We drove to the Smoky Mountains by way of North Carolina, which meant driving through Maggie Valley and past the abandoned Ghost Town in the Sky. There are a couple cool views of the Cliffhanger coaster along Route 19, although you'd probably need binoculars or a telephoto lens to spot it (this was taken from 2 miles away and cropped pretty substantially). Unfortunately this is probably the only view I'll ever get of it, since it feels unlikely that the ride will be saved even if some version of Ghost Town does reopen in the future.
Ballhoot Scar was one of the first overlooks we passed in the morning, and one of our first great looks at the colors the Smokies would be offering us. The name references bald spots used by loggers to roll trees down the mountainside, although I didn't seem to include any in this frame.
The first real stop of the trip was Mingo Falls in Cherokee, just outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park boundary. I hadn't really done any research on anything for this trip, so it was a nice surprise that the falls are way larger than they appear in photos. Normally I'd prefer a roaring waterfall with intense water flow, but this one was nicely tranquil with its gentle lines of water flowing down the cliff face.
Think this was taken from Webb Overlook just on the North Carolina side. It admittedly felt a bit silly taking photos at the overlooks, while a dozen other people with SLRs were shooting away at the same scene, but I suppose it's kind of hard to resist.
The high concentration of yellow leaves combined with orange, green, and the bare trees made for some excellent textures on the Tennessee side of the park.
The hike up to Alum Cave was more exhausting than I expected from a 2 and a half mile trail, probably due to keeping a quick pace the entire time. The cave bluffs are incredibly imposing from essentially any angle, and do a nice job framing the close treeline and ridges to the east. Seems like it would be a cool place to be during a rainstorm.
Since it was overcast, I opted to drive on instead of waiting around for what seemed like an unlikely sunset. Not sure how many times I have to learn that lesson. Some stray pink over Gatlinburg was a nice consolation prize, but it's nothing compared to what we were missing behind the ridge to the west.
It's unfortunate that one of the world's greatest rides is also one of the most elusive. I'm lucky enough to have been on it plenty of times, but I imagine it must hurt for those making a once in a lifetime trip to Dollywood to see it shuttered so often.
The Dollywood Express and Grist Mill are probably the two most iconic fixtures of the park, and are both essential experiences when visiting. One for being an authentic historical coal fired steam train that takes you on a trip up the mountain, and one for bread. I've been trying to get a decent photo of both of them for the past few visits with little success, but I'm pretty happy with how this one turned out.
I get the criticisms people have against Wildwood Grove for breaking from the park's more 'natural' aesthetic, but it really takes on a new life at night. The illuminated butterfly tree is probably one of my favorite things about the park now.
I'm glad I didn't look into Dollywood's Harvest Festival at all, because all of the decorated pumpkins were really fun to discover while walking around the park. They're all incredibly amusing and just as visually interesting during the day as they are at night. The relaxing atmosphere of the park at night was also a nice change of pace from more traditional Halloween haunt events, although it's definitely hard to directly compare it to those.
The Old Mill's exterior aesthetic and location along the Little Pigeon River is a nice reprieve from the commercialized tourist hellscape that is most of the rest of Pigeon Forge.
Leaving Pigeon Forge, we took a quick detour to see the Sunsphere, which is essentially a giant gold disco ball on a stick. Really weird and interesting piece of architecture created for the 1982 World's Fair in Knoxville. Unfortunately it seemed like it's been closed for quite some time, but it was still nice to walk around the surrounding park for a few hours before heading home.