With the government shutdown rolling on and no current plan for the states of North Carolina and Tennessee to fund even a temporary opening of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there are still places to visit outside GSMNP that provide similar scenery and recreation opportunities. If you still want to visit the Smokies to see the autumn colors and enjoy the fall air, these places are still open!
Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center - Townsend, TN
The Heritage Center is a great cultural resource located just a couple miles from the entrance to GSMNP in Townsend, TN (known as "The Peaceful Side of the Smokies"). Behind the main museum, stocked with permanent and temporary exhibits, are 11 historic buildings similar to those that you would find inside the park at places like Cades Cove. Their event calendar rolls on with no threat of government shutdown!
Cherohala Skyway - Robbinsville, NC to Tellico Plains, TN
Part of the allure of GSMNP is the scenery. Just an hour and a half away from the park is the Cherohala Skyway, a National Scenic Byway meandering more than 40 miles through the mountains. While it does go through federal lands in Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests, it is still open. The highest point is 5,400 feet at the North Carolina and Tennessee state line. There is plenty of hiking and exploration to be done if you need to stretch your legs.
Gorges State Park - Sapphire, NC
State parks across the country remain open, but if you are looking for one close to the Smoky Mountains with tons of recreation opportunities, look no further than Gorges State Park in North Carolina. It is a little over an hour's drive from the Cherokee, NC entrance to GSMNP and is famous for beautiful gorges and waterfalls. Camping is primitive, but there are many hiking and fishing opportunities, as well as beautiful scenery to observe.
Don't let the federal government shutdown get in the way of your plans to enjoy the outdoors in the Smoky Mountains this fall. It's the best time of year to visit, and there's still plenty to do in the area surrounding the park.