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Fall Break travel opportunities: Great Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which straddles the border of East Tennessee and North Carolina, offers a bounty of opportunities for outdoorsy students to go hiking, biking, zip lining, whitewater rafting and a host of other “-ing” words.

“We went to Gatlinburg in January,” said sophomore Ashley Sanders. “It was really fun, an escape from city life, and it was good just to be in nature.”

For fall colors, the peak season is mid-October to early November. Any of the 800 miles of hiking trails can provide beautiful views of autumn, according to the official website for Gatlinburg, Tenn.

Two of the most popular trails are Chimney Tops, which is a steep but short 3.8-mile round trip climb, and Alum’s Cave Bluff, the shortest of the trails which leads to the Smoky’s second-highest peak, Mt. LeConte.

But the mountains are not so highly visited just for their natural beauty. On the outskirts of the park are Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tenn., two cities jam-packed with nearly every form of entertainment imaginable from the commonplace—such as mini-golf and go-karting—to the downright weird—such as an upside-down interactive museum called WonderWorks.

Standard hotels are around the area, but for a truly unique Smoky Mountain experience, there are a wealth of affordable cabin options for groups. Prices start in some areas below $100 per night, according to the website.

Additional activities in the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area include Dollywood, a full-sized theme park owned by Dolly Parton; MagiQuest, a fantasy video game brought to life; and Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, voted the best aquarium on TripAdvisor in 2014.

Those attractions may be above budget for some students—tickets range from $25 to $59—but there is no shortage of other, more affordable options available to suit any kind of fall break adventure.

“Get a caramel apple, go up into the mountains,” Sanders said. “Have fun and explore.”

Gatlinburg is about a four-hour drive from Belmont via Interstate 40 East. For more information, the city’s official website can be accessed here.

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