The Smoky Mountains are the jewel of southeastern Tennessee and one of the most-visited places in the state. From the stunning waterfalls on the Grotto Falls Trail to the world-class fly fishing in chilly high-altitude streams, this sprawling mountain range is an outdoor adventurer’s dream. The Smokies are at their best in the fall, when the tree-covered hills explode with fiery autumn leaves. Here are the nine best places to look for a fantastic Smoky Mountains vacation rental on the Tennessee side of the mountains.

1. Townsend

Cades Cove
Source: Flickr / turcottes78

Located near the eastern end of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Townsend makes a great home base for outdoor adventures. Cades Cove, one of the most popular attractions in the Smoky Mountains, lies 40 minutes away by car. There, you can walk the Loop Road, explore historic buildings, and enjoy the stunning mountain valley scenery. After a long day of hiking or biking, enjoy one of the many friendly restaurants in town, or lounge on the deck of your vacation rental. Townsend is also packed with family-friendly activities. Spend a day fly fishing or tubing on the Little River, or hook up with a fly fishing guide. A number of local outfitters provide gear rental and guide services.

2. Gatlinburg

Gatlinburg
Source: Flickr / magicalweasal

With its central location, Gatlinburg is one of the most convenient places from which to explore the Smoky Mountains. If you’re traveling from mid-April to November, check out the seasonal Roaring Fork motor trail, which starts at traffic light #8. This scenic one-way road takes you past stunning waterfalls and two major hiking trailheads. Another must-see is Newfound Gap, with its spectacular scenery and refreshingly cool temperatures. In the winter, the Ober Gatlinburg ski resort provides nine different runs and four lifts. Look for vacation rentals near the Parkway for easy on-foot access to the city’s charming downtown, or choose homes near the Little Pigeon River to enjoy beautiful water views.

3. Wears Valley

Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Hen Wallow Falls
Source: Flickr / Michael Hicks

The small town of Wears Valley provides a relaxing vacation spot with endless mountain views. A short drive brings you into the Smokies, where hiking and fishing are plentiful. A scenic 1-hour drive through the mountains brings you to Clingmans Dome, the highest point in Tennessee. Along the way, check out the natural history exhibits and ranger-led activities at the Sugarlands Visitor Center. When you arrive back at your vacation rental, head to one of the down-home eateries that line the valley; Hillbilly’s Restaurant, which is known for its hearty country breakfasts, is a local favorite.

4. Pigeon Forge

The Old Mill Restaurant
Source: Flickr / Kerry Sanders

Located just 15 minutes from Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge puts you within a quick drive of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This small city is popular with tourists and offers a wide variety of apartment and detached home vacation rentals. The prime attraction in Pigeon Forge is Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s family amusement park. From carnival rides to water slides and live music performances, this sprawling complex is fun for travelers of all ages. If your idea of a perfect vacation includes mountain views from your cabin’s front porch, check out properties located in the hills west of downtown.

5. Williamsburg

Creek in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Source: Flickr / Erin Johnson

If you’re seeking a peaceful spot within a short drive of the Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg amenities, look no further than Williamsburg. Here, lanes wind up into the hills on either side of Upper Middle Creek Road, providing an ultra-private retreat. Vacation rentals in the higher elevations offer panoramic views, while lower homes are more accessible during inclement winter weather. Williamsburg is home to a few restaurants, including the Old Town BBQ, and a 3-mile drive brings you to the many options in downtown Pigeon Forge.

6. Pittman Center

Ramsey Creek Bridge
Source: Flickr / Jim Dollar

Situated near the northeastern end of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Pittman Center offers a calm, welcoming respite. Vacation rentals in this area give you a unique advantage: they sit near the Greenbrier entrance to the national park, which is known as the local’s entrance because of its low tourist traffic. In town, enjoy bird-watching and fishing on the Little Pigeon River, and don’t miss the Emerts Cove covered bridge, a stunning wooden structure that’s popular with local photographers. If you’re longing for a little action in the evening, bustling Gatlinburg is just 10 miles away.

7. Zion Grove

Smoky Mountain Fiery Sunset
Source: Flickr / grahamvphoto

For travelers seeking the perfect mountain cabin, Zion Grove is an ideal place to start. Remote and heavily forested, this area provides privacy and absolute quiet. Local vacation rentals vary from cozy log structures to sprawling, palatial mansions, so you can find something for every taste and budget. Getting to the Smoky Mountains requires an easy 20-minute drive. Zion Grove doesn’t have much in the way of dining, but you can stock up on supplies in Gatlinburg, which is located 15 minutes away. If you’re in need of a cocktail after a day of hiking, chill out in The Fox & Parrot Tavern.

8. OIdham

Smoky Mountains
Source: Flickr / PROValerie

Experience mountain luxury in Oldham, a lightly populated area located about 20 minutes from Gatlinburg. Here, enormous log cabins provide unparalleled views, and the absence of neighbors allows you to enjoy the forest in silence. Most vacation rentals in the area have full kitchens, and some boast outdoor grills for relaxed meals on the patio. From Oldham, you can access the Smoky Mountains through Gatlinburg or Pittman Center; both locations offer hiking and scenic drives.

9. Caton

Pigeon Forge - Big Bear Lodge Cabin Rental
Source: Flickr / Jared

Feel like a Smokies local in Caton, a serene area located an easy 15-minute drive from Pigeon Forge. Vacation rentals in this small, friendly town provide privacy and convenience, so you can get away from it all without sacrificing creature comforts. Most visitors head to Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg for dining, but when you want to stay close to home, Pollo Loco serves authentic Mexican food in a casual environment. When you’re ready to get on the road, highways 454 and 416 are close by. In less than 20 minutes, you can drive from your rental to the Greenbrier entrance to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.