s Farm. The maze opens on September 14 and runs through November 14. There, you’ll find a haunted maze, animal shows, playground, milking parlor, calf roping, a cow train, horseshoes, wagon rides, and a zipline. If you can’t find something to do and entertain you at Fender Farms, well, you’re out of luck. Located at 254 Highway 107 in Jonesborough, TN or visit their website at fendersmaze.com.

Blue Ridge Corn Maze

Blue Ridge Corn Maze – The Blue Ridge Corn Maze in Brevard, NC boasts 6 acres of “Corn-fusion”, opens in July and operates through the end of October. *By appointment only July – August. They claim that their haunted maze is one of the best in the western North Carolina area. Located at 1605 Everett Rd. in Pisgah Forest, NC, they have tents for large parties and pumpkins and Black Angus beef for sale. Visit their website at blueridgecornmaze.com.

Eliada's Corn Maze

Eliada’s Annual Corn Maze – Eliada’s annual corn maze is a 12 acre maze and Western North Carolina’s largest. Besides a maze, come play with corn cannons, take a hay ride, a cow train, play in the giant sandbox filled with corn, ride a giant tube slides, and so much more! The maze will open September 7th and remain open each Friday, Saturday and Sunday through October 28th. The maze will open from 4-9 on Fridays, 10-9 on Saturdays, and 11-8 on Sundays. Contact Nora Scheff at 828.254.5356 x 303 or via email at nscheff@eliada.org.

Knoxville Zombie Walk

At the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, Knoxville, Tennessee, had a zombie problem on October 22nd.  That problem raised public awareness and was a good time for all of the zombified attendees as the undead walked the streets.  Well, they are not really undead more like the living portraying the undead.  The Knoxville Zombie Walk is a themed event that gains attention and food donations for Knoxville Area Rescue Ministries (KARM).  People come to the event dressed in their zombie best, bring canned food as a donation to KARM and strut their stuff throughout the downtown area of Knoxville.

This is the second year of the event and it is getting bigger each year.  Before the walk they gave out awards for Best Make-Up, Best Zombie and Best Zombie Couple.  The pre-walk part of this event was as interesting as the event itself.  The staging area was Market Square in downtown Knoxville.  As the time for the walk approached zombies began to trickle in.  And though they were dressed up, very few of them were in character yet.  They stood around, chatting with friends and hanging out… dressed as zombies.  The amazing thing was the number of families that had turned out together to support this event and KARM.  There were groups of friends, whose zombie outfits were coordinated, there were people dressed as zombies and zombie hunters from the movies and there were families that had all the kids dressed up n their zombie best.  Even children too young to walk the event and instead were confined to their strollers were in on the action.

Most of the costumes were homemade.  But being homemade does not mean that they lacked in quality or imagination.  Simple makeup and a good zombie walk was all that some people needed to look the part.  Others had donned special-effects appliances to make them stand out from the crowd.  Every manner of dress was taken into account as well:  from wedding dresses and tuxes, to suits and cheerleaders, black tie was in effect for a lot of the participants.  Of course you had the more flamboyant as well, one person took a page from the comic books and arrived as Zombie-Spiderman.

Closer to the actual start of the walk, more than 300 people gathered around the stage and waited for the word to start the 2011 Zombie Walk.  One of the organizers made sure that everyone knew to place their food next to the hearse that had been brought in to transport the donations to KARM.  The zombies also got their rules before the walk started to make sure that innocent bystanders were not harassed, traffic laws were obeyed and most importantly there was no vandalism.  As the walk started and the shambling horde of bloodthirsty zombies started their walk toward the Old City, there was a pile of canned goods left to be taken to KARM.  The people that had been hanging out at the Farmers Market and the regulars at Market Square got a good show as 300 zombies started to amble through downtown and more importantly a worthy charity and food ministry got some well deserved publicity.