Fall tourism in Sevier County increasing despite slow-to-change fall foliage

GATLINBURG (WATE) – It is fall break for a lot of people, and many of them are heading into the mountains. October is historically the second busiest month of the year in Gatlinburg, and this year is off to another busy start.

Even though the leaves are still green, the streets and sidewalks in Gatlinburg were packed Thursday. 

“I mean we kind of expected it to be really green so we’re happy,” said Sally Boyer from California.

Marci Claude, Gatlinburg’s spokesperson, said, “This month I’m really surprised at the number of families that have come here on fall break and what its just the first week of October.

Early October this year is a little busier than some anticipated. Hurricane Matthew forcing evacuations in other states may be responsible. 

“We came to a transit conference in Asheville, and we flew into Charlotte and drove to Asheville, rented a car and then the hurricane got us a little scared so we decided to change our Charlotte departure to Nashville,” Boyer said.

Claude added, “People have to have somewhere to go to ride out the storm and we have seen some visitors who are here waiting for the hurricane to pass through their areas.

October is always one of the busiest months there, second only to July, but it has broken records the past few years and getting close to reaching that amount of summer traffic. 

“Since 2008 we’ve seen tax revenues in October go up over 40 percent which is a significant increase,” Claude said.

It is no secret what drives people here 

“It’s obvious why. Because it’s a beautiful place to be in the fall,” Claude said.

Even without added traffic from people escaping Hurricane Matthew and as the leaves start changing you can expect traffic in Gatlinburg to stay busy. 

“Oh it’s gorgeous. Everybody said oh another week it’ll be so pretty. We think it’s pretty pretty,” said Boyer.

The question on a lot of minds is when will the leaves be changing.

“People really want to know different places to go so a lot of times we are sending them up higher to newfound gap because of course the leaves are going to change at the higher elevations first and that’s what we are seeing,” said Park Ranger Andrea Walton. “This year it might be a little bit slower. It hasn’t been getting cold enough at night for the leaves to change too much yet.”

With summer weather lingering well into fall the changing leaves have been delayed, but if you look closely you can spot some. 

“Yellow, green, orange and beautiful red. We did see some red,” Boyer said.

“Once you get into the middle elevations we’re starting to see some red kind of around the chimney tops trail and then as you continue going up around alum cave trail there the trees start to get noticeably more yellow and taking on golden hues,” Walton said.

Your best chance to see color is probably mid to late October. 

“It’s been pretty warm during the day of course but in the 80s, cooler at night but still needs to get a little bit colder to see the leaves start to change,” Walton said.

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