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Whether you’re taking a long weekend over Thanksgiving, or you just prefer to get away when it’s a bit cooler and less crowded, November is a GREAT time to visit the mountains! The Smoky Mountains in Tennessee are home to one of the most beautiful and popular vacation spots in the country.

Right at the gateway of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, lies Gatlinburg, Tennessee. This little resort town is known for it’s beautiful scenery, amazing shopping, and tasty southern cuisine. Just down the road you’ll also find Pigeon Forge, home of Dollywood, and tons of activities for the whole family!

Peak tourist season in Gatlinburg is in July, but we prefer to schedule our visit when it’s a little slower paced. In my family’s humble opinion, there’s no better time to see the mountains than around the month of November. It’s the perfect time of year. It’s a little less crowded, but you can still see the beautiful fall foliage. You can also see one of the most beautiful expositions of Christmas lights in the world. Here are our top ten choices of things to try if you decide to visit the Smoky Mountains this November.

Gatlinburg’s Festival of the Trees

From November 24th to the 28th, Gatlinburg’s convention center will be filled with Christmas trees of all shapes and sizes. This year will be the 48th annual festival of the trees. Each year, the festival raises money for the boys and girls club of the Smoky Mountains. In addition to the hundreds of beautifully decorated Christmas trees, there will be lots of fun activities and crafts for kids. There’s also an opportunity for them to get their picture taken with Santa Claus himself!

Gatlinburg’s Veteran’s Day Celebration

Gatlinburg is one of only 41 sites in the US to be recognized as an official regional site for the observance of Veterans Day. For the last 20 years, the city of Gatlinburg has been proud to honor veterans with a celebration on November 11th. The official time to observe Veterans Day is on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. This is to mark the exact moment when World War I ended in 1918. This moving ceremony is a must do for anyone with a military connection. This years Veterans Day service will be held at the Rocky Top Sports World.

Gatlinburg’s Chili Cook-off and Winterfest Kickoff Event

Gatlinburg always kicks off it’s Winterfest with an old fashioned chili cook-off. This annual event is free to attend, but tickets for chili tasting will cost you $10. Trust us though, you will get PLENTY to eat! There will also be live music and you’ll get to witness Gatlinburg’s holiday lights being turned on for the season. What better way to celebrate cooler weather than grabbing a hot bowl of chili? Don’t forget to use your ticket to vote for your favorite chili!

Hiking and Wildlife Spotting

The autumn is the perfect time of year for hiking the trails around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In early November, you can still see the gorgeous colors of the fall foliage. You may want to check out Baskins Creek Falls if you love beautiful waterfalls. You’ll go on a 3 mile, round trip hike to a gorgeous 40 foot waterfall. If you prefer log bridges, stunning views of bluffs, and natural rock arches, you might try Alum Cave. The area near Cades Cove is one of the best places to see wildlife this time of year. Cooler weather makes for a pleasant hike no matter which trail you choose. Get out and breathe in some cool crisp mountain air and see the views along the way!

Snow Tubing at Ober Gatlinburg

If you have a few thrill seekers in your group, you may want to try out the snow tubing at Ober Gatlinburg. Later in the year, you can ski and snowboard at Ober Gatlinburg, but our favorite thing to do in the fall is snow tubing. Snow tubing season opens on November 20th and $30 to $35 per person will buy you a 90 minute session. Just $30 for the chance to hurl ourselves down a big hill on a rubber inner-tube? Yes please! Count us in! Seriously though, this is great fun for all ages and an especially good option if you like a few thrills.

See the Gatlinburg Christmas Lights

If you love seeing beautifully twinkling Christmas lights, Gatlinburg is one of the best places in the world to see them. Every year, the city puts up over 3 million beautiful LED lights. You’ll see sparkling lights in traditional holiday scenes all throughout the city. You’ll also see representations of bears, deer, rabbits and other mountain wildlife. The lights will be turned on on November 11th this year to transform the whole town into a winter wonderland. It’s truly a sight to behold and will get anyone into the holiday spirit.

Polar Express Train Ride

This is so much more than a train ride. It’s truly a magical excursion for the little ones in your family, or for anyone who loves a little Christmas fantasy. The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad’s Polar Express train departs from the Bryson City depot. You will be transported into the movie. You’ll be able to sit back with some hot cocoa and listen to the story being told, set to the soundtrack of the movie. Children will be delighted as Santa boards the train and hands each child a gift. This attraction opens on November 12th and there’s no better word to describe this experience than magical.

Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas

There’s always so much to do at Dollywood! The theme park will remain open throughout most of the month of November. Beginning on November 6th this year, Dollywood will transform into a winter wonderland. In addition to the usual rides and attractions, you’ll see holiday shows and over 5 million Christmas lights. They also have firework shows almost every night to celebrate the magic of the season. Dollywood is always a blast but somehow, during the holidays, it’s just that much more magical.

Great Smoky Thanksgiving and Christmas Arts and Crafts Show

The Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community are hosting an amazing holiday show at the Gatlinburg convention center starting on November 29th. The techniques used by these independent artisans have been handed down for centuries. Just in time for the holidays you’ll find beautiful quilts, hand-woven baskets, candles, pottery, leather goods and more. It’s such an interesting and informative show and a great place to pick up holiday gifts for your loved ones.

Grains and Grits Spirits and Food Festival

If you love craft spirits and gourmet food, this is the event for you! This event is 21 and over for obvious reasons and takes place on November 6th at 6 pm. You can experience live entertainment and try some of the best treats from local restaurants and distilleries. This is the perfect experience for the foodies in your family and a great opportunity to have a grown up night out. If you like to eat and drink, give this one a try. You won’t regret it!

If you want to visit the mountains, but you like a little bit slower pace, try planning a trip in November. Most of the tourists coming to see the fall foliage have come and gone and the Christmas season is not yet at its peak. You can still enjoy most of the holiday beauty and magic of the area without the hustle and bustle of the biggest crowds. My family loves visiting the mountains this time of year and we hope yours will too!